The Friday-Six Press Conference - European GP
Friday May 19th, 2000
Participants: Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan), Nick Heidfeld (Prost), Jacques Vileneuve (BAR), Alexander Wurz (Benetton), Takefumi Hosaka (Honda) and Jean Todt (Ferrari).
Q: This is a question for Mr Hosaka and Mr Todt about the changes in the rules before the British GP which further restricted the effectiveness of the electronic systems. What was the effect of those changes? How much have you been able to recover any losses since then?
Takefumi Hosaka: When we received details of the changes from the FIA, we started to develop new software. Our engineers warned us not only that power and fuel efficiency would be dramatically reduced, but there would be a serious loss of driveability. Of course, every team would be equally affected by the changes, so in trying to introduce modifications we worked day and night. Eventually we were able to restore the same driveability, although this is something that you should perhaps discuss later with Jacques. We were also able to maintain the previous horsepower figures, although fuel consumption was still a little bit higher than before. Since then we have continued work, and I believe that fuel efficiency is now close to the earlier levels. I don't know whether this is the answer that you want, but I can say that the work we had to do took up a lot of time.
Jean Todt: As far as Ferrari is concerned, [the changes in the regulations] did not affect us a lot, except - as Mr Hosaka says - in terms of driveability and fuel consumption. But it was very little.
Q: This weekend, I understand that Ferrari will be racing the more powerful qualifying engine you recently introduced. Can you confirm the situation here as far as you engine is concerned?
Todt: There are a lot of stories about our engine, but [our policy is] to try to introduce improvements to our engines from one race to the next. When we have an improvement it is normal practice to use it first in qualifying only, then - when we have done enough bench testing and track mileage - we use those improved engines under race conditions. Here we have the best possible engine for qualifying, and then we will go back to what we call the 'standard' engine for the race. But the standard V10 is still a good engine ...
Q: Have you improved the specification of the 'standard' engine for this race?
Todt: It is an improvement, but just a slight one. We are talking here in terms of hundredths of a second, but any improvement is worth having.
Q: Mr Hosaka, we know that Honda has several employees working at BAR. What is the extent of the flow of information? Are both BAR and Honda benefitting from this cooperation?
Hosaka: From my point of view, it works both ways. We have learned a lot about chassis characteristics through BAR, and we have also introduced many new technologies [to BAR], most of them involving electronic and engine matters. It is difficult to explain, but engine technology is a very narrow, specialised field. Nevertheless, I think the process works well in both directions.
Q: Alexander, how much have you been affected by recent speculation about your future as a Benetton driver?
Alexander Wurz: Today, not a lot. I have done a good job here, in collaboration with my new race engineer. It worked very well and I am happy.
Q: You've not only done well here but also in last week's testing in Jerez, where you set fastest time. Until now, have you felt that you were under fire?
Wurz: It is never nice when there are unfair rumours going around, because those stories were based on nothing. That hurt me because the stories surfaced in my own country. It is good to have my country involved in the big world of F1 and normally my fans give me strong support for carrying the Austrian flag here in F1, and for fighting hard. Of course my fans are as upset as I am when the results aren't coming. So, yes, the rumours have hurt me. But now I am here I am focusing on my job, and on meeting my obligation to Benetton to drive around the circuit as fast as I can. Today we improved the car to suit my driving style, and that has been very nice.
Q: Tell us about the change of race engineer. How has he been able to help you?
Wurz: This weekend Pat Symonds has moved on to my car as race engineer and we have been trying a few different things in the way we work on the car. I have had very good relations with Pat ever since I joined Benetton, in fact it is mainly due to him that I got my first job with the team after a test I did at Estoril in 1996. I remember it clearly, especially the moment after just four laps when he told me I had got the job. It was because he'd been watching me through the final corner, where my sector times were the same as the top drivers testing there. The connection between us has continued well throughout the years, but now he is my race engineer and we are working together step by step. This morning, for example, my chassis was very nervous and sliding around so much that I was very unhappy with it. By with some calm work we have developed the chassis and improved the setup to the level where I can now do fast lap times with the car.
Q: Have you had any assurances from the team about what your future holds?
Wurz: Well, you must understand that the last three circuits on which we raced have not suited our cars in the past, certainly not this year. Now we are moving to the circuits - here, Monaco and Canada - which are much better for our car. From now on I think we can be stronger, with top ten grid positions this weekend - and maybe even further up at Monaco - while also fighting hard for points. If I can get another start like the ones I have got in the last few races, then with some aggressive driving on Sunday I think we can hope to score my first points of the year.
Q: Nick, you have also had a disappointing start to the season in your debut year with Prost-Peugeot. Tell us about it.
Nick Heidfeld: It's been quite tough and it's certainly been a lot different from what I and the whole team were expecting. But although we all expected more, I didn't set goals that were too high because I didn't know what to expect. The biggest problem has been the lack of reliability, and it is still a problem now because of the lack of time for testing. When everyone else is progressing, it is impossible to catch up the time you are losing. We just have to try to make bigger steps forward than anyone else.
Q: Has it affected you mentally?
Heidfeld: No, not really. It has been harder than in the last years when I was on the podium and winning regularly. In that way, it has not been normal. But I never expected to come into F1 and to be winning straightaway. Of course I did not expect it to be as hard as it is at the moment. But I am trying to concentrate on making progress with the car, with the help of the team. I think it will work out, as it is doing so far this weekend. But we need a few more races to really get there.
Q: Heinz-Harald, you have also not had a very encouraging start to your second season with Jordan, especially compared with last year...
Heinz-Harald Frentzen: Yes, it is the gearbox which has hindered us from starting the season as well as we did last year. It gave difficulty in Melbourne, Silverstone and Imola, where it forced us to drop out of the race.
Q: You were on pole position here last year and you did well on the circuits that follow this one...
Frentzen: Sure, that's true. Last year I was able to do a good job here at the N?rburgring, but we were only quick in qualifying because the circumstances suited me. We had a dry line, while the circuit was pretty wet on the other parts. But at this time last year we weren't competitive with Ferrari and McLaren under normal circumstances, so the window for us to be competitive was very narrow. This year we have a better car here than we did at Barcelona, which is one of our worst tracks, just as it was last year, for some reason. N?rburgring is a bit better for us, though it will still be very tough to beat McLaren and Ferrari. Under normal circumstances they are a little bit too far ahead.
Q: Jacques, compared with last year you have had a much better start this season. You also nearly scored BAR's first points here at the N?rburgring last year. Is this a lucky circuit for you?
Jacques Villeneuve: Yes, this has been a good circuit for me in the past, and the first F1 race I ever won was here, in 1997. But this is also where I scored my last F1 victory, in 1998, so it depends on which way you look at it! We could be looking good for points here again this year.
Q: Both you and Ricardo Zonta have looked promising in today's sessions...
Villeneuve: Yes, a lot of work has been done today. There were some base changes done on the setup before Barcelona, most of which involved the team's test driver, and that was pursued during testing at Jerez last week.
Q: BMW and Honda are back in F1 this year and although I know you haven't driven a BMW-powered car, I have been asked to get you to comment on the return of these two leading car manufacturers.
Villeneuve: Well, Honda has come back with a team that had no results last year. That was a big gamble and a big challenge. In the end, if we get good results, it's going to feel even better. BMW has gone into a team that has been winning world championships before. That probably makes it an easier bet.