Japanese GP - Saturday - Press Conference
29 SEPTEMBER 2007
1. Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren Mercedes), 1m25.368s
2. Fernando ALONSO (McLaren Mercedes), 1m25.438s
3. Kimi RAIKKONEN (Ferrari), 1m25.516s
Q: Lewis, a perfectly-timed Q3 out there by the looks of it out on that second set of tyres right at the end, but at the end of the lap, you had to pass a car on the straightaway just before the start-finish line?
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, that was a good session for us. The whole weekend has started off a little bit better than others, and we had a good car today. It was quite tricky conditions out there - we don't know the track in the wet, and we didn't get any practice this morning, and we're very fortunate that the team did a fantastic job getting the set-up right. When you're out there, you don't really know where you are - you really only have your pit board, you don't know how much time is left. They timed it to perfection, and I made best use of it.
Q: Yes, and using the two sets of tyres which was unusual in the wet conditions. What was that pole lap like, and talk about the business of coming onto the pit straight and seeing that car right by you?
Hamilton: It was alright, it was alright. It was quite a good lap, I was happy with it. Obviously, when I crossed the line I realised that this was the last chance I was probably going to have, and I just improved on a couple of corners where I'd made mistakes previously. I lost a little bit of time on the exit of the last corner, and I didn't know what the Ferrari - it was Kimi or Felipe, I'm not sure - I think they decided to do another lap, but they didn't really get in my way - I managed to come across the line ahead. I could see it on the TV when I came across the line, so before my team even told me I knew. So, as you can imagine, I was punching the air.
Q: We lost the session this morning because of the fog - your feelings about the performance of the car in the dry conditions on the assumption that the race might be dry?
Hamilton: I hope it's wet but I'm not really bothered either way. Obviously, we've seen in the second practice that we were very comfortable with the balance of the car, and the team has been working as hard as always to improve. We've come here with another step forward and we're here to challenge the Ferraris. Obviously starting where we are - it could be changeable conditions tomorrow - I think it could be exciting.
Q: Fernando, you were quickest for a while there in Q3 and very competitive throughout the three sessions - what was it like from your point of view? You did come in relatively late for that first set of tyres.
Fernando ALONSO: It was OK for me in the wet conditions. I enjoyed today driving here in Fuji for the first time in these conditions. Everything was going well, and at the end - OK, we are not on pole but we are on the first row, which is very important for the race. I'm very happy with the performance today of the car.
Q: You predicted in Spa that the McLaren here would be very competitive against the Ferrari - can you talk about how that was affected by the wet and the dry and how that competitive edge goes?
Alonso: We saw very tight timed laps yesterday, very close between the two teams, and today in qualifying we are only two-tenths (apart), all four drivers, so in the end nothing between dry and wet conditions changed too much in the battle between the two teams. As we saw today, I think it's extremely close and we had the advantage in the qualifying - maybe in the race we will struggle a little bit more, so we will see tomorrow.
Q: Kimi, we saw you have a couple of moments in the wet - what was the Ferrari like in those conditions?
Kimi RAIKKONEN: It was OK actually, not too bad. We touched the kerbs a few times but it didn't really affect the lap times. I had traffic on the last lap and needed to back off. Anyhow, we had a small problem with the gearbox, so for sure we can fix it for tomorrow. I think we can be in good shape - we don't know what kind of weather we're going to have tomorrow, but it's the same for everybody, so we should have a good car for any kind of weather conditions.
Q: Ferrari was less competitive on Friday afternoon than they appeared to be in the morning perhaps with set-up changes - you weren't able to verify that with the loss of the session on Saturday morning, so how does that place you for the race?
Raikkonen: I think we are pretty close to Friday morning, so it should be OK. The circuit is going to be different after the rain for the race tomorrow, so we'll wait and see. I'm confident that we'll have a good car in the race and it's going to be a tight race with all four cars.
Q: Returning to you Lewis for some final thoughts. You're a rookie - we need to keep reminding ourselves of that - but the pressure must be intense where you are at the moment?
Hamilton: I'm quite relaxed to be honest. With the way this weekend has gone, hopefully I'll be more relaxed. I'm in the perfect position - obviously I have these two breathing down my neck - but I'm not really too bothered. Again I just feel that the car's underneath me this weekend. Tomorrow's going to be a tough battle - we're all so close in time. The key is going to be to get down to the first corner, and leaving them.
Q: Lewis, congratulations. How important is this pole position to you?
Hamilton: As important as every pole position, but obviously to come to Japan, to Fuji, for the first Grand Prix here in a long time, and with everyone in the same boat - none of us know the track in the wet or the dry, and with limited testing as well - so to get pole position is critical. It helps. I'm really happy with the job I did.
Q: Everyone seems to have enjoyed the track in the dry - as much as in the wet?
Hamilton: Even more - it's an awesome track in the wet, it really is. There's something about the surface, obviously the Bridgestone wet tyres are very good, and the grip we have here is incredible. Considering how wet it was, we weren't that far off our lap times yesterday in the dry. It's good fun - you've got some grip, you can play around with it, you can go off-line and go on-line. So it should entertain people in the race.
Q: How much guesswork is involved for the race tomorrow, because you don't know whether it's going to be dry or wet, you've got a great long straight, you need downforce on the car in the wet...
Hamilton: I wouldn't say anything we do in Formula One is guesswork. We have extremely intelligent engineers and people back at the factory analysing all of the data and trying to understand where we should be, and we've got a super team - they do a fantastic job - so there's no guessing going on. Maybe for the other teams, but not us.
Q: Fernando, weather predictions for tomorrow? What's the team saying, the weather forecasters?
Alonso: We're checking the web sites, so I think it's the same as everybody. There are some possibilities of rain, it will rain during the day, but we don't know if it will hit the two o'clock time for the race. Maybe it's before, maybe after, maybe during the race.
Q: Was the track in wet conditions a bit of an unknown?
Alonso: Yeah, I think it was for everybody. It was quite an exciting qualifying due to the problems with the fog this morning and actually it was the same for most of the drivers, for everybody. The first lap in wet conditions was in Q1, so it was quite exciting.
Q: How vital is that final sector of the lap looking at your rivals? Is it important, is it where you're making up time?
Alonso: I don't know. I think all the sectors are important. The last sector is obviously the slowest one. You need a good car there, you need downforce there. Maybe sector one is more about speed and maybe less downforce, so it's difficult to compare with other teams because you never know what they are running.
Q: Kimi, going into a wet Q1 was a bit of a surprise for everybody but more so for you because you didn't get out at all this morning.
Raikkonen: Yes, we were a bit too slow out of the box... or not too slow but they closed the circuit so quickly that we didn't even manage to get into the pit lane. But I think one out lap wouldn't have made much difference. It was OK. The car felt good. Of course the first few laps are always a bit about finding the lines and it gets better when you do more laps but it was good.
Q: You mentioned a gearbox problem just now.
Raikkonen: Yeah, we had a sensor problem, so we lost the fast shift, so it cost time. There was nothing that we could do during qualifying but we can probably fix it for tomorrow.
Q: Do you think you might have been in amongst the McLarens?
Raikkonen: I don't know. For sure it helps when you have that working but the car felt pretty OK in the last session. I was pretty happy. I only got one lap really and that was good enough for third place. I think the times are very close, so maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not, but anyhow we are in a good position for tomorrow.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Takeharu Kusuda - Lapita Magazine) Lewis, when I asked you in Monza about the Japanese Grand Prix, you told us you were a little bit disappointed that you couldn't drive in Suzuka, but now, after qualifying, has your impression changed?
Hamilton: As I said, I've really enjoyed my trip. I was over here and then coming to Fuji - it's quite an awesome place with the scenery here. And the track - I was very very impressed when I walked the circuit on Thursday, the way that they have the place built up and the facilities. I think it's fantastic. I would definitely put it at the top of the Formula One circuits that we have. But when I commented that I was disappointed, it was because it was a childhood dream to race at Suzuka but still, I'm more than happy to be here and obviously to be on pole.
Q: (Mathias Brunner - Motorsport Aktuell) Lewis, were you worried that the Ferrari would perhaps change its line (when it was coming very slowly down the straight)?
Hamilton: At the beginning, obviously I exited the last corner and as I was accelerating I thought the Ferrari (driver) had seen me in the mirror and was beginning to move over but then he stopped and I understand he was just trying to avoid the white line and do an extra lap. It wasn't an issue. I didn't know what speed he was doing and I tried to get some slipstream but it wasn't going to work, so I probably lost a bit of time trying to get back out of the way.
Q: (Paulo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, would you prefer to have a dry race or a wet race tomorrow?
Raikkonen: It's the same for all the teams, all the drivers, so it doesn't really make any difference. It would be nice to have it dry or wet, not really in between. There's a bit more luck involved then. I don't know. Anything really.
Q: (MC) Did it dry out at all during that session, were the conditions pretty stable?
Raikkonen: There were some little dry places but not really completely.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Question for all three. Now that you've driven this track, what are the differences, both from the driving point of view and the car set-up point of view between what you've experienced and what you and the teams anticipated before you got here?
Hamilton: As I was saying earlier, we have a big group of engineers who get as much data as they can and we sort of all came here blindfold and not really knowing what to expect but they made very good calculations and we went out and we were very close with the balance that we had decided to go with, both for the wet and the dry. Obviously we've done a great job and so I'm happy.
Raikkonen: OK, it's a new place and a new challenge but I think it's been going quite smoothly. We knew the circuit a little bit from having a look before and it's been good.
Q: (Juha Paatalo - Financial Times Germany) This is for Lewis and Fernando. Remembering what happened in Spa in the first corner, what do you think is going to happen tomorrow in the first corner? What is your plan for the first corner?
Hamilton: (To Fernando) Do you want to answer that? We're going to race. As Fernando said, we're not idiots. We're going to go into the first corner, we want to finish the race and score points, so we will obviously attack each other but in a fair manner.
Alonso: Yeah, we will both finish the race, no worries.
Q: (Heikki Kulta - Turun Sanomat) Kimi, do you think that first corner is more decisive than usual?
Raikkonen: I don't think so. It's not any different to normal. It's going to be quite tight but the last race it was a very tight corner, so I don't think it's going to decide any more than any other circuit.
Q: (Michael Schmidt - Auto Motor und Sport) Fernando, you only changed tyres once in Q3. Were you saving wet tyres for tomorrow or did you run out of wet tyres?
Alonso: We planned Q3 like that because we thought that there was no time to do two stops and to fit two new sets of tyres, so we just went for one long run and then just one stop and only one chance. It was already planned like that, so no changes.
Q: (Paulo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) This is a question for all three of you. Considering the long straight, are the pit stops less important here than in other races, that you can overtake more, or is it not going to change much?
Raikkonen: I don't think it changes much. It's a different time at every circuit. For sure there are optimum laps which is the best to (stop) but I don't think here it is very crucial compared to other places.
Q: (Paulo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Are there more chances to overtake?
Alonso: No, I don't think so. We have long straights in Spa, in Monza, in Indianapolis and we see the same overtaking more or less as on any other track, so I don't think that tomorrow will be different.
Q: (Mathias Brunner - Motorsport Aktuell) Fernando, starting left hand side, right hand side on some tracks is an issue. What is your estimate for here?
Alonso: Who knows? Normally the clean side is better but it's true that today, with this rain, it will probably clean up both sides, so maybe tomorrow both sides will be more similar than normal.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Again for all three of you. Speaking of overtaking, besides turn one, what are the other overtaking points here do you think?
Raikkonen: I think we will find out tomorrow. Hopefully there are more. I think turn ten but other places are probably very difficult.
Hamilton: I think, as Kimi said, we will find out tomorrow but turn ten looks like it's a possibility but it depends whether you get a good exit from turn six.
Q: (Sudhir Chandran - Chequered Flag) Lewis, with the championship getting as close as it is, how difficult is it for you to concentrate on that last qualifying lap: palpitations, heartbeats, sweaty palms?
Hamilton: As you can see I'm dry as a bone. It was a bit of a breeze in the wet. Obviously it's not as physical and I wasn't thinking about the championship when I was doing that lap. I was thinking about getting pole position and so when you have that in the back of your mind, and then also knowing you just need to be relaxed, you can do it, 100 percent confidence in the team and the car, then it's... I'm not saying it's easy but it makes it much easier to do your job.