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Atlas F1 News Service

The Thursday-Five Press Conference - Spanish GP

Thursday May 4th, 2000

Coulthard, Barrichello and Gene todayParticipants: David Coulthard (McLaren), Ralf Schumacher (Williams), Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari), Marc Gene (Minardi) and Pedro de la Rosa (Arrows).

David Coulthard: In order to help me concentrate on my race weekend, I have written down my thoughts about the plane crash, and some information which may interest you, in the hope that we can leave it at that. This is the statement I would like to make following the plane accident, in which my fiancee, Heidi Wichlinski, my trainer, Andy Matthews, and I were involved on Tuesday, May 2nd.

First of all, I wish to express our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the two pilots, David Saunders and Dan Worley, who behaved with the utmost professionalism throughout the incident.

The background to the flight is that I chartered a Lear 35. This is an aircraft with which I am familiar, although it was neither the aircraft nor the crew which I use on a regular basis. We left Farnborough airport at lunch time on Tuesday, to return to Monaco. During the flight, the co-pilot informed us that we had an engine problem and would have to make an emergency landing at Lyon, which would be in about 10 minutes' time. Prior to landing, we had time to prepare ourselves in the brace position.

On impact, a wing tank ruptured, and there was a fire on the right side of the aircraft. When the plan finally came to rest, the front of the cockpit had broken free from the main fuselage. At this point, we established that the only way out was through the front of the aircraft. Andy led the way through the debris, and as this part of the aircraft was three or four feet above the ground, I followed Andy out, so that we could help Heidi get down. Once we were all clear of the plane, I returned to see whether there was anything I could do for the pilots, but there was nothing to be done.

In less than one minute, the emergency services arrived and took over. I would like to express our thanks to the French emergency services, and to the airport authorities, for their professional and swift response. From the scene of the crash, we were taken to the Edouard Herriot hospital in Lyon, for a checkup.

Fortunately, all of us had suffered only minor cuts and bruises. We were able to leave within a couple of hours and return home to Monaco.

Heidi, Andy and I recognize that this accident, as with all accidents, is a matter of interest to the media and the public. However, I would ask you all to respect our privacy this weekend, particularly Heidi's and Andy's. I would close by informing you that we all traveled here together for this weekend, using a private plane.

In making this statement, I hope you will recognize that, while we appreciate that you (the media), like me, have a job to do. By the same token, you will also understand that my professional obligation is to concentrate on the job I have to do, and focus on the world championship.

We are helping, and will continue to help the French authorities with their inquiry into the incident. I know you will understand that it is inappropriate for me to make any further comment, or to speculate on the cause of the accident. Thank you for your understanding, and let's hope we have a safe Grand Prix.

Q. Ralf, you've scored points in three of this year's four races. After the forecasts made by members of your own team, has that been a surprise to you?

Ralf Schumacher: Obviously, yes. When you've just moved to a new engine supplier, you cannot normally come to the first race expecting to finish in the points, and certainly not in third place. In the subsequent races, we have been reliable, at least with my car, and we haven't had a problem We are delighted.

Q. What car and engine developments can you tell us about?

Ralf Schumacher: Development continues, on the car and the engine. There are still some reliability problems to be sorted out, and once we have done that, we will be able to concentrate on gaining horsepower. But I must say that the BMW, especially in its latest specification, is already quite good. Now we plan to add things to it. As far as the chassis is concerned, I not only drove for Williams last year, but I also tried the 1998 car at one stage. And I must say that this year's car is a lot better. There are still some weaknesses, but we got rid of all last year's problems. Since Brazil, the car has been behaving much as I expected it to do. The race here will be difficult for us, because the Barcelona circuit is a great test of chassis performance and aerodynamics. Let's see where we end up.

Q. You have a new and promising teammate, Jenson Button. There's been a lot written about him, especially in Britain. What are your feelings.

Ralf Schumacher: Jenson is a very young, talented, quick driver. He doesn't need any help from me. He is doing his own job very well. We will see what the future brings. I just hope he isn't too quick.

Q. Have you been surprised to see what he has achieved so far?

Ralf Schumacher: I didn't know him before he came to F1, so I was open-minded. But if a driver is quick, there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to show his potential in F1.

Q. Rubens, you have had a mixed start to the season. Has it settled down now?

Rubens Barrichello: I think it has settled down a bit more now. After this race, we will probably be able to draw more useful conclusions about who is doing well and who has the best car. It is quite difficult to make a decision based on Melbourne or Brazil, while Imola is all about curbs and therefore still quite difficult to judge, too. Silverstone is a good circuit on which to judge, but it rained there. For me, things have gone as expected, especially in Melbourne and Brazil, where I said I expected to have a chance of being on pole position. Maybe people didn't take me too seriously there, so (the pole at) Silverstone was quite good. Even though Silverstone is a track that I have known well since my Formula 3 days, my pole position there was definitely better than the two poles that I had already taken, because it was definitely drier in England (than for his Spa and Magny-Cours poles). (Silverstone) gave me the chance to go out at the same time as everyone else, and I got a really good lap. So things are settling down for me now. Maybe the journalists still need another one or two races to see exactly what is going on.

Q. How did testing go for you here last week?

Barrichello: Quite well. I did a race distance and some other tests. The car seems quite well suited to the track. Even knowing how quick the McLarens can be here, I am quite confident that qualifying can go our way.

Q. Do you feel that you have had a good run already, both at the McLaren drivers and your teammate, Michael Schumacher?

Barrichello: In Melbourne, both of the McLarens dropped out, so I had a race - only a short one - with Michael, but that gave me a good feeling. In Brazil, I was doing the same (lap times) as Michael, until I dropped out with a hydraulic problem. In Imola, I was off the pace, but I don't think it was as bad as people have been suggesting, because in qualifying, I was only four tenths away from Michael. In the race, as I have said before, you cannot imagine how hard it is to drive a car without a seat belt. Then, at Silverstone, I had a good run until my engine cut out in Becketts corner, which is where David Coulthard got in front of me. (The setup was at Becketts; the pass at Stowe.) The problem had already been getting worse and worse, but I think it was a good run.

Q. Marc, you probably prefer not to remember last year's race....

Marc Gene: That's a long time ago, and I honestly don't think about one year ago. Since then, the team and I have learned a lot, and I am happy it happened in my first year. This time, I am looking for a different situation.

Q. Tell us about this year's Minardi-Cosworth. Although you're still using a customer engine, the chassis seems to be promising.

Gene: I am really impressed with the chassis, mainly in how well it brakes. That's very important. It gives me confidence. Last year's car was very unstable under braking. It was a big handicap in my first year. For any driver new to F1, the most difficult thing is being able to brake with the other cars, because they can all leave it so late. This year's car is a big improvement over last year's This year's car has an entire new front end, while the rear is last year's car exactly, and we couldn't work well with that arrangement. Now, with the (new) titanium gearbox, a new window has opened for us. It is difficult to set up, but we expect to improve in future races. Fondmetal is doing a good job, and their guys have spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel. This circuit is one of the most difficult as far as aerodynamics are concerned, so we will really discover where we stand.

On the engine side, the Cosworth people are doing their best. The new evolution has 25 horsepower more, which is quite a big step forward. But although it is still the least powerful engine in F1, we have closed the gap to the rival teams.

Q. What are the chances of Telefonica taking a greater involvement in Minardi? We have the impression that Telefonica is not as interested in taking over the team as it once was.

Gene: I am not fully aware of what is happening, but I have the same impression as you. The situation seems to have gone a little cooler than it was a month and a half ago. All I know is the input I get from the team, and it seems that there are other people interested (in buying Minardi). The Minardi people have shown their potential, and we know they can do a very good job. If you look at our lap times in stead of our grid positions, you will see that, on average, we are 2.5 seconds away from pole, with the same basic engine, while last year, we were 3.5 seconds away. I don't know who's going to get the team - it could be anyone, from an investment bank to a major car constructor - but whoever comes in will only do it because he really believes in the team. I really believe in them, too. So, something is going to happen in the near future. I just hope it's the best thing for the team.

Q. Pedro, you had some fast times in last week's test here.

Pedro de la Rosa: (laughs) We have had mechanical problems we didn't expect, like in Australia, and also in Imola. We now think we have solved them, and in testing here last week, we did a total of 291 laps, between Jos (Verstappen) and myself, without any problems. We are quite confident. I feel the exact opposite of frustrated, because this year's car is so much better than last year's. Now, I can fight with cars that were lapping me last year. We know we have a lot to learn to go faster, but the car is competitive and the team is growing. We just lack a little confidence. The pace will come. The (Supertec) engine is a big step forward. The step forward we have made in lap times is more because of the improved aerodynamics and better grip from the chassis than (from) the engine.

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