Australian GP - Saturday - Press Conference
15 MARCH 2008
1. Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren Team), 1m26.714s
2. Robert KUBICA (BMW Sauber), 1m26.869s
3. Heikki KOVALAINEN (McLaren Mercedes), 1m27.079s
UNILATERAL PRESS CONFERENCE
Q: Lewis, a new look to qualifying and a sensational qualifying session. Obviously we don't know the fuel loads involved and your friend Robert put you under massive pressure with two or three minutes to go.
Lewis HAMILTON: He did. Both these drivers here did a fantastic job. It is good to see Robert up there with us but also to see Heikki. His first race with the team and he has done a fantastic job. It was very very close. Obviously in the first session, Q1, I did not get a very good lap. But then the last lap I was able to bridge the gap and put the sectors together.
Q: Spectacular driving over the two days here in Melbourne. Your verdict on the new technical regulations and what it is like inside the car?
Hamilton: Well, I have always been for them. I really do like the new regulations that we have. Driving with traction control is slightly different obviously than driving without it but it really brings out, I guess, the best in all the drivers. You really have to push yourself. But you know the feeling in the car is great. The car feels fantastic. I think the team have done a fantastic job really to prepare the car this weekend but also to get all the bits out here, so to all the guys back home 'Good job'.
Q: Talk us through that pole lap Lewis. A lot of pressure. How god was it? How does that rank with your others?
Hamilton: I can do better, for sure. Being on pole is a great feeling but there are always improvements that you can make. I started off very well but I find that the gap is always very tricky. I had a huge gap but then all of a sudden at the last corner I saw that there was a Williams up ahead, so I was pretty much behind the Williams, I think two or three seconds, for most of the lap. Whether or not that makes a difference who knows but I am happy with the result.
Q: Robert, congratulations to you too. For some unbelievable slides too. What a spectacular lap that was. Talk us through that quickest lap of yours.
Robert KUBICA: For sure, I think a made a mistake in the corner of turn 12 where I went off over the artificial grass and lost more than a couple-of-tenths there. But you know this is the new style. We know we can make some good results in qualifying and I took quite a lot of risk which in the end didn't pay off because I lost more and I could maybe stay in front of Lewis but, anyway, I think it is a great achievement for the whole team especially that the beginning of the season, the beginning of testing, was quite hard for the people who have designed this car and built this car. But we have done a very good job. All the people in Munich and Hinwil have worked very hard to be here and thanks to them I am here.
Q: Talk us through the weekend because yesterday didn't appear to be brilliantly quick but then today right of the pace from minute one.
Kubica: Yeah, yesterday we faced some problems. This year's car is pretty difficult to balance and it is extremely difficult to find the right balance and the right set-up especially when the track is green and yesterday the conditions were very difficult, very windy. Also in qualifying we had some wind but anyway we have done a good job and let's hope for the race.
Q: It looks like without traction control, without aids under braking, that you're loving it just as much as Lewis.
Kubica: I found it really no different with TC or with no TC. I found after two rounds in winter testing I forgot how it was with TC. But what is strange is that I found much better braking stability without engine brake system which means that I think we missed something last year with this system but anyway it is gone. We think of the future and I think we are in good shape.
Q: Heikki, turning to you. Congratulations on a fantastic result for the team. The first Ferrari down in fourth place and you were quickest in Q1. Talk us through qualifying.
Heikki KOVALAINEN: It was like all weekend. I have just tried to take things steady and not make mistakes, just push a little bit more all the time. Q1 was a reasonable lap and the car felt it had a pretty good balance all the way through the qualifying sessions and just at the end the team managed to make a perfect lap but this is the way it is now. I think it is a very good start with my new team and I am very happy with the team and I am looking forward to the whole season and to the race tomorrow.
Q: Talk a little bit about the team and the character of the team?
Kovalainen: I think there is a great motivation back in Woking and also the support from Mercedes is fantastic. It is a huge team with a lot of people involved. Like this weekend, although we had very good practice sessions the boys worked last night until 5.30 am as they had picked up a problem overnight and managed to fix the problem which potentially could have been a problem in the race. This is the type of energy we have at the moment in our team and it is really fantastic. I am very lucky to be part of it now and I want to make sure that I keep my position here and have a good and strong future with them.
Q: Lewis, your thoughts on, as Heikki said, a great fillip for the team and it won't have escaped your notice that Kimi Raikkonen is down is 16th place and Felipe Massa is fourth. What a way for the team to the year after the tribulations perhaps of 2007.
Hamilton: Absolutely. We have just turned over a new leaf and as Heikki said Mercedes-Benz and McLaren have done a fantastic job. They have pushed right to the limit. Last night we had a couple of problems, but they were ready to do whatever they needed and they were here today and pushed very hard to get the car set up properly and be out there. Really, for the start of the season it couldn't be a better position for both of us.
Q: Lewis, it couldn't be a better start could it?
Hamilton: I don't think so. It was a great qualifying session. It was a bit nerve-wracking at the beginning and we don't really get a great lap. We were held up a bit and it wasn't really easy to find the gap today. Finding the gap was a lot harder than I have experienced in the past. But we managed to find some sort of gap towards the end and I was able to get a reasonably decent lap but I still felt that I lost a little bit of time throughout the lap.
Q: Robert came close, didn't he?
Hamilton: He did. He did a fantastic job and it was great to see them up there with us. Like I said before it was great to see Heikki who is new with the team pushing hard.
Q: It was a completely different qualifying strategy as well with the full fuel tank going through. Do you think you would change anything with your approach to qualifying or was your approach perfect?
Hamilton: I think my approach was fine. I am happy with the approach I had. Again there are definitely places where I can improve and where the team can improve but it is very difficult coming from a light fuel load and going to a heavy fuel load. Going out and trying to brake at the same spot, you can't do that. You have to re-adjust.
Q: Major factors for tomorrow?
Hamilton: Obviously the start. Everyone starting with the new regulations which makes the starts a little bit trickier and I think tomorrow you will see a wide range of good starts and bad starts. I think last year it was always the same. This year it will be quite tricky.
Q: Robert. Congratulations. Did you expect to be so competitive here?
Kubica: The beginning of the season we struggled a bit with the car which we were not expecting. But the team have done a fantastic job. Yesterday we faced some problems but this morning was much better and qualifying proved that we had good pace. I took the risk in pushing very hard on the last lap in Q3 which did not pay-off as I went off in turn 12. I lost more than two-tenths, even three-tenths there which cost me a pole. But the race is very long.
Q: Do you feel you have the right balance now?
Kubica: I think we were OK for qualifying but conditions can change tomorrow, and again, this year's car is pretty difficult. It's a very quick car but it's difficult to put it in the right place in every corner but we are working on it, we have done a really big step. The guys in Hinwil and Munich have done a really good job in the last couple of months, developing, facing the problems and trying to resolve the problems, and I think they've done a very good job which is why I'm here.
Q: It was said early on, at the start of testing, that the car was very twitchy; have you ironed that out, is it a little bit more comfortable?
Kubica: As I say, the car is a quick car but it's difficult and it's very tricky to find the right balance, the right set-up but if we compare the beginning of testing or even the beginning of February to now, we have gone miles forward and if we have started the season the way we have started, we can be very competitive in later races. I hope some changes will come, they are under development.
Q: Heikki, you must be hugely satisfied to be third after qualifying.
Kovalainen: Yeah, of course, satisfied but there is still room for improvement. As I've said all weekend, I would just build up as the weekend goes on, as the year goes on. We are perfectly on track with that. Last year was quite a shaky start to the season, I certainly feel much better now and I just don't want to make the same mistakes again, so I drive within the limits that I feel I can do with the car now and hopefully throughout the year we can improve the car and the set-up and I improve my driving and then at the end we will hopefully arrive a couple of places better than now. But today, all of the qualifying sessions were very good for me, odd mistakes here and there but it just happens, you just have to iron them out. Apart from that, not much to say. I'm very happy to be here, obviously, and tomorrow I think we are looking strong for the race as well.
Q: Lewis mentioned problems, you mentioned a problem; can you elaborate on that?
Kovalainen: What problem do you mean? Ah, yeah, there was something in the car which they picked up actually back in Europe, in dyno, some problems. I don't want to talk about them in detail because to be honest, I don't know...
Hamilton: Ask the team.
Kovalainen: Yeah, exactly, I don't know all the details that well, but it was a serious matter and they managed to fix it which is very good.
Q: Is that a worry for tomorrow though?
Kovalainen: No, that's not worrying any more. We identified the problem and we fixed it, so that's not a worry. Hopefully there are no other problems. Reliability has been fantastic, so fingers crossed.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Miran Alisic - Pop TV) Could all three of you tell us, how, for the spectators, the strategy in the race will be different. Will we see a lot earlier stops or not, generally speaking?
Hamilton: I've not really thought about it to be honest. It will be a little different, I think at the first race because everyone's going to be experimenting and there's a lot of pressure on everyone really. It's a lot different to going out and calculating how much fuel you have by your last best timed lap. We don't get to refuel, we have to do the whole race with whatever we are left with. I think that's a new challenge for all the teams and I'm sure that everyone's doing a similar sort of thing.
Kovalainen: Obviously the cars are heavier now throughout Q3 because we don't have the fuel burning but the stop laps will be the same as last year - maybe not exactly the same but a similar trend.
Q: (Juha Paatalo - Financial Times Germany) Two questions to all of you: first of all, how surprised are you that there are no Ferrari drivers in this press conference today, and secondly, how confident are you for the race, given that there are still question marks over fuel loads and tyre degradation tomorrow?
Kovalainen: Of course it's surprising that the Ferrari guys are not in the press conference. I understand Kimi already had a problem in Q1 which is, of course, surprising, but nevertheless, they will still be strong. We know from winter testing, we know from this weekend, looking at their runs, that they are going to be competitive and they can still be very strong in the race, so we still have to maximise every opportunity that we get to be able to stay ahead of them, and even then it's difficult. I don't know, I hope not too many unknowns but like Lewis mentioned, the start will be very different. It's very difficult to make a good start. It's very easy to make a rubbish start because it's all manual now, so hopefully if we get a good start and other people don't get as good a start but it could be the opposite way around, so that will be one big thing. Otherwise I think the racing will be the same, we will be fighting like normal and I don't see any big change in that.
Q: Lewis, any worries?
Hamilton: Pretty much the same as what he just said. I think Robert was extremely quick off the line last year and my aim is obviously to change that this year.
Kubica: It will be quite difficult to make our remaining tyres survive for all those laps but the condition of the track is improving, there is more rubber so it always helps and we will see. Without traction control, you have to watch out, to be gentler on the power and throttle and don't overheat the rear tyres. I think this will be the key.
Q: Surprised no Ferrari?
Kubica: In some ways yes, but this shows how Formula One is changing and of course, we are happy they are not here but as Heikki said, Kimi had a problem and we took advantage of it.
Q: (Heikki Kulta - Turun Sanomat) Lewis, does it make your race any easier now that Kimi is so far behind?
Hamilton: I don't know, I don't think so because we're not really sure what sort of pace they were going to have during Q3. I think I've got a tough enough job with these guys here, so I don't think not having him here with us today is going to make it any less difficult. It's going to be a very tough race tomorrow and we just have to do the best we can in managing our tyres and hope for the best.
Q: (Will Buxton - Australasian Motorsport News) A question for Heikki and Lewis. We've heard a lot about equality at McLaren over the last twelve months. In the history of McLaren, we've obviously seen gentlemen's orders between the two drivers and a gentleman's agreement. If you two guys are out in front, will there be any gentleman's agreement between the two of you not to race?
Kovalainen: (Laughing) Let me answer this question. It's another one, again. Let me just say that Lewis is number one, that's why he was on pole today, and there is a three tenths in between the cars - or four. Everybody happy?! Honestly, I think we have equal chances, we don't have any preference. I would race Lewis like I race Robert, like I race Kimi. If I get a chance, I will go for it but of course, if I can't make a move, then I sit behind. It's as simple as that and he will do the same with me. He will squeeze and block and do everything to keep me behind. That's just part of it.
Hamilton: I agree. We're here to race but obviously to bring both our cars home, so we're going to be professional and sensible but we want to beat each other, obviously, and I expect nothing but the best from him and I'm sure it's the same with me.
Q: (Mark Danby - Auto Magazine China) Lewis, would you like to comment on the difference in track conditions from today to yesterday, given the heat difference?
Hamilton: A lot easier today. I think yesterday was one of the toughest days I've had, especially this year, almost similar to perhaps Bahrain or Malaysia, without the humidity. It was great weather yesterday but it was just very tricky getting into your first day after not being in the car for nearly three weeks and then all of a sudden... you know, it was tough but everyone was in the same boat and I think we managed to get through today quite well. But today, being a lot cooler it was a little bit easier I would say.