Atlas F1 News Service

Friday's Press Conference - Belgian GP

Friday August 31st, 2001

Participating: Pedro De La Rosa (Jaguar), Olivier Panis (BAR), Jos Verstappen (Arrows), Ron Dennis (Mclaren), Patrick Head (Williams) and Eddie Jordan (Jordan).

Q: Olivier, what are your feelings about this year?

Olivier Panis: I continue to stay positive, because we are fifth in the championship and we need to fight really strongly to maybe close the gap with Sauber and we fight a lot also with Jordan, because it's really really competitive, particularly in qualifying. Well, we're not very lucky, I'm not very lucky sometimes because I lose some good results but we need to stay positive, to continue to push and to prepare for next year which is important.

Q: What more do you feel that you need for next year? What is it that you haven't got this year?

OP: The package that we have is still OK, there's nothing really wrong, but I think we need to improve aerodynamically and we are waiting for the new engine for next year. Honda will making a completely new engine and I feel it will be a really good improvement. If we work together really well, that will be a good step but everybody is improving. We know where we are now but we need to close the gap to the best, and that's not easy.

Q: But the engine is the big thing isn't it?

OP: I think it will be a big help for us also we need to work on the chassis side. I think we need we need to work aerodynamically for the low speed circuits, particularly for the low speed high downforce.

Q: Jos, this could be regarded as your home circuit; how popular are you at home?

Jos Verstappen: At home, very. In Holland we are very popular and we get a lot of TV coverage and then here, it's not far from them, it's maybe 40 minutes from the border and that's why I think a lot of Dutch people are coming.

Q: What are your feelings about this year, the circuits to come?

Are you looking ahead to next year?

JV: I think all the circuits we go to will be very hard. We're missing out a lot at the moment and I think the team knows that, and we are concentrating a lot for next year. Next year's car has already spent a long time in the wind tunnel and there's not much we can do for this year.

Q: Pedro, what happened in your collision with Michael Schumacher this afternoon?

Pedro de la Rosa: I was coming out of the pits, looking in my mirrors, and I could see a Ferrari was coming so I kept right over to the right hand side and I looked again in my mirrors. Michael was behind me, he hadn't overtaken me. I looked again, I just kept to my right, before turning into Eau Rouge because I wanted to let him by and at the very last moment, I felt someone hit me up the back. Obviously it was Michael. There's very little I can say, I couldn't disappear from there, I was letting him have the whole road to chose wherever he wanted, but he preferred to hit me. There's no one to blame really, because there was a lot of spray. I must say I couldn't judge where Michael was properly when I looked in the mirrors. There was one point where I saw him and then there was another point where I didn't and I think the same applies to him, so it's a racing incident but just a typical wet weather accident.

Q: You have a new boss in the team; what changes do you expect?

PDLR: I don't expect changes in the short term because Niki has just come in. The only thing I would say is that Niki is the one of the most competitive guys I've seen out there. He's very straightforward. I think he's going to take it easy at the beginning to learn how everything is and then he will take his whip...

Q:What about yourself, are you looking forward to a second year with Niki in charge?

PDLR: I think next year will be a good year. I will have known the car, but especially because I think the outfit is going to be more competitive. The big question mark is how competitive the outfit will be because we must be realistic. We will make a step forward but all of the other teams think they are going to make a big step forward too. It will be a matter of how big is our step and also how good one year of stability for the design team will make. I think stability in Formula One is very important, especially on the technical side because then everyone knows each other better and everyone knows their responsibility better.

Q: Eddie, you gave Michael Schumacher his debut here many years ago. He has now won his fourth title. Do you feel that you've been a bit of a talent scout when it comes to him?

Eddie Jordan: I don't seem to be able to hang onto them, do I?

So whatever I make them or not make them is irrelevant, it's whether they stay is the key issue. Michael knows that he's the championship. I was surprised that other people didn't see him perhaps before that, but I must give you... after the experience of ten years in Formula One, that you have to concentrate so much on what is happening around you that the peripheral view is very often not as great as you would like it to be and therefore to actually spend some time and look at what somebody is doing in a sports car... I guarantee you there's nobody who knows too much about what is happening in sports cars at the moment. It was no different then. It's very hard to judge the talent of someone who is not out in the fray all the time, and Michael wasn't, but I wasn't in an easy position. I was desperate, I needed a driver, I needed a driver who had some money. At that particular race ten years ago that morning because the bailiffs had taken them and locked up the truck because I had no money and they claimed that I owed money to somebody which is a complete fallacy of course. We needed a few quid from Mercedes, and God bless 'em, they paid and I gave Michael his chance and he buzzed off afterwards and we got a few more quid and we're still friends. I don't know, it goes around in circles.

Q: You've had a lot of high points here, is there a love affair between Jordan and Spa?

EJ: I want the Grand Prix season just to be at Spa in the future. I'd have a chance of fighting for the championship. I don't fancy going anywhere else, it's just brilliant here. We got our first pole position, I won the Formula 3 championship here in 1987. In '89 I won the Formula 3000 championship, first ever win here, first ever first - second - I haven't had any since then mind you. Finished second with Giancarlo Fisichella as well. So it's been super. First ever pole position was here. I don't want to go anywhere else.

Q: In terms of your drivers for next year, you're swapping one Italian for another, what are you expecting to get, what are you cashing in, what are you getting out?

EJ: I think you should ask Flavio this question. I'm not talking financially, just ask him the same question. I'm sure you'll get a different sequence of events to what you might here from me and you will have to decide which is the closest to the truth. I thought the situation was that Jarno had already been tied down, there was a couple of niggly things that I wasn't comfortable about and I think any team boss is not really happy about employing a driver for a short term whilst the owner of that contract then becomes as they will do: Renault own this contract. With one year left on his contract to come to us, owned by Renault, an opportunity then became possible when Giancarlo's option hadn't been taken up and we took up the option and it was a three year deal so it made a lot more sense to Jordan. It's difficult enough to run a team but when a driver as good and as nice as person as Jarno is managed by Flavio who has another link and a conflict in certain opinions in the ownership of the team that his contract was owned by, it became difficult to accept.

Q: So you were pretty upset to see him go?

EJ: I didn't say that. I just said it was unfortunate circumstances but don't let me misunderstand... the situation of Giancarlo's contract situation unfolding itself was the turning point. At that stage in the negotiations - these are two very special guys, I have to be honest with you and I don't want to be seen to be favouring one against the other, not in any way. If you had the choice, you could easily have both of these in the same team. Jarno Trulli is an outstanding young driver, as indeed is Giancarlo Fisichella. The longevity and continuity is a key thing and continuity unveiled itself with Giancarlo which then put the position that was more favourable to the team.

Q: Ron, the championship is over, what went wrong for McLaren?

Ron Dennis: Well, there are quite a few other teams that you could ask the same question to. The reality is that as was patently obvious, there were many times this year where we didn't do a very competent job. We had competitive cars and often had the opportunity to win and then suffered unreliability. Most of the time I think we had the right race strategy and had the perfect strategy apart from two occasions when we had the wrong strategy, but I don't think that's bad, a bad average. Overall, we just weren't good enough, and I think that that's the same for everybody who hasn't won. There's always reasons why you're not competitive, or that you're unable to finish races. The most important thing is to systematically analyse the reasons why and take the correct preventative steps to avoid it happening again. But Formula One is just that, it is the pinnacle of motor sport, it's extremely difficult to succeed in, it's extremely difficult to win a race and it's even more difficult to win a World Championship. At the end of the day, the best team this year won and the objective for any team, other than Ferrari, is to try and be even better or better than the competitive, which of course will include them when we start the season next year.

Q: What's the atmosphere in the team at the moment? How important is second place?

RD: Unimportant really. There are some financial consequences of being not second in the Constructors' championship but in the overall scheme of the finances of Formula one, they are relatively small. I don't think we are driving the team on the basis of finishing second in either championships. We're driving it, as always with a view to winning each and every race and if we are successful in winning some of the remaining races then probably we should achieve enough points to stay ahead of our very good friends at Williams. But if we don't then we will lose that place but after first there's nothing really.

Q: David has had an incident on the first morning of the last two Grands Prix. Is that coincidence or frustration or what?

RD: I think it's coincidence. He was pushing very hard. It's what you have to do to optimise your lap on a new set of tyres. Although you get three sets of tyres for the first day, normally one of them is of a lesser performance than the other two, because they represent the back-up tyre in event of the tyre company with whom you are contracted has not got their mathematics right, so you get two options and that's normally one of them. His first section time stood as the fastest first section for the vast majority of practice and I think he's only slipped down to fourth, and I think that's indicative of the fact that he was pushing hard. He got a front wheel on the kerb and spun. It's a pretty common occurrence here but of course it was very disruptive to the rest of his day.

Q: How close were you to getting out this afternoon?

RD: He was getting in the car. We were about a couple of minutes off. That's life. You can only do your best and the important thing when you're pushing hard to repair a Grand Prix car is that it's done safely and correctly. Putting a car on the circuit that's less than perfect is irresponsible and therefore unsafe but it also doesn't teach you a great deal.

Q: Patrick, you've heard Ron's view of second place, what's the feeling within your team?

Patrick Head: I don't think we're really looking at positions at all, we're just looking at it as four races and wanting to do the best we can in each race. One of the things our racing has been characterised by this year and last year was a quite big variation between the circuits we go well at and the circuits we don't go well at. Obviously, as with a number of teams, we want to get ourselves into a position to be able to be competitive next year, to be able to compete in the championship, and to do that, you've got to be competitive at every race, so it's not really interesting to talk about races that we're good at and races that we're not good at. We're trying to make sure that we do a good job at each race and what comes out of it at the end comes out of it. We just look at it one race at a time.

Q: How much of a gap is there between you guys and Ferrari?

PH: Well, there's obviously a great big gap. You look at the points situation this year and it's huge and that applies for McLaren as well. As Ron said, we have to look at the reasons, and in our case more than McLaren's, it's a combination of a number of circuits where our speed hasn't been good enough and a number of times where we haven't been reliable enough and just as Ron says, we have to look at those and put it right. It is a process you have to go through by analysing each situation and working out what's caused it and putting it right.

Q: How easy is it to maintain that momentum, improving year by year?

PH: I don't think it's hard really. It's obviously better when you're progressively getting better. As long as a team feels it's improving, then you get a good atmosphere and a good momentum. Obviously you get ups and downs in that. We've had races this year where we've been quite strong and some where we've been weak, and obviously Hockenheim we were strong, Budapest we really weren't. The main thing is to feel that we're progressing.

Q: Fans - not members of the media - are saying that this is a flat end to the season with the championship decided - is there any excitement to be found in the races to come?

EJ: Bernie can't do it every year for heaven's sake. He's given you an unbelievable last five seasons, how he's managed to get it down to the last race each and every occasion is mind-boggling! So once in five years is not too bad to screw it up and I think he's screwed it up and I think you're right.

RD: I think there's good and bad races, the race here last year was pretty exciting and I don't think whether it was at the beginning or after the world championship makes any difference. Good races are good races and bad ones are bad. I quite enjoy going to Hungary but it's more difficult now. With the performance differential that we were able to put into Mika's car, which was two and a half to three seconds a lap, and still not be able to overtake - the race is very much determined by the grid position and the order of the cars at the exit of the first corner. I don't think the interest in races is directly linked to the world championship, I think each and every race stands on its own performance. I remember in 1988 when we won nearly every single race it was still exciting championship because the two drivers in the same team were racing for the championship. If it did go down to the last one or two races of each year I think you'd really have reason to think is this really being manipulated. The fact that it's not this year is an indication of Williams and our selves, and others, failing to get the job done. That's motor racing, and if you want a show go and watch NASCAR, IRL, CART... there's a show. If you want pure motor racing watch a Formula One race.

Q: Can you explain why no Italian drivers are included in the top teams?

RD: I don't think the nationality of the driver has any significant relevance to their ability to win. Of course we all come from different cultures, and sometimes those cultures tend to favour an approach by a driver to where we're coming from. The difference between a Japanese driver and an English driver is noticeable because of the cultural background. But it is a nominal part of the performance parameter that makes up the competitive or uncompetitive driver. Most of the trends that you see tend to come from the support that is given to young drivers, for instance there was a rash of French drivers coming to the fore, then a lot of Italians, who appeared when there were incentives to push them through. A lot of it is linked to the economy of the country at the time, so there's a lot of parameters that go into deciding where drivers emerge. Coming from BMW and Mercedes-Benz some of the German drivers are coming to the fore, but at the end of the day it's not about nationality, it's about who is the right driver and who is available and then you get into lesser issues, conflicts of interest between drivers and managers and a raft of things. There are drivers who are possibly hampered by their management and at the end of the day there are a lot of parameters that you have to take into consideration.

Q: How will the winter testing ban affect you?

PH: Well you've still got the same amount of work to do and as each year goes on generally we put more into each programme. We've been handed a month less in which to do it so it's going to be much more intensive in January and February than it was previously so we're going to see teams running more than two cars and having to get through more work in less time while each team and engine manufacturer has to make sure that they've got the facilities to do very relevant work through the end of October, November and December so obviously simulation tools are going to become that bit more significant.

RD: I think first of all it would be useful to re-state why we aren't testing before the beginning of January. At the request of the smaller teams - I held the view at the time it was debated and still strongly hold the view that the cheapest place to develop a racing car is on the circuit. Basically the people who are now uncomfortable with this regulation are the very people who asked for it, namely the smaller teams, who have woken up to the consequences of not going testing and having to hit the ground running on 1 January. The actual result of the decision has imposed far greater cost on the bigger teams than it has on the smaller ones and is ultimately going to open the gap in the first few races but we desperately try in the various forums - the Formula One commission, the team principals meetings, the discussions relating to the Concorde Agreement and the sporting regulations - we try to be democratic and understand the wishes of the majority and this came about because of the majority. It's that majority now who've got the pain but a change at this stage would be unacceptable because we reacted according to the decision of everybody and of course the frustration that we all have - everybody who is currently competing in Formula One - is that Toyota seem intent on not recognising the sporting nature of the way these changes were introduced and are just going down a path which is a little inconsistent with any team entering into Formula One.

EJ: Ron is absolutely right in what he says, inconsistent, he was the one and what he described was deadly accurate. It wasn't just smaller teams, there was also some influence from other people sitting around in those meetings who believe - and there is an argument - that there is no benefit to TV or anything else in pounding around spending money testing. And that there's a view that perhaps it would be better to have more races. I personally, now, don't agree with that. I would like less races, I would like to go back to 16 because it is just such a huge task, you get here days earlier, the amount of work is enormous and I think the people who suffer from this more than anyone are the young drivers. You talk about bringing young drivers in - you can't bring a young driver in unless they've done a lot of testing if they've never done Formula One before. It gives him little or no chance, so perhaps when it was decided it wasn't fully thought out, which is often the way these things happen. It was done for the majority's best understanding of things the way they were and it backfired on them. On all of us.

Q: What's your opinion on Toyota with the meeting taking part in testing during the ban?

RD: My current understanding is that Toyota are considering not testing from 15 November which is at least going to respect their entry into the world championship but compensating this they have increased their testing programme dramatically and are testing on Grand Prix circuits which is - under the current regulations - prohibited. The question is, have they or haven't they entered the World Championship, and it's a question of who you speak to. I'm talking about this year's world championship. They did enter it and they did pay a penalty for not arriving with their cars. They're in a difficult situation, I'm absolutely not against Toyota or any of the people who work at Toyota. Far from it, I think they've got a mountain to climb and I recognizee they've got to climb it but there are rules and regulations and they are there for everybody. It's never been easy to come into Formula One and I am absolutely sure that if it was a small team looking to use customer Ford engines or something there would be a different interpretation based on it but this is motor racing.

EJ: They were accepted in the championship for this year. There is a strong argument to say that they should honour the integrity of their fellow competitors with dignity and act accordingly. However this is a very tough 'Pirhana Club,' that phrase Ron introduced me to about ten years ago, and that's what this is. We're all good friends, we can socialize but the moment the flag drops we're all at each other's throats and Toyota won't be any different. I welcome them, really, because I think it is significant to have a company as big as Toyota involved in Formula One and that we should welcome them. But at the same token it's their decision where they want to place themselves with dignity inside a new formula and in a new sense of competition for them and I do hope that they stop on 15 November. They've already tested here! Not one car in Formula One has ever, ever been able to test at Spa. Toyota has had that advantage. I'm still trying to come to terms with that.

PH: I think it is going to cause quite an upset if they test beyond 15 November. People can say that they are not trying developments but that would be very difficult to prove and there would be a lot of suspicion so I think probably a good compromise would be the 15 November date.

Published at 17:27:50 GMT

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