MALAYSIAN GP - FRIDAY - PRESS CONFERENCE

Friday Press Conference

FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 19 MARCH 2004

TEAM MANAGERS: Ron DENNIS (McLAREN),Tony PURNELL (JAGUAR), Frank WILLIAMS (WILLIAMS) and Jean TODT (FERRARI)

Q: Can I ask all of you what are your feelings about your team's performance after Melbourne and what has been done after then for here?

Tony PURNELL: We are quite satisfied with the team so far. It is nice to be in the company that Mark is enjoying but I think we are punching above our weight really. The reliability wasn't there in Australia and if you don't finish you don't score points. So we have got work to do but we are quietly satisfied.

Q: Anything since Melbourne?

Purnell: We have made a few changes to the gearbox system to try and cure the fault that put Mark out but very little in the way of changes.

Q: Ron, it seems somewhat different this afternoon to it did in Melbourne. What has happened?

Ron DENNIS: Well, Melbourne was one race; it was obviously a very unsatisfactory one for us. Of course, there is a very considered post-mortem after the race. We think we have a good understanding of where our weaknesses and strengths were and are. We are a team that competes to win. There is nothing lower than winning that is satisfactory to us. Since Australia we tested in Valencia. Our Australian race was, in fact, interrupted by a wet test in Imola where we were not able to verify the performance of some components that whilst we had them in Australia, we were reluctant to put them on the car. They were subsequently tested in Valencia and improved the performance of the car. But it would be accurate to say there were several reasons we weren't very good and the car itself was not the only reason.

Q: When you are talking of components you have had that you verified was that nose section amongst them?

Dennis: We had a new front wing package that we just didn't have enough mileage on and we were reluctant to race it. It was the right decision but even taking that into account our performance in Australia was not at all representative of what our true ability was there.

Q: Frank, your assessment?

Frank WILLIAMS: Well, I might cynically say that Jean Todt is the source of much trouble in Formula One and he was the source of a lot of trouble to us in Australia. We were very impressed by (Ferrari's) pace but it is an 18-race, eight or nine months-championship and I think, for instance, in Australia last year Michael drove away at the start of the race and happily his bodywork failed. So it is truly premature to give it all up.

Q: What about your own team, you were quite happy with their performance?

Williams: Not at all, no, we were just not quick enough; another Michelin car finished the race ahead of us. We were pleased by our reliability but I must say that I have always been astonished by the standard of engineering and preparation of current Grand Prix cars. I look at our car, and I am sure it is the same with any other Grand Prix car, and I raise my eyebrows and say ?how do these cars finish races?' because it is so phenomenally complex. That is all I want to say.

Q: Jean, obviously you were pretty happy with the performance in Melbourne.

Jean TODT: We have every reason to be happy but all the reasons to know that we have 17 races in front of us and we are intending to work as much as we have been working with Bridgestone in the past year to remain successful but we know it will be tough and difficult.

Q: To all of you, there have been some proposals made to bring forward the first qualifying by an hour in a new timetable. Do you support the proposal that has been made by the commercial rights holder and do you think it goes far enough?

Todt: I mean, again, you know, it is very often an overreaction. It was the first time we had this kind of qualifying with two laps one behind the other and probably it may become a different schedule and I think if it happened it is a reasonable step forward but I don't think we should try to modify everything from one day to another after only one race.

Williams: The change that was first mooted - I believe it ended on a fourth team meeting in Indianapolis - was to please the teams who wanted to increase television and we will follow television because that is how we get our money. Whatever works for that, we will try to do that.

Dennis: The teams were supportive of the changes that were made over the winter but if it is better to change for television then I am sure all the teams would support the change. Perhaps there is some argument that says let's wait two or three races until we know exactly what the reaction is but there appeared to be quite significant (reaction) coming after Australia so maybe it is a case of better sooner rather than later but it is not even the teams that have to agree; it has to be the teams, the FIA and the commercial rights holder, so it is not just in the hands of the teams.

Purnell: I am a bit more bullish - I would like to see a change. I didn't find it very entertaining when I watched it on the television when I got home. My own personal opinion was that last year it was more entertaining so I would like to see a change.

Q: The FIA have made it clear that it was the teams' proposal, in fact, that they supported. The teams actually made the decision to change to this current format. What was the thinking behind it?

Dennis: I don't think the statement you made is accurate but otherwise I cannot comment on it.

Williams: I dare not comment on it.

Dennis: I know that Frank can speak for himself but he is a forthright individual. I think the most constructive thing is not to comment on it. If it was constructive to, I am sure we would. We are not intimidated by the fact we have a commitment to make Formula One as good as it can be. We do not resist change, but what you just said I think is inaccurate.

Q: So, Tony, you talked about the gearbox problem in Melbourne and also I believe you had an engine problem this afternoon as well with Wirdheim.

Purnell: We know it wasn't an engine problem. We are not quite sure where the problem lies - we are investigating.

Q: Are you particularly worried about reliability, though, given two mechanical problems in two races so far?

Purnell: Yeah, of course. It is one of the compromises you have to make when the amount of resource you have is limited. You cannot do everything - we cannot test like these ?fellas' can. We would have loved to have tested between Australia and here but that is not something we can do so we are concerned, yes.

Q: Ron, you mentioned you didn't feel Australia was representative of your performance. The car has been testing for three months. Was it a surprise it was not so competitive?

Dennis: Yeah, of course. We went there with the expectation that we would be able to repeat our pre-season testing performance and we didn't. As I pointed out earlier it wasn't just the car; there were other factors that contributed to the performance being as it was but as I said earlier it is one single race and I remember actually watching the Monaco Grand Prix from my hotel room once having not qualified for it once. So, these things happen. It wasn't correct, but it was a good wake-up call for everybody.

Q: Have you initiated further changes since Melbourne?

Dennis: We have just got more focussed, that is all. We are a strong organisation. Sometimes even good organisations get it wrong and that was just one of those times.

Q: Frank, we were astounded to hear one of your drivers yesterday say that under certain circumstances he would knock the other of your drivers off the circuit if there were similar circumstances to Melbourne. How are you going to control those two?

Williams: Words are easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But under racing conditions they are free to race, they are free to compete and they are free to bump wheels if that is the only way of getting by. What they are not allowed to do is push their team-mates off. That is the divide. Words come easily in the heat of the moment, common sense will prevail.

Q: It wasn't particularly hot in here yesterday, not that lively. Are you having a word with them?

Williams: It was a metaphorical comment. All team managers will keep an eye on their drivers.

Q: Jean, we were talking at the end of Melbourne about the track temperature on Friday, which was the hottest day there. Can you compare track temperatures with here, when it was 52 or 53 today?

Todt: It is nothing to compare. Here it is much higher temperatures; we have completely different tyres from what we had in Melbourne so things are different. We know that when temperatures are so high it is not going in our favour even if we made some good steps forward.

Q: So, you are still worried about the temperature here?

Todt: I am more or less worried about everything - temperature, reliability, everything that can happen. I don't think we should focus on temperature.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Dan Knutson- National Speedsport News): Frank, it has been announced that IRL champion Scott Dixon is going to test for you. Can you tell us how it all came about and give us your impressions of Scott Dixon?

Williams: I have never met him. He is going to test for us. His record in a short period in IRL, which is very high speed racing, says we should give him a try. There is not a lot of opportunity to test championship-winning people from another formula during the season but at this present time...this is a high speed formula, Juan Pablo came from a formula similar to that and did well, maybe he got lucky, people should try this, I am sure. All team principals, give young drivers a shot to see if they are going to make it or not.

Q: Can you tell us how it came about?

Williams: The results told us who to call - it is quite simple. He has got to be pretty good in various categories, he has won a few championships, and he's the number.

Q: (Joe Saward - Grandprix.com): To go back to the qualifying thing, it is a bit confusing - nobody is telling us how that decision was made. It was a wrong decision; everyone seems to agree with that. Can you explain how it came about?

Todt: I mean, you know, I don't really think we can answer this question. At the end of every season we have an F1 commission and we have an agenda and simply in the agenda was a review of the qualifying procedure. That was part of the proposals that were done and it was a proposal that was voted for. We just re-scheduled the weekend, we came back to what was in the past with the two-hour free practice on Friday between 11 and 12 and 2 and 3 and as in the past last year we had two laps, one qualifying lap to determine the order of Saturday qualifying and it was decided to put those two laps one behind the other to give the public more to see because we understood (they were) complaining about not having enough to see on Saturday and then it was giving more visibility to teams who need to give more visibility to their sponsors. It seems (that) to have one hour 40m was too long and we may have that split in two parts, one at 1:45 or something like that and then between 2 and 3 the second part of qualifying. I don't think it was a revolution and I don't think we are preparing any kind of revolution.

Q: (Joe Saward): If you had no political issues involved here, each one of you, what would you have for qualifying? Jean?

Todt: Maybe simply it was better as it was in the past, where we had 12 laps, but there they were complaining that for half an hour nothing was happening and now it will make this thing more difficult because we start the race with the fuel during qualifying so it would make the things probably more difficult now, but why we went to this kind of qualifying was because people were complaining about those 12 laps and not enough for the first part of qualifying.

Williams: Certainly, privately, I would love to go back to four sets of tyres or three sets of tyres and a shorter period of time than 60 minutes. I prefer 40 minutes with the four sets. But the emphasis or the push came from the need for the smaller teams who are receiving zero share of voice and almost zero share of exposure. They needed something and they were given something that they could sell to their sponsors. At least both cars on the Friday and both cars on the Saturday will have a total of, I think, 12 laps of exposure - an important concession for them, very important.

Todt: And may I add something. It was acting after the 2002 season, where everybody was complaining about the domination of Ferrari. Everyone thought by having one single lap would make this thing more unpredictable and it is more unpredictable. But now it is more unpredictable and people are not happy - so let's make it more predictable.

Dennis: Well, it wasn't just the last change, the changes to qualifying span several years now and woven into the schedule and the mechanism by which we qualify is the issue of one engine per weekend, which has a significant impact on how you can go to qualifying. And prior to that, also, (we had) what was called the Heathrow testing agreement. And because of those two points there was a view that things needed to change. Obviously each team argues for not only what is in the best interests of the sport but also what is in the best interest of their teams. Therefore, the discussion lasted several hours and, of course, there were some people who just said ?change, we have to change' so when you are in a position where some people are pushing hard to change you tend to go into damage limitation. There were some pretty radical ideas - qualifying on a Sunday morning, for example - which really I don't think any team supported. So where we arrived had a degree of compromise about it but ultimately was something that all the teams and the FIA and the commercial rights holder voted for. If you make a mistake in life you have to stand up and say we have made a mistake and change it. But as I said earlier, perhaps it is prudent to wait two races, maybe three, so that when we change again people understand what we are changing and the reason we are changing it.

Q: (Joe Saward): And what would you actually like to see?

Dennis: I think the practical answer to the question is to follow the current view that we just separate the two qualifying single laps, but if I had my way I would revert all the way back, put two engines into the race weekend with one engine going in for the Sunday and go right back to the 12 laps and a combination of practice as it was. It did mean the fastest people were at the front of the grid but I am a purist when it comes to Formula One and I would prefer to revert to that. But I am only one opinion and I can sympathise with those teams that didn't get as much publicity as some of the larger teams and it is that sympathy that saw several of the larger teams be supportive of these changes because it is wrong to just say no to everything. You have to experiment but if you experiment and get it wrong then reverse out again.

Q: (Joe Saward): Tony, you are a purist. What do you think?

Dennis: To be honest, I liked the qualifying last year, I didn't see a chorus of disapproval in the press or the media, the way it worked out I thought it had a nice focus on the Friday and some intrigue with the fuel on the Saturday. I didn't see a need to change and I would go back to last year, with the Heathrow agreement, the whole lot, because that was a rare case of a rule that favoured the weaker teams just a tiny little bit. Reason for the change from the purist days is that Formula One has become something that was predictable. At the end of 2002 people were complaining it was predictable, all the stakeholders saw a need to jumble it up in some way, perhaps artificially, for a purist, and that is how it all came about and that is the way it is.

Q: (Tony Dodgins - Motorsport News): One of the problems with split qualifying unlike last year is that the drivers only don't take a risk in the first session. Now one of the ways to get around that would be to aggregate the two sessions, but a team principal said to me this morning that that was dismissed because the engine manufacturers on a one engine per weekend situation didn't want to be faced with having to run higher revving one lap engines. Is that valid?

Purnell: I think that's dismissed because the aggregate system is going to put more variability in it. That doesn't favour the strong teams so they're going to reject it, which is in their interest to do.

Q: (Tony Dodgins): Ron, do you disagree with that?

Dennis: I do, but I wasn't shaking my head because of that. I was shaking my head with the view that reverting to Heathrow testing would be a logical way forward because, as I pointed out several times to Tony in the meetings, everybody would do it. If you had a choice to make, Heathrow or the other, you would go Heathrow. Everyone would then run three cars; you would test at a circuit prior to the event, by way of the Heathrow agreement, which would be a massive cost increase. There is a view that if it stayed as it was, the big teams would just carry on with their testing arrangements, which just wouldn't have been the case. It's somewhat selective when Tony goes for this slightly pure ?let's leave it alone' route because it would have never happened that way and we would have all spent a fortune because it would have allowed us to run, you know, we could have run...as the third car is not engine-restricted during the course of today (Friday) there wouldn't have been any restrictions on the Heathrow testing agreement so everyone would have done it and then we would have all been sat in the pit lane with fresh engines having optimised the Friday free sessions. It wouldn't have worked, in my opinion.

Q: (Tony Dodgins): Would any of you favour the aggregate system, because purists have said Ayrton's 65 poles no longer means too much of a record if anybody beats it or doesn't beat it? Would that not have been a good solution; maybe you could even have given a point for the quickest guy in the one lap session on Friday?

Dennis: I think I can speak for all teams. There is no team that rejects a better way of having practice, but I don't think this is the forum for trying to choose what is the best way forward. We want it to be the best possible show. If anyone wants to sit and write down what they think is a good idea for practice, pass it to me, I'll put it into the system. We are not close minded to making Formula One better.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters): If I could just revisit Ralf's comments yesterday, you have one driver who's leaving at the end of the season, another driver who may or may not be leaving. How much control can you actually exercise over them?

Williams: Well, a naive man might say, it's difficult and it will be difficult but I do think Juan Pablo proved that and so did Ralf, by their conduct in Melbourne, they did real overtaking, and (Ralf) moved up quite a few places during the race from where he started. There was little to criticise about their dedication which is what they're paid for, to win. Off the track, there'll be trouble, but it's the team manager's job to try and handle it and keep it away from the racing. I would just say, if drivers didn't race each other and team-mates - I know Jean has a different arrangement and I'm not trying to get near that matter whatsoever. But you can't win sometimes. If you control your drivers, you get a lashing in the press sometimes. If you let them race and bang wheels and take a risk, you get criticism. Difficult to please, chaps.

Q: (Joe Saward - Grandprix.com): The three top team bosses up there - sorry Tony, nothing personal - would you guys be willing to accept less testing if you got more running at Grand Prix weekends. Rather than going to shorter Grands Prix, having more running on Fridays, would you accept less testing away from the races?

Dennis: We wouldn't because effectively it would increase our costs and the reason it increases costs is that when you go testing, you make one of something. If you test prior to a Grand Prix and you truly believe that you have an even chance of the development working on the car, you would manufacture in sufficient quantities to be able to immediately introduce it to that race. So it would increase costs if you had free testing at the event in my opinion. The whole ambiance of a test is different. The periods during which you're on the circuit are following by as much time as necessary to think about the result, so you are not limited. The time you take to think is where it's all at, and you have to be in a completely different mindset when you go testing to when you go racing. It's not just about doing laps, it's a different mindset, a different process. Occasionally you run the car illegally in testing, because that gives you the ability to understand. You might run your car underweight and then chose to put weight in different places etc. But if you make testing part of the event, the car would have to comply. It's far more complex that you would first think.

Todt: You know, as long as there will be more than one tyre company, it's very difficult to limit testing the way it is at the moment. If you take Ferrari, we are the only top team with Bridgestone, which puts us in a situation to do a lot of tyre testing, probably much more than the other competitors. So I think that as long as Formula One is the way it is with tyre companies and all that, it's very difficult to change things.

Williams: Williams would support a sensible further reduction in summer testing by a modest amount, because drivers, car building and car operation are by far the biggest drivers of cost and every year Formula One costs more and the revenues do not increase unless you're lucky in finding an extraordinarily supportive sponsor - and that's like having Christmas every month, it doesn't happen. There's serious competition for dollars for advertising, so certainly privately held teams have to be mindful of their costs. I repeat: We would support a modest and sensible... I recognise Jean's position fully. If we had a test track outside our back door I would fight through every court to save it. Forget the single tyre problem, or the twin tyres, that's another matter, which is also a second problem.

Q: (Joe Saward): Tony, why don't you answer it too?

Purnell: Sorry, I was dreaming of having that problem.

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News): Tony, while Mark did retire in Melbourne, up to that point, he and the car were looking very impressive as they are today. What have Ford's Richard Parry-Jones and the other Ford executives been telling you or saying to you about the team's performance?

Purnell: When I took over, I made a point of trying to be realistic with what we promised the board of directors at Ford, to try and build a bit of confidence, and I have to say they are very warm to me personally and very aware of the progress the team is making. We're making a bit of progress in restoring some confidence that the company can succeed in this very, very difficult game.

Q: (Kevin Garside - The Daily Telegraph): Ron, if the car was not only thing that you were unhappy with in Melbourne, what were the human elements that concerned you and what have you been able to do to put those things right in order to gain the improvements you appear to have made already?

Dennis: Uuum. Hhhhm. There were a couple of oversights within the team that required the team to work very late on the preceding evenings to the event, so the team was very tired. There was definitely a higher level of degradation on the tyres for anyone that had a two-stop strategy. We were trapped behind some slower cars, so our pace was much slower than it should have been. We of course had a failure with one of Kimi's radiators which was very frustrating, because all the post-race analysis shows that it shouldn't have failed, so it was obviously a rogue radiator. And we really just didn't have our act together. Some of the best football teams in the world have bad matches and they sit down and scratch their heads afterwards and say why? I don't think we performed well as a team. You always want more horsepower, you always want better aerodynamics, you always want everything to work smoothly, to be on the best tyres, but occasionally several things click in the negative and you're faced with a poor performance. No one behaved as if they were headless chickens after the event and we've got the depth to work our way out of it. And whilst it's an encouraging day today, there's the same calm, focused approach which will prevail tomorrow and through the rest of this weekend, and hopefully we'll get the job done. Inevitably, we are in a sport where not only are you judged by your last race, but it's also a sport of what I call ?hero to zero', full of armchair experts, full of people who want to put you on a pedestal and then pull you off it. But it is the kitchen temperature and if you can't stand the temperature, get out of the kitchen. That's the bottom line. I'm not making any excuses - our performance was poor to say the least. But no one needs to spur me into action. We know what it takes to win and we're just getting on with it.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters): Ron, Frank had one of his cars running around the Bahrain track this week as you had a 50-year old car going round. Would you have liked to have had one of your recent cars going around that track to get some extra information?

Dennis: Well, we were offered the opportunity and I think several teams were offered that opportunity and it was just logistically challenging. We had already committed to running a car in China between these two races. That didn't happen for a variety of reasons but the car was at the airport with the parts. So we opted to go to Shanghai and ultimately didn't go, or not on this occasion. I think that the most important thing any team can do is that you're not going to know an awful lot off the circuit, a little bit towards tyres, but of course Williams and ourselves are on the same tyres, but probably the most frustrating thing is that we like to survey the circuits with GPS and I think that gives you the ability to very accurately put those parameters into your simulation tools. So I think Williams have a small advantage there and we were a bit disappointed to be denied the opportunity to actually go and do that. You don't actually need a car, but it does require some time. In fact we actually do it indirectly with Ford, so I think we're both a bit miffed that we haven't been able to go there and measure the circuit as we would like.

Williams: May I say that when I discussed this matter with Bernie, he said his plan was to offer to another senior team Shanghai, and then every time there was a new circuit, it would be offered to a team, whether senior or junior or whoever, it was for him to decide, and we too, Ron, were refused to our own proper equipment to survey the circuit. You were not alone.

Q: (Joe Saward - Grandprix.com): Budget-capping, everyone's favourite subject at the moment. Jean, how do you feel about having a budget cap?

Todt: Having what?

Q: (Joe Saward): Having somebody saying how much you are allowed to spend? A budget cap.

Todt: Since I've been in motor racing we have always had a budget and a budget to respect.

Q: (Joe Saward): Perhaps you don't know about it but there was a suggestion from Richard Parry-Jones of Ford that in order to cut costs in Formula One, you would have teams having budgets limited by strange men with suits and clipboards. What do you think of that idea?

Todt: Let me not comment on it. It's not realistic.

Williams: My answer is that we have a certain amount of money we spend it to win. What we will never do is spend money we haven't got. That's our budget cap, and it's competition, Joe, to get the best deals and we fight each other fairly, in the commercial world, like all companies do, whether it's ICI, Shell or BP or whatever, but we would wrong not to try and do the best for our company.

Dennis: Impossible to police.

Purnell: I certainly don't think it's impossible to police. Needless to say, I like the idea because it makes the thing... the cleverest, most efficient company wins, rather than just money muscle. It would make it a very interesting business and technical exercise to try and do the best job on a fixed budget. It would certainly revolutionise the sport. So yes, I like it.

Q: (Joe Saward): How would you police it?

Purnell: In the same way that the accountants come in to police any company, certainly in the western world, to audit your accounts. You certainly couldn't have technical partners, because you would have to close backdoors to it, but I don't see it to be as difficult to police as people imagine. If you're a company director and you falsify the results, I believe you can go to prison. That's the law of the land. If the FIA made such a rule, they would be almost in sync with the law of the land, that you couldn't falsify your accounts.

Williams: There's only one jurisdiction in England.

Purnell: There are complications.

Q: (Joe Saward): Ron, how would you get round that?

Dennis: Frank's just said it. We race in different jurisdictions all over the world. We already have endless problems if we approach litigation on any subject. Law is complex. It's massively expensive to use the law. There's nothing inexpensive about law and there's certainly nothing common about it, I can assure you. Every bit of law I've ever gone near has cost me a fortune and you rarely win. I respect Tony's opinion but I just totally and utterly disagree with it. It's an absolutely unpoliceable proposal. And not only that, it puts more and more control in somebody's hands which isn't what Formula One's about. That's Formula Ford... that was almost funny!

Q: (Bob Mackenzie - The Daily Express): There's been much speculation about your involvement in Formula One. Can you say what your intentions are? Are you going to sell up, step out, go on holiday?

Dennis: Well, we all have choice. I don't think it's a particularly appropriate forum in which to share one's own plans, but I'm more than comfortable to say that I've recently signed a new contract with the company. All executives like to have the protection of a contract of employment, you have to have one in reality, and I've recently signed a new one. I'm passionate about the McLaren brand. I've spent a lot of time trying to put the company in a position to power through the inevitable ups and downs of Grand Prix racing and as it comes closer to fruition, I have no intention of walking away from it. What I am trying to do is not just delegate but actually give people the authority when you delegate. That's important. You might not always like the result but you have to build a team. You never know... in this day and age you can fall dramatically ill, you can go under a bus or you can chose to retire. All of these things should be preceded by having a plan and an infrastructure and a depth of management and that's really (how) my comments that were made about trying to generate depth of management were interpreted as me having a clear intention to retire, which I certainly don't. I do have an intention, because I have no desire to work for the rest of my life, but I have no immediate plans. And I certainly won't retire losing.

Q: (Gaetan Vigneron - RTBF): Jean, most of the team improved their time during their second free practice today. It wasn't the case of Ferrari. Is there a reason for this?

Todt: We just had different programmes from the morning and the afternoon.

Q: (Kevin Garside - The Daily Telegraph): Ron, taking you back to the issue that Bob just raised, as a leader in the position that you're in, delegating is one thing but when things don't go as planned when you delegate, you perhaps have to get more hands-on. Has that been the case? Have you had to rally the troops in this past fortnight?

Dennis: Well of course I've contributed to trying to sort the issues out, but I stress ?contributed to', not laid the law down. We are a team and the strength of a team is the sum of the total part. It's not any one individual. If I hadn't participated, then it would have been inappropriate, so of course I was involved. I spent several hours discussing the issue on Monday afternoon back in England with key management of the group and we obviously made a plan. I think it was reasonably, so far, well executed on how we would use the time between Australia and this Grand Prix and what our expectations should be, how quick we could recover the situation, and so far so good. But it could be a long haul. We'll have to wait and see how this weekend goes. But whatever it is, we exist to win. If we're not winning, we're not doing our job.


THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 18 MARCH 2004

DRIVERS: Fernando ALONSO (RENAULT) and Rubens BARRICHELLO (FERRARI)

Q: It's interesting that you and Ferrari see Fernando and Renault as the greatest threat to your current supremacy after Melbourne. Is that the case? Why?

Rubens BARRICHELLO: It goes back a little bit. In testing, if you analyse it, you see that they have been doing very good times, maybe not as much on new tyres, but they have been very competitive throughout long runs, simulations, and things like that. So the race two weeks ago was just proof of that and I think they have the most competitive car behind us, and so it seems that because they have been competitive here last year, it's only natural to think that they could be competitive again.

Q: You were on the podium here last year, and on pole position, it's obviously a favourite for you?

Fernando ALONSO: Yeah, obviously it was a fantastic race for me last year and I hope to repeat a good weekend. Every race, every year is different and more and more difficult, but we're happy with the car. It seems that we don't have any reliability problems, it's quite strong and we hope to finish the race and to score more points because it would be a good result, we think.

Q: You talk about this being a challenging circuit, what is it that makes it so challenging?

Alonso: You have all types of corners here in Sepang. You have very slow corners, high speed corners, downhill, uphill, long straights. So it's difficult to set up the car for all parts of the circuit. For the driver, it makes it a very tough race, for the temperature, there are a lot of laps and it will be an interesting weekend, I think.

Q: Now you've been preparing in Maldives, what have you been doing there?

Alonso: Nothing! We relaxed a little bit, we did a lot of preparation for this race. You know the temperature there was quite similar to here so we brought the two trainers with us and we worked very hard, but at the same time we relaxed a little bit. We did different things: snorkelling, beach volley, the kind of things that you can't do in Europe at the moment and it was quite fun.

Q: And there was poor old Rubens going round and round Valencia, working hard while everyone else was on holiday! Is that true?

Barrichello: Huh, huh. So I deserve to win, thank you!

Q: It's interesting, you were the only top race driver from the top four or five teams who was actually testing.

Barrichello: I was probably the only one, if you think about it. There were several other teams, and although they had the test drivers there, of the ones who were racing, I was probably the only one. Tough business. I wish I could have been in the Maldives!

Q: But after this one, you're going back to Brazil.

Barrichello: Yeah, yeah. So they can go back and test - for me.

Q: But I think it's an interesting point that you were the only race driver to go back and test and maybe some of the other teams were thinking 'hey, why aren't our guys going back to test?'

Barrichello: I tell you, it wasn't my choice. To be very honest with you, the first day I was useless. It was no good at all. Even though I had a good night's sleep, I was no good. I felt like my helmet was up here (draws line just below his eyes) and things were acting like? I couldn't react to everything. I was lucky it was raining, so I didn't do many laps. The next day was OK, so I was able to test, but I actually told the team that I think Badoer was probably more useful than I was because to go back and forward was a bit too much. If you talk about Malaysia, it's one flight of twelve hours, but from Australia was like two flights of 12 hours so I wasn't in good shape on the first day of the test; the second, I was OK.

Q: I don't know how warm it was there for you, but it's obviously going to be very warm here. A lot of people say that it was an advantage for you in Melbourne, that it was cooler, but how much are you prepared and how much is your tyre company prepared for the kind of conditions we are going to see here? And how much of it is guesswork?

Barrichello: At the end of the day, it's a guess for the two companies, Michelin and Bridgestone. There's nowhere in Europe you can get a track with that sort of temperature so Valencia, I guess, was the closest one. We had something like 25 degrees on the asphalt whereas here you can have more than 40. But the tyre that I tried to pick for here wasn't the fastest one, just because it was fastest in Valencia didn't meant it was faster here or good here, so you had to go for a feeling, you had to go for experience on the race track, just guessing, just really transporting every data that you had to Malaysia and see what comes. Even so, it's very difficult for everyone because if it's a bit hotter than in other years or a little cooler in other years, then you've made a bad choice. So it was a bit of guessing and a bit of safety on the two tyres that we've brought.

Q: Fernando, did you feel disadvantaged to Ferrari, for instance, because of the tyres during the race in Melbourne?

Alonso: Well, I felt the whole package was disadvantaged. I think it was impossible to follow the Ferraris in the first part of the race and I don't know if it was because of the tyres or the car is better than ours, we will find out in the next Grands Prix.

Q: One thing that Rubens said after qualifying at Melbourne was that because the two qualifying sessions were so close to one another, he wasn't at 100 per cent in the first session but he was in the second. What about your situation?

Alonso: Yeah, I was more or less the same. Now both qualifying sessions are very close, you can't make any mistakes in the first one because you would probably miss the second one or you would have to take the T-car and you lose ten places, so there's no reason to push too much in the first session. But anyway, you have to get a good position to start. But I think we will see some strange 'Qualy Ones' (first part of the qualifying session) this season.

Q: But Rubens, you are saying that the first qualifying session isn't necessarily that important?

Barrichello: Especially in Melbourne it was not important. I've learned over the last four or five years that if somebody doesn't run for an hour, and there are no cars on the track, and you come back, the track is at least a second slower, the first time out. The second car has a bit better (track conditions), the third and so on. After five cars have run, the track gets to a minimum of the problem. So knowing I was the first car out, there was really no point, there was no point at all. I guess Malaysia is going to be a bit different, because the track is ready all the time, and with the heat? Sometimes being the first car it's actually cooler, so you can actually get an advantage from that. But having said that, I just thought there was no point in pushing in the first qualifying session and it's going to be that for the whole year, even because you're sitting at the press conference, and you tell us 'have you noticed that Juan Pablo was first in the first qualifying?' You always haven't noticed, because it has gone by to the second qualifying so quickly. So there's no value for whoever finished first, second or third in the first qualifying.

Q: Would there be more value if it was on a Friday, do you think?

Barrichello: I think so because then it's a different day, you have time to get it in the press, you have everything. At least it gives you a chance to push. I won my first Grand Prix last year when on the Friday I spun, if you remember, so I was dead last on Friday, and then I came on Saturday and I was on pole. So at least you have different situations. If it was last year like this year, I would have ruined my chances of being on pole.

Q: What are your feelings, Fernando?

Alonso: Yeah, more or less the same. Probably Friday qualifying gives you a little bit of safe time, if you have any problems with the car, to repair the car and be ready on the Saturday. As I said before, if you have spun or damaged the car in the first qualifying, you have to take the T-car, you lose ten places. It's difficult to push at the maximum in the first qualifying I think.

Q: Is it team policy that you don't push hard, or is it just your own personal feelings?

Alonso: For me it's personal feeling, but I'm sure that the team would not be happy if I damaged the car in 'Qualy One'.

Barrichello: Me too, but they could keep the same philosophy. But if you go out on Friday and you're trying to go for a time and you damage (your car) and you have to take the T-car and lose ten positions, I think that's something which would at least maybe make it more interesting for the public. But make it separate again.

Q: One other question, before I throw everything open: I believe there's been a fire at Maranello over the last few days. Has it affected the racing team at all? What do you know about it?

Barrichello: Nothing. Has there been a fire there? I left my car in Monaco, so it's OK.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Marco Evangelisti - Corriere dello Sport): Fernando, sorry about this question, but how did you react when you learned what had happened in Madrid last week? And are you going to wear some sign of condolence, a black armband or something, during the race?

Alonso: Yeah, I will wear two things: the Spanish flag on the helmet and something on my arm. I was in the Maldives and it was difficult to have any news because we didn't have any internet, phones, etc, etc. But I spoke with my home one day and they told me and I felt so shocked, sad because it had happened to normal people, like you, like me, workers, kids going to school. It was a sad and difficult moment. We are living at a difficult time around the world, everywhere, not only in Spain. And I want to express here my condolences to all the families. It's difficult for Spain and for the whole world, I think.

Q: (Fredrik Huldt - Auto Motor & Sport): There's been a lot of talk about tyre testing up until now. Most of it, I guess, has been running on dry tyres. There's a possibility of rain, at least, on Sunday. Can you comment on that?

Barrichello: We're very much prepared. We've been doing some work on wet tyres too. If it rains, maybe it will be a bit cooler, so maybe nicer? But apart from that, there's no comment really. We're quite okay, prepared.

Alonso: We hope no rain, at least dry conditions for the Michelin runners would be a little bit better. But you never know. Wet races are always a little bit different, a little bit crazy, and maybe we can have an advantage with a wet race. In Sao Paulo last year we saw a wet race and the Michelin runners were not too bad in that race. If it rains, it's the same for everybody.

Q: (Kevin Garside, The Daily Telegraph): Fernando, given the tragic events of last week, I'm sure it would be marvellous to dedicate a victory to all those who lost their lives, and it would be a great morale booster to the people of Spain. Do you think you are in a position to deliver something like that this weekend?

Alonso: It will be difficult. Victories are always very hard in Formula One, but it's one of the best moments of the year to have one first place.

Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport):Fernando, do you feel that, of the Michelin runners, Renault has a bit of an advantage over Williams-BMW and (McLaren-Mercedes from what you've seen in Melbourne and from winter testing?

Alonso: Well, it's a little bit too early to say after only one race but I'm sure that in Melbourne we were a little bit quicker than McLaren, they seemed to have a few more problems than us, especially reliability. I think Williams is very strong, I think they have very competitive cars. The race in Melbourne was a little bit difficult for them. I think they got a lot of traffic after the first corner and I think they will again be very strong here. I don't think we have any advantage compared to them. They will be very hard to beat.

Q: (Paolo Ianieri): Many people commented on the very good start that you and Jarno had in Melbourne. Is it just a better system this year or you and Jarno have trained a lot on this and came out pretty well?

Alonso: The reaction was very good. No, obviously the team did a very good job this winter. We tested the starts a lot. We worked very close with the technocentre as well, with the normal cars at Renault, and I think the good starts also came from the natural traction that the cars have, probably more than the others. But, as before, it's a little bit too early to say. We have had only one race and we hope to repeat it here as well.

Q: (Marco Evangelisti): You were talking about the technocentre at Renault; how do they get involved?

Alonso: They work very close to the team, in terms of traction control, in terms of engine, fuel saving, also in safety. They do a lot of crash tests for us, with the Formula One as well and they have been working very closely for the last two years.

Q: Does that happen at Ferrari as well, particularly with the Fiat Group?

Barrichello: For us it's probably a little bit easier because there's just one company working on the whole package. It happens much more often that things that we experiment with on the racing car go to the road car. But it could happen with some ideas from other people as well.

Q: (Paolo Ianrieri): Looking forward to the next race in Bahrain, what sort of information do you have at this stage, a completely unknown circuit in terms of racing?

Barrichello: At the press conference today, a guy said it was more humid and hotter than here, so I told him we were going to die inside the car. That's the only information I have because before I had heard it was hotter but not humid at all. So that's pretty much like Brazil. But I've only seen the racing track on paper. I've no idea which is Shanghai and which one is Bahrain. I'll probably get there very early just to get a feel for it.

Alonso: Same thing. I know the track from the paper but I've heard that it's very hot and dry, not humid, and now we will find out.

Q: Fernando, we know there is a good relationship between you and Jarno Trulli. What about the rumours saying that next year Ralf Schumacher could be your teammate?

Alonso: I know nothing. I know nothing. I don't think so. I'm very happy to work with Jarno and I hope that next year we stay at Renault again.

Q: Did you speak with Jarno about what happened at the first turn, because Jarno was a little bit disappointed in Melbourne?

Alonso: No, no. We didn't speak, but everything was OK. We spent all week playing football in the Maldives and nothing, nothing obviously to speak about. You, the press, you take a little more. We say one thing and you write more things than we said.

Q: Were you just playing football, or are you still playing tennis?

Alonso: Continuing. We play football - tennis this time.

Q: Who wins?

Alonso: The physios won. We are very disappointing. In doubles it's Jarno and me against them and we lost - every day!

DRIVERS: David COULTHARD (McLAREN) and Ralf SCHUMACHER (WILLIAMS)

Q: How did you see your own team's car's performance at the last Grand Prix, the opening Grand Prix of the year?

David COULTHARD: I think it was quite clear to all of us that it was not where we wanted to be and we just got on with the hard work of trying to develop the package rather than wasting too much time talking about it.

Ralf SCHUMACHER: Pretty similar actually. It was clear to see certainly we are not pretty happy with it. First of all being behind Ferrari so far away, then obviously behind Renault, that is what we didn't expect, but I am sure we can turn it around. It will take a bit of time but I guess it will be a bit different here anyway. Melbourne was pretty cool for our circumstances at least for the tyres and everything, so it should be better here.

Q: Do you feel the same about that David?

DC: Yeah, I think if you just look back a year ago then the gap Ferrari had in Melbourne was significantly more than they had here. Obviously the two races were affected one by weather and one by Michael having an incident at turn one, but if that same trend follows then it will be much closer. I think the warmer conditions as well will help the tyre choice we have here.

Q: How much of a surprise was it to be back where you were in Melbourne? Was it a bit of a wake-up call for both teams?

DC: I don't think that?certainly for me when I was looking at winter testing, we were always a little bit behind in our one-lap performance and at different times our race pace was reasonable. But then you are presuming the level of fuel you are running relative to the others, just based on how many laps they've done but they could finish a 20-lap run and still have significant levels of fuel on. So, it wasn't a big surprise that were weren't quick in Melbourne and I think inevitably, when you are on the front line you are more aware of that and I think it was more of a surprise to other people, other members of the team.

Q: Was it a surprise to Williams to be where they were?

RS: Definitely. I think winter testing went pretty well for us, we were pretty much at the top, so we expected to be at the top in Melbourne as well. Qualifying, at least for my team-mate, was decent, but then in the race it was clearly a different world. That is what we didn't expect and we woke up pretty quick. We were really surprised, yes.

Q: So, both teams have got improvements in the pipeline, the normal development. Has that now been accelerated? What is the situation post-Melbourne?

DC: Well, we had a reasonable test last week in Valencia and we have some new parts to run on the car which were actually available before Melbourne but we didn't have the right conditions in Imola at the last test prior to going to Melbourne to be confident they were actually a step forward. In that situation you leave them on the shelf until you can actually evaluate them properly, so I expect if we were able to re-run Melbourne now with those parts we would be a little bit quicker.

RS: Well, we tested as well. There are no significant changes here for us because we are a bit short of time. For Bahrain we expect something but for here it is basically the same package, only little changes.

Q: David, it has been said that you were 'rev limited' during the Melbourne weekend. Can you confirm or deny that?

DC: I could confirm that all Grand Prix cars are rev limited, so anyone who is in any doubt, obviously you have got that?I think inevitably in these sort of situations you can get misquoted by trying to give someone a direction and I was asked a question on whether we had been handicapped at all on engine performance to achieve reliability and I said they should speak to someone from Ilmor, meaning you will get an exact answer based on the facts. My read on it was it might have been perceived as me trying to say 'oh, talk to Ilmor, I am not happy about something' which wasn't at all the case. If you used the rpm detector that is on the bottom of the tv screen - although I don't know how accurate it is - I don't believe you would see us as being significantly lower in rpm compared to our competitors and not significantly different from last year.

Q: Obviously, turning around an engine is somewhat different to a chassis - at least you can bolt bits onto a chassis whereas an engine is a bit more fundamental.

DC: Oh, its incredible the technical challenge of getting an engine to work over 18,000 rpm. It's quite phenomenal to imagine how they can get them all to hang together and obviously technically it is much more tricky to get the engine to work. But I think our starting point this year is reasonable considering where we finished last year and the one-engine rule, which obviously means a lot more kilometres on one engine.

Q: Did you feel handicapped by the one-engine rule? You didn't seem to enjoy it.

DC: Well, the problem Kimi had wasn't actually an engine problem it was another problem that led to the failure, so I think we have got a much higher level of confidence in reliability which will see us run more laps during practice. Inevitably, when you are not sure 100 percent or you want to give a bit of a margin, then you restrict the mileage you do. I don't see the benefit of that to Formula One as a whole - to the fans, to the drivers - in restricting the laps. I can see the cost benefit in one engine for the entire weekend but whether we will ever get back to the complete free running that we saw in the past when you had an engine for each day?ultimately it might not make any difference - maybe people don't really mind what happens on a Friday.

Q: What were your feelings about the one-engine rule over the weekend?

RS: We weren't limited in mileage, we did our programme, but in a way it is right. And anyway I cannot see the cost saving effect. Talking to our supplier there is no difference basically. And obviously for smaller teams it is going to be more difficult because we will see less driving, definitely.

Q: How about the lack of launch control? Did you enjoy that?

RS: Well, it could be an advantage because starting is not going to be as consistent as it used to be but it is something the driver takes care for and it is another mistake we could do and not blame it on the team so it makes our life more difficult.

DC: My start in Melbourne, from doing the analysis afterwards, was the third or fourth best start after the Renaults, who were obviously the best. So I was reasonably happy with that and if it was to continue as a trend and we can improve on that then if you can average your starts out like that all year then you would be reasonably happy. Obviously it is an important part of a race and as we move up the grid hopefully we will be able to make good use of it.

Q: Ralf, since the Australian Grand Prix your name has been connected with Renault and Toyota. Are these just rumours? What is going on?

RS: I have no intention to stop yet, or for the next ten years maybe. No, but, definitely, my clear?I just?I'm pretty clear about what we want to achieve with Williams this year. Obviously we are a bit far away from that at the moment but we saw last year that can always turn around, so I am pretty confident in that. And whatever will be the future, as soon as we know it, we will let you know, obviously.

Q: But is Renault true? Is Toyota true? Have you been talking to all these people?

RS: At the moment I am talking to BMW-Williams, that is the team where I am and where I would like to stay and we are still talking about it. That is all I can say.

Q: David, should you leave McLaren, would you consider one of the vacancies, should there be two, at Williams?

DC: Yeah Ralf, hurry up and make a decision, for God's sake! Yeah, it is my intention to be on the grid next year and obviously that means finding the most competitive drive I can other than McLaren, because McLaren's position is quite clear.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Stan Piecha - The Sun):Ralf, after Melbourne Juan Pablo was quoted as saying you nearly had him off the track. Do you have anything to say on that?

RS: Um, the only thing I have to say is that it was a pretty strong move and next time I WILL have him off the track.

DC: Phew, that's brilliant! Oh, sorry, I was just meant to think that! I was thinking how mild the question was, because I was thinking you would have said something a bit more like 'Juan Pablo said you were an idiot?' you know, really wind him up, but you didn't need to!

Q: (Stan Piecha) Do you feel that strongly about it?

RS: No, it was just a move that was based on me making space for him, which I did not, obviously because that early in the race I did not want to put our positions into danger on the basis of scoring as much as possible and getting the best out of the weekend. I just think that move was not the right thing to do at the time.

Q: (Stan Piecha): And have you had a word with him about it?

RS: I don't need to say anything about it, other than what I said before.

Q: (James Allen - ITV): So, presumably what you are saying is you detect quite a significant difference in him and his approach to racing this year. How much of that do you put down to the fact that he knows he is leaving the team at the end of the year and that he knows he doesn't have much to lose in his relationship with you or the team?

RS: To be honest, we have a reasonable relationship as team-mates, that's not the thing. Sometimes we clearly do not agree on the circuit, which is normal because we both want to win. Otherwise I am concentrating on the team's problem at the moment, which is trying to fill the gap, that on whatever my team-mate does, to be honest.

Q: (Byron Young - The Daily Mirror): What didn't you like about his manoeuvre?

RS: I think I have said enough about it. The only thing I would add is that if someone brakes into a corner with the intention of either crashing into somebody or assuming that he will give space then that is the wrong move, let's put it that way.

Q: (James Allen): David, what sort of timetable do you think you are working on in terms of turning this situation around? You have an enormous amount of experience now and you have been in this position before in the mid nineties. Based on your experience, what is your view of how long it will take to get the thing turned around?

DC: Well, even before we went to Melbourne the 19B was already in the pipeline so there was a number of changes already put in process and the ones that can be accelerated will be. Certainly, I don't have an absolute date on what the outcome of the post-mortem from Melbourne will be, a lot of the analysis is still being done, but I would expect that before we get halfway through the European season we will see some significant changes.

Q: (Shing Huei Peh - The Straits Times): Can both of you comment on how the heat affects your driving here?

DC: Obviously you lose more fluid and it is medically proven that as you lose fluid you lose performance so you are just trying to make sure the training you have done beforehand is to acclimatise to that as much as possible and that the amount of fluid you take on board will reduce the performance loss.

RS: Yeah, very similar. I think that besides losing fluid it is not a big problem. It is really depending on how hard it is to drive. When I won here two years ago it was a nice easy Sunday afternoon drive but last year it was more difficult. It depends whether the car is easy or difficult to drive.

Q: Do you both have water bottles in the car? Do you have fluid available during the race?

RS: Yeah, if I want to, yes, maybe I will take some on board

DC: I haven't had over the last several years because of not having run it in other races and the one time I did run it here it was a relatively straightforward race and I never used it until the in-lap. Obviously from a team point of view, in terms of packaging, they are not so keen to have it in there but I have requested it will be in for this weekend.

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