Jenson Button took centre stage on Thursday as the world’s assembled media quizzed the Briton on his chances of winning Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.
Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber), Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) were also on hand to offer their thoughts on the eagerly anticipated season-opener.
Q. Gentlemen, what are your feelings going into the new season?
Jenson BUTTON: I have not slept that much this week, I must say. It is great to be here to start with for me. It is great to be here in Melbourne for the first race. That was the first goal. It is nice to be here and secondly we are in a much better position than most people thought, so it is nice to be here starting the season on a positive note.
Q. Is it a massive excitement. Your father says he is having to take tranquilizers.
JB: I think a bottle of red normally does it. My father does talk a lot. He is very excited at the moment. I don’t know, it is difficult. For everyone else they have been testing for quite a bit of the winter, but for us it has been condensed down to the last two weeks. We have been flat out with testing and simulator work, so it has all been quite busy the last couple of weeks.
As I said it is good to be here and it is good to see the team with a very positive attitude. We have gone through a very hard time this winter but they have stayed strong and we’ve proved it with the reliability in testing and getting the car out.
Q. Sebastian, for you a new team as well?
Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah, a slightly new team. Obviously looking forward to the season. We had quite a strong winter, I’d say with a lot of work going on. I think our car looks very nice but we have to prove it is one of the best on the circuit still, but let’s see. Right now for everyone it is the same situation as you don’t know exactly where you are, it is a bit of guessing right now, but we focus on ourselves. I think we are in a good position, so we will see but definitely looking forward.
Q. Felipe, a certain amount of unfinished business, I suspect, is your way of looking at the new season.
Felipe MASSA: Well, it depends. We finished the business last year with one point behind but we finished. Now we need to start another one from zero. I hope with a very competitive car like we had last year, but maybe slightly more reliable and a very efficient team. That was what we were doing in the winter, trying to work 100 per cent in every detail, not to lose any point, so I hope.
Q. Is it excitement or anxiety?
FM: What happened in last year’s championship is finished. Everybody starts from zero now. We have 20 drivers fighting, so until the point that you see maybe you have two, three, five or more fighting for the championship. Now everybody is in the same position. For sure, some people are a bit more competitive. Some people are not, depends. But everybody starts from zero. We need to take everything we learned in the past, but we need to work very hard because we know the championship is long and everybody is in the same boat now.
Q. Robert, your feelings coming into the new season?
Robert KUBICA: As always the winter has been very important to try and analyze and to get knowledge about the new components on the car as the regulation change has been quite big. There was a lot to understand, tyres, aerodynamics, KERS. Yeah, looking forward. Finally we will get a clearer picture where we are compared to our competitors and we will see.
Q. Are you excited about the new season?
RK: Yes, as always. It is a new season and like I said it is always good after a six month break to start again. Testing is important but the races are what we like.
Q. There have been changes in the regulations with KERS and other things like slick tyres. What are the things that have affected you most as drivers, personally? Sebastian, perhaps you can start?
SV: Regarding the wide front wing we will see in turn one on Sunday. Other than that I think the biggest change was going to slick tyres and reducing the aerodynamics. Obviously driving is still very similar. If you look at the outside shape of the car you are surprised that it is that closed from the inside from a feeling’s point of view, so not a lot has changed turning left.
The car still turns left, so that is important. But I think there is a bit less grip all around, a bit less stability, so you just have less grip, less stability. But I think everyone gets used to it quite quickly. As regards the slick tyres I would say we all have some knowledge, some fresher and some maybe a bit longer ago but it should not be a problem. They seemed to be quite easy to handle but it is always the tyres. They make the contact to the ground, so we will see.
JB: For me it has been the tyres. I really like the way the tyres work compared to the grooves, especially the front of the car, as obviously the surface area is more affected at the front than the rear going from grooves to slicks. I am enjoying driving the tyres. As soon as I drove them last year I found a benefit that suits my style a bit more, so I am happy with that change. Aerodynamically it is obviously different but we have gained so much grip having slick tyres in a way it balances itself out.
RK: As Jenson and Sebastian mentioned, tyres and aerodynamics. I found the grip level quite balanced. Of course through some mid-speed range corners you get more from the slick tyres and in the other corners you are a bit slower because of the aerodynamic loss. But all in all I think lap time is quite similar and as Jenson mentioned the front tyres are quite powerful. KERS was a big topic during the winter and we will see.
Q. How much are you able to notice the KERS benefit and equally the difference with the movable front wing?
RK: I think the front wing we didn’t play with at all, very little during the winter. Of course it depends from car to car as you can adjust one flap, so it will have a bigger or smaller influence depending on the cars. That’s not a big topic to really discuss.
FM: For sure it is a big change compared to last year. We have so many things to work on the car. The KERS and the front wing which it is not necessary to change, just when you are following somebody, so you can change whenever you like once a lap, so you can use it for set up as well. For sure the tyres were a big difference, aerodynamically we lost a lot of downforce compared to last year. At least we lost at Ferrari, I don’t know about the other teams.
My car is like that. I feel a big difference to drive especially with the old tyres. With the new tyres you have the grip, so you can be aggressive, you can brake strong and try to bring the car, as we were doing last year. In terms of turning you can be aggressive but with the old tyres the car is sliding much more. It is a little bit different to drive and you need to be smoother than last year, at least in my car.
Q. Jenson, you have been through a roller-coaster of emotions but you always seemed to believe you had a drive. Tell us about the atmosphere within the team.
JB: First of all there was not really an option not to believe. When I found out last November it was obviously a big shock. You can get as down as you like but it doesn’t change anything, so I was keeping in contact with the team all the way through the winter. Some days were good, some days weren’t. But finally we have had a good outcome.
Q. And the atmosphere within the team?
JB: It is as good as you can imagine. But when I went there in November, the day after I found out that we might not be racing this year, the atmosphere was already good. I walked into the factory feeling a little bit down, but chatting to all the different departments expecting a few upset people and no positivity, but there was. They were all going about their business like they had been before the announcement and they knew they were building something that was good. They have done a great job and that pleases me no end. It is great to be a part of that as they have put their heart and soul into producing a car for this year.
Q. Sebastian, in a way same sort of thing. Same family but a different team. Is it very different.
SV: It is a different team, yes. We have the same parent, that is quite special, but still the team is different. I think every team has its own way and its own philosophy. It was basically the same when I came from BMW to Toro Rosso. Of course it is different and you have to adapt. Some things you like and some things you don’t like. When you don’t like something then you just open your mouth and tell them what you don’t like. You talk about it and then you see where you go.
I had enough time already at the end of last year, so basically the Monday after Brazil I was already a Red Bull driver. I did all the winter tests and I got a bit more time as Mark had his accident last November. That all helped me in a way to get well known in the factory and to the car and the working procedures of the team. Hopefully we used all our tests at the beginning of this year and this winter with the new car to prepare for this season as in the season there will be no more testing, so that’s it for this year testing-wise.
Q. Now, for the two in the front row, where do you feel your cars and teams are in the hierarchy as we go into the new season?
FM: Difficult. The picture from the winter, at least, is that Brawn is better than anybody, so maybe we need to fight each other (BMW and Ferrari) for third place. I hope not.
RK: I think we have been kept waiting for an answer for quite a long time already. We’ve been asked the same question since February, so let’s keep waiting for another two days and we will see.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Ed Gorman – The Times) Jenson, are you not worried that everything that’s been put into this car isn’t about to be wrecked by a protest which we understand is going to be filed this evening or later on today and that that could just trash the whole thing?
JB: Well, first of all, it’s not something that I have any control over personally, and secondly, I think the best person to speak to about that is Ross.
Q. (Ed Gorman – The Times) But for you personally, it would be a huge disappointment, wouldn’t it, if the car turns out to be illegal?
JB: You’ve said it yourself. It doesn’t change anything for me. I can’t do anything about it. It’s down to Ross and whoever else is involved.
Q. (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Speaking of the new rules, for you all, do you think we’ll see more overtaking this year?
SV: I don’t know. Let’s see. It’s difficult to say. Obviously it’s only my second full season in Formula One but I remember that at the beginning of last year people were going crazy: now, without traction control, the cars will spin off and there will be much more overtaking. I think it was more interesting than the years before. We saw the cars sliding a bit more here and there but in the end, overtaking was still difficult and I think you have to understand, at least that’s my feeling, it’s already difficult to pass another car in Formula Three because of the downforce.
Well, in Formula One I think the cars have a bit more downforce than in Formula Three. Obviously, I think we made some steps to help overtaking but we have to prove it on the circuit and not prove it in winter testing, just following another car for half a lap and ‘do I get a feeling now or not?’ We have to prove it in racing, so we still have to wait and see. In testing, it’s not the case that you follow another car and you feel nothing anymore and if you’re faster you just pass.
You still feel that you lose grip all around, some cars maybe more at the front, some cars more at the rear. It depends on the car, but you still lose downforce, so you still lose grip and that makes it tough to overtake. How tough? That needs to be answered in the next races.
JB: On the two circuits that we’ve tested on, there’s never been any overtaking anyway really. Barcelona and Jerez are very difficult for overtaking. I probably followed two cars in testing at Barcelona. I didn’t try and overtake… you’re on different strategies and what-have-you so… you’re not going to take the risk in practice either. I felt that I could follow a little bit closer but it wasn’t enough to make a move around Barcelona. Hopefully it’s going to be different at somewhere like this and when we go onto the next few races where there are opportunities to overtake. Hopefully there will be more of them.
RK: I think KERS can have a big influence, if you have it on board or not, so I think this is the main key. I’m not expecting more overtaking due to the aerodynamic changes, just maybe if some cars in front of you are not using KERS and you have additional power, then it might be a bit easier, but it’s still quite difficult, I think.
FM: I think the same, same feeling. As Robert said, if you have KERS and you are a couple of tenths behind the guy in front, then KERS can be a help but I don’t know how it’s going to improve the situation compared to last year. If it improves five or ten percent, that’s already a big improvement.
JB: One of the bigger problems is if you don’t have KERS and you are behind a car that does have KERS, you’re not going to be able to get past, that’s one weakness of not having KERS.
Q. (Mick Warner Herald Sun) Jenson, do you or the other drivers have a view on racing in twilight here in Melbourne?
JB: There’s still going to be light left, isn’t there? I’m hoping. We have got a bright car. For us it doesn’t really make any difference. Dinner reservations are going to be difficult but apart from that, there’s no real difference. For us we can get up later on Sunday morning which is nice. I don’t know what difference it makes for you guys but for us it doesn’t change anything. As long as there’s still some temperature, that’s it.
FM: As long as I will have visibility it’s OK.
Q. (Ken Sparkes Fairfax Radio News) Jenson, the big buzz is for Brawn all the way down the pits. Have you felt that pressure, that all of a sudden you could be race favourite?
JB: It’s not a pressure, definitely not, it’s a nice feeling. We’ve done seven days of testing, I’ve driven the car for three days which normally wouldn’t be enough. We’ve been reliable-ish, so we’ve been able to get quite a bit done in that time. I feel comfortable in the car, I feel that I’ve made it quite personal to myself which is good, but we’re coming here with an open mind, for sure.
Testing is one thing and for sure we’ve been reasonably reliable and we’ve done some good lap times, but in 2006 we had a quick car in testing and we got to the first race and we got blown away by the Ferraris, so you never know until you turn a wheel here. I have a feeling we’re not going to be slow but how quick, we have to wait and see for that one.
Q. (Jonathan Legard BBC) Robert, what’s going to make your mind up, or the team’s mind up, about who uses it, and if you use it what sort of difference it could make to you?
RK: I think it’s already official that I don’t run KERS here. Nick will run it here. The team will decide race-by-race in the future and driver-by-driver, so we will see.
Q. (Ian Parkes The Press Association) Jenson, you say ‘talk to Ross’, presumably you have spoken to him. Can you just give us an insight into what he has told you about the car? You must believe from speaking with him that the car you will be driving this weekend is legal?
JB: For sure. Yup. I’ve said all I have to say on the subject.
Q. (James Allen Financial Times) Jenson, it’s quite hard to categorise exactly where you are, because it’s an independent team with a customer engine and yet it’s got top team facilities. It’s a team that nearly didn’t make it and yet when it puts the car on the track it’s mind-blowingly fast. We all want to think of you as an underdog and yet in some ways you’re a favourite. Do you feel that kind of mixed feeling yourself and does the team feel that way?
JB: I understand what you’re saying, for sure. We should be the underdogs, for sure, being a private team with a customer engine, but looking at the testing times, we’re not, but the testing that we had seven days it was so valuable to us. We’re not going to plod around slowly. We have to see what the car can do and we have to get the maximum out of it, push the car to the limit, so we can find the limit. So we don’t really have a choice in the matter.
I don’t know if we are the favourites or what but it’s nice knowing that we have a competitive car and as I said, we don’t know how competitive it is but for me, all I know is that it’s great to drive and I feel that I can really work with it and the changes that I make, make a difference, good or bad, so I’m happy with what we have.
Q. Felipe, McLaren are insisting that they are not as competitive as they used to be. Do you think they are sandbagging, could it be a kind of tactics?
FM: I have no idea, so you need to ask them. I work for Ferrari, I don’t work for McLaren. For sure, it is strange to see McLaren at the back. The only thing I can think for myself is that they are a respected team, so we need to respect them for what they did in the past. That’s the only idea I have, so I have no idea where they are going to be. I have no idea where I am going to be on the grid, so that’s why I cannot answer for McLaren.
Q. (Sarah Holt BBC Sport) Jenson, over this difficult winter did you know that the new car was going to be so super-quick, and do you think that this perceived level of performance is going to be sustainable from such a small team over the season and beyond this season?
JB: I knew it was going in the right direction, for sure. I spent a lot of time with the team at the end of the year, and obviously we started focusing on our car reasonably early, as you could see from our performances towards the end of last season. That’s one of the reasons why I was hanging on in there, hoping that the car would be raced in 2009, because for me it was strong and I think some of this is the reason why everyone’s kept their head strong and kept focused on the job in hand because they knew that they were going in the right direction and they knew that they had a good car or the makings of a good car.
Q. (Sarah Holt BBC Sport) Do you think you can sustain it throughout the season?
JB: It’s all guesswork, for sure, and we really don’t know what’s going to happen even in qualifying and the race on Sunday. That’s something that I hope happens, that we can sustain our performance, whatever it’s going to be. Yeah, that’s got to be the aim. We’re here this weekend, hoping that we can do the whole season. We haven’t come to Melbourne to just do the first two or three races, we’re here for the championship, so we’ve got to hope that we can complete it.
Q. (Heinz PrÃ¼ller ORF) Gentlemen, can I ask each one of you how many kilometres you tested during the winter and how much testing the team did in kilometres or miles or days?
JB: Mine’s actually quite easy. I think I did about sevenâ€¦
FM: I read it somewhere but I have no idea where.
JB: I did about 1800 kilometres.
Q. (Jon McEvoy The Daily Mail) Felipe, just wondering your response to reports this morning in England in which Lewis Hamilton said he would give thought to driving for another team. Obviously that would lead one to suspect that he might have Ferrari in mind. How would you feel about driving alongside Lewis and your thoughts about what he’s said?
FM: Well, I drove alongside Michael. I drive alongside Kimi, soâ€¦ I heard for many years already that Fernando will come. He’s just another one, so I don’t care. Valentino Rossi as well. Maybe my father will drive for Ferrari next year. We don’t know.