MARCH 7, 2004
AUSTRALIAN GP - SUNDAY - PRESS CONFERENCE
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
1. Michael SCHUMACHER (FERRARI), 1h24m15.757s
2. Rubens BARRICHELLO (FERRARI), 1h24m29.362s (+ 13.605s)
3. Fernando ALONSO (RENAULT), 1h24m50.430s (+ 34.673s)
Q: Michael, from the outside looking in, that looked like a perfect race from start to finish; is that how it was in reality?
Michael SCHUMACHER: Basically, it was, yes. It was a tough one because at the beginning, for the first half of the race before Rubens had some problems, he was pushing very, very hard and it was really a close fight. I couldn't allow any mistakes and it was very exciting, I have to say. But the car is going well, we've seen this all weekend long and the great thing is that from my personal point of view, I've come home with two more points than last year after three races so that's a good start of the season for me.
Q: You set fastest lap just before your second pit and then slowed right at the end of the race. I guess that was all just part of the plan.
Schumacher: Obviously, after we saw Fernando slowing down, we all decided to slow the pace down a bit and save everything we could because there are new regulations, it's the first race of the season, so the confidence is there but maybe not as much as if it was the last race of the season, so therefore you just save everything as much as you can.
Q: Rubens, Michael said you had a bit of a problem there, but you were pushing very hard in the early stages of the race?
Rubens BARRICHELLO: We had a good half of the race, fighting. The times were incredible. We were doing really good times. It was exciting. But I ran a little bit close to him when he had problems with traffic and basically my brake pedal started to go down, down and down. I faced the problem with the traffic a little later and then he opened up a bit of a gap. I came in for my pit stop and it didn't cool down the brakes. As soon as I went back out again with a little bit more fuel, the brake pedal was really long. If I kept on pushing, I was going to have an off, for sure. So at that time, when he was already six seconds (ahead) I couldn't afford to do anything more, and I finished with a really long brake pedal. So I had to give up at that time.
Q: Fernando, we saw Renault last year making consistently good starts with launch strategy, now it's manual starts, but nothing seems to have changed: fantastic off the line!
Fernando ALONSO: Yeah. The start was good. Obviously, I had a problem with Montoya who cost me a little bit and I had two wheels on the grass, but, anyway, I managed to overtake Jenson and Montoya and then it was an easy race.
Q: You say you managed to overtake Montoya ? in fact he seemed to out-brake himself going into the first corner. Is that how you saw it?
Alonso: Yeah. He tried to brake as late as possible, he was on the inside, on the dirty part and he didn't brake enough to get round the first corner. After that, I was too slow to fight with the Ferraris and I was a little bit quicker than Jenson and the Williams and I was in the middle of nowhere and I didn't have any big problems.
Q: A great opening race for Renault, to beat Williams by almost half a minute. Is that the sort of expectation you had going into this race?
Alonso: Not really. We came here with a good car, we knew that, but we have three or four steps coming on the engine in the European races and I think we can be competitive at that time. For us, the target in the first three or four races will be to take points and this podium is much better than we expected at the beginning.
Q: Michael, many people wonder how with six World Championships behind you, you can be so motivated and so concentrated and focused on winning as you are. Can you talk us through your thoughts over the winter and in the build-up to this race and this season?
Schumacher: I don't think it is hard at all to be motivated, at least from my point of view. I'm in the best team around. We have a fantastic atmosphere. It's Ferrari and I have nothing to win any more, to some degree, but I just love the sport and I just love the fighting on the circuit. It's natural to me, and as long as I'm competitive and the love is there I'm just going to do what is easiest to do for me and enjoy this as long as I can.
Q: I'm sure the record crowd here at Melbourne feels the same way.
Schumacher: Yeah, the crowd here was fantastic today. They cheered us a lot, so many people, a great opening race in the season for us.
Q: Michael, at the start of the weekend, did you ever believe you could have such a perfect weekend?
Schumacher: I knew that we would be very very competitive because, having seen the last test at Imola, knowing the characteristics of the circuit, knowing the development we have done with the car, with the guys, I knew we would be very strong. That strong? No, I didn't anticipate, it difficult to do anyway.
Q: Do you think the cooler conditions we had today perhaps favoured you?
Schumacher: Might have. It's interesting to see whether our new Bridgestone tyres maybe behave better in hotter temperatures. It's something I'm sure we'll find out in Malaysia.
Q: Any worrying times during the race; you lost a little bit of time behind back markers?
Schumacher: Yeah, I had two actually, two guys wanted to do me a favour and lifted off in awkward places and I almost didn't manage to stop, so that was very tight.
Q: But they weren't too badly behaved?
Schumacher: No, no. It wasn't bad behaviour. As I said, they wanted to do me a favour and they wanted to give me room, but instead of giving me room and keeping up their normal acceleration, they stayed on the line and slowed down or even braked, thinking I would expect that, and I really didn't.
Q: What about the new start regulations where you haven't got launch control any longer: how much time have you spent practising your own starts?
Schumacher: Obviously a lot: all winter we prepared for that as much as for other things, but starts are obviously highly important.
Q: Have you spent days practising?
Schumacher: We've dedicated a certain amount of time in every test for that, but as you see, it's still not enough, so we will have to work on it.
Q: Rubens, you mentioned that you had brake problems. Was that around lap 35 when you lost about 4.5s in four laps?
Barrichello: Yeah, I think it was coming into the second pit stop when I ran into trouble. We were running close, he (Michael) had a little bit of a problem with traffic so I caught him by a second, and then we were able to run together. At that phase, going at that speed, I think I had some problems with the braking, because the brake pedal started to go longer and longer and longer. I kept on pushing. I didn't care because there was a chance of overtaking at that point. But as soon as I came into the pits, the brakes seemed not to cool down and because we put in fuel and the car became heavy, when I went out, I had no more feeling with the pedal. So at that time, when I saw there were thirty seconds to the guys behind, I couldn't fight with Michael because when I had brakes, it was a fair fight and it was quite exciting, but I couldn't do much without brakes, so I had to slow down.
Q: What about your own start? Were you pleased with that?
Barrichello: I was. We've been practising, as Michael said. It's a little bit different. I saw in the mirrors a car here or there, but I was quite safe. I had a chance to go a little bit differently to Michael in the first corner but it was just too dusty there and we could have taken each other off, so I just managed to stay where I was and try a line to try and overtake him into turn three but there was no way.
Q: How easy ? or difficult ? was it to maintain that pace over the opening laps?
Barrichello: A lot of fun, the car was behaving fantastically well, it's tremendous to see the work that Bridgestone has done on the tyres. We still have to keep our feet on the ground as Michael said, but it was a little cool, and we have to find out in Malaysia (how they behave in warmer conditions) but it was a lot of fun. We pushed each other very nicely, and as you could see, the times were coming down, but unfortunately I couldn't keep it up due to the brakes.
Q: Fernando, what are your feelings after what was rather a lonely race?
Alonso: Yeah, a bit too much. From the first lap, it was impossible to keep close behind Rubens and I had no one in my mirror and I had 58 laps like that. (Laughter).
Q: They mentioned earlier on that you slowed the pace; why was that?
Alonso: I slowed a little bit, because I had a thirty second gap to Rubens and a thirty second gap back to Jenson and there was no point in risking third place. Maybe I lost a couple of tenths, but I think the car was a little better at the beginning, with better lap times, and obviously our strategy meant we were a little bit light in the first two stints and I was just a little bit conservative in the last two.
Q: Was it quite tiring to drive? You were sweating a little bit more than these two guys?
Alonso: No, I have long hair. (Laughter) No, obviously our car isn't maybe that competitive at the moment. We know that there are steps in the engine coming in Europe and we will have a more competitive, maybe fighting for victories but now, to be on the podium in front of Williams and McLaren, is a little surprise for us. It was a tough race.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: Michael, watching you on TV, this car seems to be extremely comfortable to drive. Is that correct?
Schumacher: It's certainly a step forwards, and every time a car takes a step forward, most of the time, it's somehow easier to drive because it's more consistent. If you take a car from some years ago, then those cars were more tricky to drive because they weren't so consistent, which makes it look hairy. But then, I don't know what's your reference, whether you looked at the very end, or at the beginning, because at the beginning, it was a lot more difficult, as we were pushing much harder, compared to at the end. So I don't know when you were looking. At the end, we weren't that much on the limit, so it may have looked smoother than it actually was.
Q: Question for Michael: you did slow down towards the end of the race, but on lap 55 your time went down drastically to 1m 32.3s. Was there any reason for that particular lap?
Schumacher: I think it was with Jenson or somebody. Yeah, I think I let Jenson through because he was behind me and he was obviously going faster: no point in holding him up.
Q: Michael, this looks a lot like the start of 2002 in terms of your domination throughout the weekend. Does it feel like it to you?
Schumacher: Honestly not, because I think if we'd a clean race last year, I think we would have seen a similar situation, in my view, because the sort of time gap we had was about that much so that's why I'm always mentioning Malaysia. I think that (race) shows the true picture a little bit more (as opposed) to what it is now because actually it's completely ideal for us and maybe not so ideal for our competitors' tyres or cars.
Q: But Malaysia is not usually the optimum for you guys, either.
Schumacher: That's what I mean; as it is not optimum that shows us where we are going to be. If we can compete there, then we are going to be looking very strong. If we are sort of hanging behind then maybe it's going to be a little bit more tough.
Q: Fernando, you are the only driver to keep, in some measure, the pace of Ferrari. Is it a question of the driving ability or what?
Alonso: No, I had a good car all weekend, very strong car, and especially in the first part of the race, as I said before, we were quite light on fuel, new tyres, and I think that was the reason we managed to be quick but we will see in Malaysia if we can be close to these guys again.
Q: Michael, you always take great joy in winning, but today there seemed maybe even more excitement than there is in any of your other wins. Is it because, over the winter, you don't know how the others are going to perform; is there a bit of relief?
Schumacher: If you go back to last year, I didn't have the chance to be on the podium in this position, maybe that's why, but it is certainly to know how fantastic the car is, how great it is to drive, how good is the atmosphere and, as I said, I just enjoy what I'm doing and if you have a result like this then you are excited.
Q: Fernando, you told us that you are waiting for two or three steps on the engine before hoping to fight for victories. Don't you believe that in different temperatures you can do something better, in then next Grand Prix you can be closer to that guy?
Alonso: Yes, we hope so. We hope to be close to them and to fight for podiums and victory. I think we approached the Australian Grand Prix with the target just to score points, to finish the race, because with the new regulations and the new engine per weekend (regulation), I think all the teams were a little bit conservative and slightly tried to score their first points and finish the first race. After that we will find out in Malaysia if we can fight for something more. As I said before, I am keeping calm at the moment, and I know that the Renault will be much, much better in the last part of the season and now, in the first races, we have to finish the races and score points and that will be very useful at the end of the year.
Q: A question for Michael: in your opinion, is it possible that Fernando will fight for the title with you or is it very difficult now?
Schumacher: I think he is in the perfect position, yes. Honestly, he has a strong car, they're very quick, very consistent? And, he's alright as a driver! (Laughter) No. I think races are coming which may suit them more than us and so on, and I don't think there's too much of a point in judging the whole season after just one race. It would be a little bit unfair, I guess.
Q: Michael, because of the new engine rules were you a little bit concerned about the engine at the end of the race, like asking the team on the radio if it was running okay?
Schumacher: I wasn't asking that, but I did ask at some stage whether we should have anything to worry about or whether we should reduce the RPM a little bit, which we then did at some stage because there's not the pressure in the first race. There is not 100 per cent confidence to some degree so you just want to make sure.
Q: Michael, we have only had one race, but can you evaluate the opposition from what you've seen in testing and today and are you surprised how far back McLaren are?
Schumacher: You had the perfect spot to see the whole race and see all the situations. I just sat in the car and did what I did without knowing exactly what's going on so it's not fair to do that right now. I should see all the times and the race and then I can make a fairer judgment.
Q: That McLaren?
Schumacher: But I don't know what happened, whether they had a problem. I think Kimi had an engine problem? I don't know what happened to DC because he obviously started further back in the grid so, as I said before, there's no point in making too much of a judgment after one race. Even I need to see a couple of races, different circuits, different characters, then you can be a little bit more correct in judgment.
Q: Those that don't follow Ferrari who were watching, may say: ?oh, no, it looks like another Ferrari season.' You obviously wouldn't take that view?
Schumacher: I think if you would have seen us in a normal race last year you would have thought exactly the same after one race and then it turned out completely different. Let's wait.
Q: How do you actually reduce your revs, just by short shifting or engine mapping or whatever?
Schumacher: No, we have manual shifting so it's down to us.
Q: Michael, do you have any sense that with Montoya miscuing on the first corner and probably not being in third, where he probably should have been, that that took some pressure off you? Would you have expected for you and Rubens to be under more pressure if Juan had stayed in third?
Schumacher: I don't think so because if you look at it, clearly Renault was much faster than Williams was, if there was no specific reason for it. But Ralf was half a minute behind Fernando and Juan was even further behind so I think they were clearly not fast enough but maybe there is a reason, which I don't know. So that's why I wouldn't think there would have been more pressure from that side than we had from Fernando.
Q: Are you surprised they're not that quick?
Schumacher: I guess there will be a reason for it, I don't know. Was there anything I should know of? Was there an incident? Montoya, I saw him off in the first corner, so that means he was obviously behind someone before he got going, and then Ralf, I don't know, he was further back on the grid as well so maybe he couldn't push on a clear track. So that allowed Fernando to open up the gap he did and then he stayed consistent. I don't know.
Q: 6th and 7th?
Schumacher: Yeah, you see, (they) were stuck in traffic and couldn't use the full potential.
Q: So he could have been a danger had he stayed in third, that's my point, I guess?
Schumacher: I don't know because I don't know how strong they are. I don't think he is more of a danger than Fernando is because whoever is the quicker one will be the more dangerous one, but from what I know I can't say that.
Q: A question to all three of you: without launch control and also without the old shift system, has something come back to you drivers?
Alonso: To me, no, it's the same as last year.
Schumacher: Because you had both options? (Laughter)
Alonso: Nearly. No, I think the car is the same to drive and you have to concentrate a little bit more on the up-shift, but I think it's not more difficult this year - something like that.
Barrichello: You have to change your other buttons so you have to keep concentrating on the gear-shift but no problem.
Q: One for Fernando: you didn't say anything about the engine. Did you limit the revs at some stage of the race or did you get some orders?
Alonso: Nothing. We have a very strong engine this year.
Q: And was it the same for Jarno?
Alonso: I don't know, you have to speak with him.
Q: Rubens, we tend to focus on Michael and are always asking him things.
Barrichello: I saw that, yes. (Laughter)
Q: But you're a player in this, you're not just along for the ride. Firstly, do you feel that this year this is your strongest shot at the championship in terms of your driving, are you happy about yourself and the car you've got, do you think this is your best shot?
Barrichello: Yeah, we basically have to wait and see, but this is definitely my best shot, absolutely. I mean, I have been driving quite a while. I think I've improved a step every year and you have to learn from your mistakes and so on, so today I had a very good race with Michael until the time (when I had a problem). When you have equal cars, eventually it is even more difficult to overtake so it would have been? probably I had a 10 per cent of chance of overtaking him, but I had to push him very hard and see if he would make a mistake or something, which he did not do when I was close; but I'm feeling very confident and I think it showed that Michael was on the top of the whole weekend. But I didn't let it get me down because in qualifying I was up there and if it wasn't for just a little bit, I could have done pole position. So we are going to have nice fights throughout the year.
Q: We talk about the challenge from possibly Renault, the expected challenge from Williams, and other drivers to Michael; but really the man he should fear most is you, isn't it?
Barrichello: That depends on how we see the other races but, as we said before, in all honesty, we have a fantastic team and we are so proud to work for them because, for me, the car that they have developed for the first race is incredible. Again, feet on the ground, wait for the second race, but we are going to be fighting ourselves and promoting ourselves to greater degrees because we push each other so we are more on the limit. So we're going to see who is going to fight halfway through it.
Q: Is he the man you worry about most, Michael?
Schumacher: Yes; that's what I said before. If you look at previous years, how Rubens has developed, it's going to be a very tough competition. You saw qualifying that it's by almost nothing and you saw in the race we were really together until he faced his problems, so it's whoever can make his car work a little bit better than the other, (then) he might be up front.
Q: Michael, four victories here now? Is this one of your favourite places to drive and race?
Schumacher: It's certainly one of the favourite places to come to, to have the opening race, they put on a fantastic show, it's a great event as a whole, the town is good, the atmosphere is good. No, we really like to come here and the results don't look too bad either.