Atlas F1 News Service

Friday's Press Conference - French GP

Friday June 29th, 2001

Participating: Jean Alesi (Prost), Fernando Alonso (European Minardi), Olivier Panis (BAR) and Alain Prost (Prost).

Q: Olivier, what does this home race mean to you?

Olivier Panis: For me, it is very similar to compare with the Grands Prix that took place before. I am very happy to be racing again in my home Grand Prix and I'm very happy to be racing in front of French spectators. It's very important, but I'm not very lucky here all the time. I expect this year will be better for me.

Q: How encouraging is it that Jacques set such a good time today?

OP: Yes. We're very positive, the car is going well here today. Last Grand Prix we didn't find the best solution but I think here is much better for us. Jacques worked very well today and I will take some of the data for my car for tomorrow, but I'm very positive for tomorrow.

Q: Honda have been back in Formula One as long as BMW. BMW are challenging now for wins and getting them; do you not think Honda should be doing the same thing? What's missing?

OP: I think Honda is in Formula One to win but I'm sure that next year we will have a completely new engine and that will be a big step up. This year the engine is quite good but we need more power to be honest. But everybody needs more power. I think Honda will make a very strong job for next year.

Q: Is the chassis up to it?

OP: Honda is not just the engine for us. They also work on the chassis side, the engine side. We are the team and we work together very well. The relationship is very good. We need to continue this way and to improve the car for next year.

Q: Jean, what does the French Grand Prix mean for you?

Jean Alesi: It means a lot, especially when it's a combination in between the team and the driver, and the fans are really looking at us. We did some good results in the last three races so it's a good time for us and to be here is very good and a very nice feeling.

Q: When you have a good result, you show and you share your joy with the spectators, particularly in Monaco and Canada. What makes you do that?

JA: It's a feeling I have inside and I share everything. Even when I'm not happy, I share it with my friend Alain, so when I'm happy I share it with the fans.

Q: How many helmets have you got rid of now?

JA: The helmets are OK, Alain wants to charge me for the radios!

Q: You have some new parts on the car this weekend. How do they feel about them at this stage?

JA: Honestly, it was a very good surprise for me because I was not expecting that. When you talk with engineers, they don't go into detail to say what they are doing. I'm talking about Henri Durand. When I saw the new modifications for the first time yesterday, I was quite impressed. Today we tested them and it looks like they are a good improvement. On my car, we did back to back tests. It's very interesting to see how we can make some progress like that, even if everybody is working in the same direction but we are there and I'm very pleased to see that.

Q: Jean, these days you're the most experienced driver in the field; some people might even call you the veteran of the field. Do you mind being that?

JA: It's a fact, but what is very important is not to mix veteran and retired drivers. That's very important for me. That's why sometimes I'm not very happy with the way I am presented to the people because to be 37, as I am now, and the time to leave Formula One is different. For sure, I won't stay in Formula One for long, but another couple of years would be OK. That's how I feel.

Q: Fernando, you're not doing much testing, are missing out?

Fernando Alonso: Yes, for sure. We lost something compared with other teams because everybody improved their performance in qualifying and the races, and for us it has been a bit difficult, in the last two races, to be 18th or 19th as before. But we have some improvement for Silverstone and maybe for Hockenheim, with a new gearbox and a new aerodynamic package. That will be good for us to come back in those circuits.

Q: So you don't think it's power that you're missing?

FA: OK, it's everything, I think. OK, our engine is very old. We need more power obviously, but also we need to work on the chassis because it's very important in some races like Canada or like Nurburgring.

Q: You have a teammate who has been in Formula One before, but would you prefer a more experienced teammate?

FA: I don't know really, but I think Tarso is a very good team-mate with experience in Formula One, experience in America, he's very quick. He has some problems at some races in qualifying, but I'm very happy with my team-mate, Tarso.

Q: Wouldn't an older, more experienced team-mate, help you?

FA: Yes, for sure, with more experience you can learn a lot of things but for the first year in Formula One, I think it is good to start with Minardi and to have Tarso with some experience and some experience with the engineers. For me this year will be good.

Q: Alain, yesterday Jean Todt told us that you're still talking about engines for next year - what are your feelings on the subject?

Alain Prost: First of all we have a contract, obviously a contract can be discussed and we are talking very closely for next year and the year after - especially for next year obviously. Ferrari is helping us a lot not only technically on the human side and we are very close and it's very easy to talk with them about how we might have a better deal possibly.

Q: What's been the effect of the points won in Canada and Monaco?

AP: The effect is obviously we are eighth in the world championship and the money we receive the year after is in consideration of where we are in the world championship so you never know but we are more or less secure to finish in the first ten. We know it's tough on the budget for this year but we already have a big part of the budget for next year in place and the situation is getting better and better. At the end of the day what is important is to get a competitive car and you are able to make the points because of reliability and we are not looking bad.

Q: What parts are coming in the future?

AP: We are looking particularly on the aero package, we have a few things to come again. We are not going to work too much on a big part of the car because it's too late and we're having to spend the money we have on next year's car also but there's still a lot of things to be improved in terms of performance until the end of the year.

Q: Michael Schumacher's getting dangerously close to your record of 51 wins - what are your feelings about that?

AP: My feeling is it can happen in two races, or three or four. It's going to happen so I have no feeling except to have to answer your kind of questions almost every race! The feeling's also very positive in a way, he deserves to have this kind of record - I knew he was very much motivated for this kind of record, which is understandable. And there's nothing to say - you cannot win more than 50 races if you're not good, and he is the best at the moment, one of the best of all time and he deserves to have this record.

Q: Olivier, Bridgestone has a brand type of tyre here that, we're told, hasn't been tested before. How did you feel the two types of tyre went and will Michelin have an advantage.

OP: I don't know if we'll have an advantage but Bridgestone got two types of tyre here, two new compounds, and it's going well. When I tested here before we had good tyres but the degradation was too high. Today it's a good job - the tyres are still very quick over one lap, very consistent and the fighting with Michelin is very high level and we need to continue to push Bridgestone for the rest of the season.

Q: Mr. Prost, in Formula 1 the money is all-important - how tough is it for you this year compared to last year and how does it affect the performance?

AP: It is more of a problem, it affects the performance but you cannot tell how much. What you need to have is the highest budget possible but you need the stability. I would prefer to have a lower budget but to know what is happening in the next five years rather than having a big budget one year and then dropping down. That's where we are this year and its difficult but on the positive side we're working on a low budget and we're working well. Everybody's focus is to make the best of this money and it's very good for the team. We're working in a good spirit, everybody's motivated to do the best job possible with less money and then when we get more money - because that's going to happen - it would be very good and very positive for the team.

Q: You said that if you had to start the team again you would - but that maybe you wouldn't do it in France.

AP: Yeah, sure that was an interview I did last week and the question was 'would I start it again in France' and I said that given the help and support we have had in France in the last 2-3 years I would say no because the interest to do it was because you could create a synergy around the team in terms of sponsors and these kinds of things. Technically we could be very, very strong in France because the technology is there and we are working much closer to some companies. In terms of support and sponsors and everything it's - as you can see on the car - not a French sponsor and it's very disappointing but that doesn't mean you should stop and it's done. I don't regret anything.

Published at 17:34:16 GMT

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