Friday March 16th, 2001
Participating: Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan), Fernando Alonso (Minardi), Olivier Panis (BAR), Patrick Head (Williams), Craig Pollock (BAR) and Peter Sauber (Sauber).
Q. Heinz-Harald, first of all you were very complimentary about the car in Australia, and obviously a good result as well, and Jarno quickest today. Tell us about the car.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Well, I think it's generally a better car than last year, just in performance and handling, and it is more reliable - that's the most important thing that we have discovered. In winter testing we had done two race distances, which is more than we did last year even in Melbourne, so I think there is an improvement in the car and also in handling.
Q. Handling can obviously be disguised by the fact that the tyres are grippier, but obviously it feels better. Does it feel better again, apart from just the tyres?
HF. I can say that this is a good balanced car, I can work with this. It is a little bit easier to go on the limit with this car than it was last year and we have made some aerodynamic improvements as well, so I think basically we have the results as well. In Melbourne the car was good for qualifying in the top four, and it was also necessary. The competition around us is also very strong, and the development is done every year, even aerodynamics changes, and there's been quite a lot from the FIA, we managed to get around this challenge pretty well
Q. Now you were one of the few drivers that actually went back to Europe between the two races. Are you feeling the heat here?
HF. Certainly - it's very similar to a sauna! It's very hot here, and you sweat a lot more than you usually want to. It's going to be a very tough race. Even with two-three degrees more compared to what we had last October it's noticeable.
Q. You've made some quite controversial comments about following Nick Heidfeld's Sauber in Australia. Can you tell us some more about that? What were your reasons? Can you clarify the situation?
HF. Yes, it depends what you want to know: from the beginning, or just this case. I had somebody to write about Formula One on my home page, and I explained a lot of things, if somebody's calling my home page. The item of traction control in Formula One is not a new item, it has not been issued after Melbourne, it's always a discussion. But I have to say a general discussion. After Melbourne there was some misunderstanding about my quotes, that I was saying that the Ferrari engines, no matter which driver, are running illegal traction control.
This issue, you can never find it in my words, in my home page or any interview, and I only said, when I was asked about that, I said, well, they have something that helps them to come better out of the corner, but it is a legal traction control. And when people asked me, do you think it's illegal, I said I can't answer that question because the FIA has all the data about traction control, and whether it's illegal or not. But also we have the answer of Max Mosley, saying that there are teams running a system in Formula One which reduces wheelspin. It's a system which is not working together with wheelspin sensors.
It's a normal, legal system: they predict that wheel spin can happen, and you can program this in the software, but it's not illegal, and I was talking about this system, just to clarify it, that this is the system I was talking about, not illegal traction control. But there are some people who just simply ignored this item, and said,Heinz-Harald said Ferrari was using illegal traction control. So I clarified it again on my home page and obviously there's a lot of people a bit upset about it. But just listen to my quotes, make a one-to-one interview, or write properly about my home page. That's all I can say.
Q. Fernando, what are your first impressions of Formula One?
Fernando Alonso. Formula One is the top level in formula racing. So I am very happy to be here in the maximum category. It's pretty much as I expected. Formula One is not a normal category, with a very high level of drivers, and the cars are very interesting to drive, the teams are very well organised, and I'm very happy to be here.
Q. Obviously it's not a top team that you're with, it's a team that's having to fight for survival. So what are your aims this year with the team?
FA. We know that our team is not one of the top teams, but we have a good chassis, the new Minardi chassis is very good. It has good potential for development, the car is completely new, so we can do some good development in the wind tunnel when we come back to Europe. So I think the car will be good this year and I am very happy to be with European Minardi.
Q. Obviously it's very important for you, at your age - you are still 19, I think? - to stay in Formula One. You have time on your side. How can you do that?
FA. I don't know; Formula One is the objective. As long as a driver can demonstrate that he has the necessary level of skill I don't see why he shouldn't be able to drive in Formula One. I am 19 years old so I have time to learn and to win one day, maybe.
Q. I think, as well as Minardi, you are contracted to another team or another team owner. Can you tell us, are you contracted to Benetton or Renault or Flavio (Briatore)?
FA. Yes, I have a long-term contract with Renault and this year I race with Minardi.
Q. Olivier, welcome back. What's it like to be back in Formula One? Has it changed much?
Olivier Panis. Not really, to be honest. But I am very happy to come back to a race weekend, because I am very pleased about fighting for the first corner and everything, and I am quite happy to come back in the BAR-Honda team.
Q. It was missing in testing, was it?
OP. Well, it's a different philosophy. Last year I learned a lot and I worked a lot, but the race weekend is completely different. But I accept that last year was quite good for me.
Q. Is it a career path that you would suggest? An awful lot of people who were in Formula One last year have become test drivers to rejuvenate their careers. Would you say it's a good idea?
OP. It's very difficult to recommend this, because it's quite a big risk. But with McLaren it's quite easy to make a good car, and we had a very big test programme, and McLaren gave me the opportunity to prove my speed and at the same time with the best drivers in the world, to compare with Mika and David. But also I made a lot of tests with Bridgestone to prepare this season. We did a lot of running, about 20,000 kilometres.
Q. So you're better prepared for this season than anyone?
OP. Well, I'm fit and I'm ready for the fight, and I'm very pleased to join BAR-Honda, because for me it's a very good team. We started the season quite well; now we need to continue to work, but it's a very good baseline.
Q. What happened in Australia when you overtook Heidfeld?
OP. To be honest I'm very experienced but I didn't see the yellow flag. Jos Verstappen was following me, he didn't see it either. I am very sorry for the team, because for the first race we did a very strong job, I would have been very happy to score three points. But anyway it's an FIA decision, I accept this, but yes, I am very sorry to the team because I didn't see the yellow flag. We have a good baseline, we have to work very hard for this weekend, and we need to score some points here.
Q. Craig, he's giving your regular driver quite a hard time, isn't he? What happens when drivers tend to go faster than Jacques?
Craig Pollock. I think Olivier is giving Jacques a hard time, and that's the reason that we hired Olivier. We want two drivers finishing one behind the other, and it's fantastic to see. But what Jacques will do, and he's done it in the past, is he'll have to step up. Don't forget, Jacques on a Friday is not the same as he is on a Saturday, so we don't just drop our arms down and expect him to be beaten. He will be fighting with Olivier.
Q. It's something you quite like to see, isn't it?
CP. I think it's fantastic. You take the two drivers, and they're both developing the car, they're helping each other. I've never seen Jacques getting along as easily with somebody (I shouldn't say that in front of Heinz-Harald), they're both of the same language, they understand each other, and it looks like there's quite a good friendship building up.
Q. What about the relationship with Honda? They came into the factory, there were quite a lot of project teams in the factory last year. Are there going to be a lot again this year?
CP. We have even more this year with us from Honda. They're helping us with what they call chassis development, and we hope they're going to help us a lot more.
Q. There have been a lot of comments about two weeks ago, about the accident, about blame here, there and whatever. You have had time now to analyse the lift-off distances going into that corner. Can you tell us about Jacques' lift-off distances on the previous lap and on the lap of the accident?
CP. Well, from what we can see, and I'm sure Patrick will know a lot more than I will because he understands the technical side, I don't think either driver was lifting off any earlier or any later than before. Certainly it was earlier than he'd be lifting off in qualifying, but I think it was just a basic racing accident, and that's how I would like to leave it.
Q. Is that the way you see it, Patrick?
Patrick Head. Certainly, looking at the data, Ralf's braking-point was the same or slightly later than on the previous lap. I think it was fairly well known that the Michelin tyres had a bit of a dip in them in their early laps, so I think Ralf was probably struggling with a bit of understeer at that time, and I'm sure Jacques had in his mind that he was going to overtake him. But whatever it was, somehow there was a misjudgment and the cars hit each other. I think one thing that has to be looked at closely is, fundamentally, the car came to a halt with Jacques quite safely, but there are eight wheel ties on the car and each one of those eight parted, and I think that's the biggest thing that we have to have a good look at, to understand why, and to make sure that we improve the performance of the wheel ties to make sure that they do what they're intended to do.
Q. But presumably there's no easy answer?
PH. Obviously when you get cars hitting each other, particularly when one hits another one from behind, so that the one behind, naturally the rear of the tyre is moving upwards, so if you get a car go into that hard it tends to flick the car behind up in the air. A lot of the safety features of the track are designed using calculations based on cars on the ground with their behaviour on the ground. Very difficult to deal with all aspects of cars when they're actually lifted up off the ground. But in simple terms you have to say that the car itself survived quite well. The problem was the wheel ties didn't do their job, and I'm sure some good, balanced, technical attention to that and adjustments, even if they're made in the short term rather than the long term, will be a good thing. It needs to be looked at when all eight of the ties failed on the car.
Q. On a closer note to the team, new BMW engine, which, as we were told at the launch, the design was started even before the start of last season: how do you think it's going so far in race conditions?
PH. Just to say about the engine, I don't know what was said at the launch, but the engine design really took off in January 2000 when they took on their new chief designer Heinz Paschen, working with Dr Lawrence, and there were new people, so that was quite a rapid programme; but certainly the engine is very strong from a power point of view, and has all the right sort of characteristics in terms of its weight and size, and I think gives us the opportunity to have a good season if we can get all the other aspects right.
Q. Now a day like today tends to be particularly character-building for a driver who's coming into Formula One...
PH. It certainly was for Juan Pablo!
Q. How did he react to it?
PH. I think he was so exasperated that it was beyond cursing and swearing, really. I think he just gave himself a mental beta-blocker, so to speak, and just stood alongside the car and waited for the guys working on it. We had a mechanical fuel pump problem in the morning, and by not being able to do any running lap we had what looks like an alternator failure in the afternoon. It may be that one is connected to the other; it looks possibly as if some of the fuel from the mechanical fuel pump got drawn into the alternator housing and caught fire inside there. Anyway, it'll have to be investigated, but it certainly comes under the heading, as you say, of character-building. Not really ideal for him, when you consider this is a new circuit for him, but I'm sure he'll do a good job tomorrow.
Q. Has his attitude been pretty much as expected in testing and racing?
PH. Yes: I mean, he's very keen to get in and show what he can do. He's joined Formula One without any baggage of what he's achieved before. I think he has a very straightforward attitude to it, he knows it's a big challenge, and he strikes me as having all the right sort of attitude to be successful. There were a few people that said, when they watched him on the track in Australia, they thought at least in practice he was what gets described as over-driving a bit, or maybe being out of line a bit more often than he should have been, but that sort of thing he'll tidy up, I'm sure.
Q. Peter, first of all, a fantastic performance in the last race in Australia: Michael Schumacher says he expects to see one of your drivers on the podium. Do you think that's possible?
Peter Ssauber. No, that's too much. The results today help to get us back to reality.
Q. So you don't think a podium is possible?
PS. No, it's not possible.
Q. The important thing, having started off at such a level, surely is to keep up development. How are you going to maintain that?
PS. There are two things. One side, for sure, is the car: the car is much lighter than the last one, and we improved on the aerodynamic side. The other big step is the drivers.
Q. So what is special about Nick and Kimi?
PS. Maybe it's too early to speak about that after only one race. But we know the past of Nick, Nick has a lot of experience: Formula 3, Formula 3000, three years together with McLaren, a lot of mileage, one year with Alain (Prost) in Formula One - he has a lot of experience. And of course Kimi is a risk, a kind of risk. We were very, very happy that his first race was really good, without any mistakes over the whole weekend.
Q. Coming back to the car again, it was designed by one person and taken over by another designer. How easy is it for Steven Taylor to work on that car of Sergio Rinland's?
PS. It was not built by one person. I think today all the companies are so big in Formula One, it's not possible that one person makes a car, I think. The basis of the latest car came from Leo (Ress), and Sergio Rinland helped us a lot during the winter to build the car. In the end the responsibility was with Willy Rampf.
Q. It seems a lot of people involved in one car?
PS. Yes, but I think that's normal.