TEAM PRINCIPALS: Flavio BRIATORE (RENAULT), Ron DENNIS (MCLAREN MERCEDES), Jean TODT (FERRARI)
Q: To Ron and Jean, how do you see your chances at the moment? And then maybe we can have an overall view from Flavio.
Ron DENNIS: It s pretty much as we ve said it from day one. We re trying very hard to demonstrate equality and both drivers have different points positions. One has a slight advantage over the other and obviously Kimi is also capable of winning the World Championship, so we re just trying to stay calm, do a thorough, disciplined job and under stressful conditions, and it s as simple as that: try to keep calm.
Jean TODT: We know that it s very difficult for us with Kimi seven points behind. Our competitor has been very quick, very reliable. We are not favourites but in this business so many things can happen. We saw that at the last race, so even if there is a prediction for dry weather and high temperatures, it will be difficult but we will try to do as much as we can and then we will see.
Flavio BRIATORE: I m sure I m more relaxed than both Ron and Jean, and I m more relaxed than last year. But I believe it s a fantastic finish to the season this year. We have three drivers with the possibility to be World Champion and it s very difficult to say whether it s Hamilton or Fernando or Kimi because it will be a long race. We don t know exactly what kind of weather we will have on Sunday, but you know it s open. For me it s still very very open, including for Ferrari because you never know. McLaren had a good opportunity to win last weekend, they got nothing, it s never black and white but I believe that for Formula One and for the spectators and for the television it will be fantastic tomorrow and on Sunday.
Q: Flavio, the Brazilian press would be very interested to hear what your feelings are regarding Nelson Piquet Jr, what s his future with the team?
FB: Nelsinho is in our team and we haven t yet decided the line-up, the drivers for 2008 for the moment. We have the option of Fisico (Fisichella) and Kovalainen and of course Nelsinho. We have time, we have time to see what happens and we don t want to decide immediately. We will see what happens in the next few days, few weeks, few months. I don t think we are in any rush to make a decision.
Q: Flavio, you know Fernando very well having won with him in the last couple of years here. Would you back him in this championship battle?
FB: Normally, Hamilton has four points more than Fernando. Second place is good enough for Hamilton but Fernando, in very very difficult situations, is a guy who never makes a mistake. He handles pressure very very well and I believe it s 50-50 between Fernando and Hamilton. Four points is a lot and it s nothing. I remember last year we were fighting with Michael and Jean and it was always three points, four points difference. Anything is possible. First you need to finish in the race, and if both finish in the race, Hamilton has the four point advantage.
Q: Jean, I think the aim is one-two and nothing less, isn t it?
JT: It also depends what the others do, but yes, we need to be first and second but it s easy to say, difficult to do but as I ve said before, we will try our best as we have since the beginning of the season.
Q: Does Kimi ever show any pressure?
JT: With Kimi, when you start to know him better, you have to translate his feelings. He s a great guy, he s very dedicated, doesn t complain, just does his job and we are very happy with him, and we are very happy to try to do as much as we can for him as he does for the team.
Q: And just before this race you announced a contract extension for Felipe. What are your feelings about him?
JT: There has been a lot of speculation over the last weeks and rather than entertaining this speculation we knew what we wanted to do for the drivers for the future, so we simply confirmed an extension for Felipe. He s doing an excellent job, motivated. He s really a driver who has grown up with our team and it s as simple as that. I think the responsibility (for the problems) is more with the team than with the drivers. We know that if we give them a winning car they are going to win races, so it s up to us. It has never been questioned that our drivers were not quick enough to get the best out of the car, so we need to give them a winning car, a reliable car and then they have demonstrated that they are able to deliver.
Q: Ron, it was interesting to hear yesterday from your drivers that they were very much thinking of their championship positions and that s what was going to influence their races. Is that the case with the team as well?
RD: We re not thinking about it or talking about it at the moment. We re focusing on every day singularly. Today we were just trying to make the best out of a very difficult damp-dry condition type practice. Tomorrow we ll obviously fight for the front row and then we ll worry about the strategy for the race as we enter the last qualifying but clearly either of our drivers can win. We ve got to demonstrate to ourselves and to everybody that s going to be putting us in the spotlight along with Kimi that we ve done a competent job and given every opportunity to win. We re not really getting into the details at this stage.
Q: What s the atmosphere like within the team? Obviously you re running two drivers almost against one another within the team.
RD: It s a little tense but it s professional and calm.
Q: Who has got the most difficult job: McLaren or the English rugby team?
RD: Certainly we ve got the most difficult job on Sunday! I think they ve played very well. I don t know a great deal about rugby. I was fortunate to be there and they re a very good defending team at the moment, so I hope they do well tomorrow because we are all nationalistic, but our race is on Sunday, theirs is on Saturday.
Q: Finally, what happened today with the tyre mix-up? Was it a mix-up?
RD: A hundred percent team mistake. Lewis did an install (installation lap) on one set of wet tyres and we just put on another set. It was one hundred percent our fault, nothing to do with Lewis. He only did an in and an out lap. It wasn t as if there was any advantage but it clearly was a breach of a rule, as two other people made the same mistake. It s up to the stewards to decide if and what is the appropriate penalty. We re trying so hard, maybe there s a little too much tension in the team but it was a silly mistake. But hopefully it won t cost anything other than the team some problems. Take some World Championship Constructors points away oh, they ve already done that!
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) For Jean Todt. The fact you have so many wins and are fighting for the championship proves that Ferrari are strong in the post Schumacher and Ross Brawn era, how do you see your own future now at Ferrari?
JT: You know, each thing at a time, so for me the most important future is qualifying tomorrow and then the race on Sunday and then when the time will be appropriate to decide other things as you said, even with a very strong change in the team, Ferrari has remained very competitive, very strong and very united together, very good atmosphere, so that is what we wanted to achieve and that is our main objective to achieve with or without me.
Q: (Ian Parkes The Press Association) Ron, everybody appreciates people make mistakes but with the season that you have had and what s gone on, can you imagine the furore there would be right now if you had made that mistake with Fernando s tyres and Lewis s?
RD: Well, we can do no more than our best and we are really trying hard and people make mistakes and I am not trivialising it and this perhaps shows that we are all human. As I said I don t think anybody will imagine there is any advantage come out of it at all, but you know there is a rule there and so we broke it and so we have just go to get on with it.
Q: (Anne Giuntini L Equipe) To Ron. Do you think that tomorrow there should be time enough for an extra lap for one of the two drivers?
RD: I think when we did the analysis in the beginning of the season we thought this was a circuit where we felt a fuel-burn lap was appropriate, but I think that is actually not the case now and I don t think this is a fuel-burn lap circuit, but I haven t asked the question, so I can t give you an answer on it. If there is a fuel burn lap, then we will do what is planned which is laid out in the procedures, but I don t think it is.
Q: (James Allen ITV) Ron, I heard a story after China about something to the effect that Lewis was told he is not allowed to celebrate exuberantly or some sort of message going around on what is and isn t appropriate in terms of celebration. Could you clear that up for us and could all three of you give your views on this? What is appropriate for a driver when celebrating?
RD: I think the important thing is to stay within the regulations. There are regulations that govern the post-race procedures and I think the important thing is that we are in a heightened atmosphere of compliance, let s put it that way, and it was quite clear that we were told to please strictly adhere to the regulations.
Q: Flavio and Jean. What are your feelings on that? Do you have any thoughts on these celebrations on the podium?
JT: It depends on the situation and the emotion is not something you have to guide, you have to control that. Normally if you are on the podium, it is such a pressure and a moment of attention and the tendency is that you forget everything around you and you just feel happy and deliver and that is about it.
Q: (Ian Parkes The Press Association) Ron, we understand the FIA official is going to be in the McLaren garage tomorrow overseeing things. Bernie Ecclestone said today that he felt it was unnecessary for that person to be there. I just wondered how you felt about it personally?
RD: Well, first of all I made contact with the FIA representative in Spain and met him and his colleague, his assistant, and invited them here because there is obviously a firm belief in Spain that we are not being equal handed and that is contrary to the fact. I felt that it would perhaps defuse the situation and we did, we meet on Wednesday morning and had a perfectly amicable conversation and I said to make sure there is no inability to communicate, that Pedro would translate for them and they can ask any question and we will give them an honest answer. I think there is going to be an additional scrutineer in the garage tomorrow. As far as I am concerned he can wear a headset and he can do anything he wants. It only makes it even more transparent and more apparent to everybody that we are only doing what we said we would do and I have no problem with it, but the people said are you offended? or upset? and it is just not relevant to us. We just get on with our job and be judged by the results of the race and, hopefully, it will be a good fair outcome and nobody will have any complaints.
Q: (Alan Baldwin Reuters) Ron, yesterday we saw Lewis and Fernando looking very relaxed and smiling and looking like they are the greatest of friends again. Nobody actually asked Fernando yesterday how his relationship with you was. Has that improved?
RD: To be honest, I have tried to step back from both drivers in this very difficult situation and I have tried to be even handed and available to both of them and you know I m trying to make sure they their engineers and the rest of the team are dedicated to their cars and understand the sensitivities that exist and we just do a good job. So I am available to anybody at anytime but I am not going to push myself into any situation I am just being even handed and again I can only be judged by my actions and I am prepared to be just that.
Q: (Byron Young The Daily Mirror) Ron, can I make it clear as it is a bit difficult to hear back here because of the cars outside, but is it right that you said that Lewis has been told that he is celebrating too much?
RD: I never said anything like that or you have got selective hearing.
Q: I thought that was the question..
RD: No, that wasn t the question. I think the question was had the FIA issued any specific instructions to the team in respect of the post-race behaviour of our drivers. That was the question. Correct? Or specific Lewis? And my answer was that the FIA had advised us to strictly apply to those regulations that were applicable after the finish of a Grand Prix and gave some examples of things they would not be comfortable withâ€¦
Q: Could you let us know what those are?
Q: (Ed Gorman The Times) Were they all things that are laid down in the regulations or are there some things that are specific things about Lewis?
RD: I don t want to make a big issue of this. They were simple things that they said they would prefer it if we were mindful of being appropriate to happen and I suppose their thoughts were the youthful behaviour that Lewis may have if he had been in the fortunate position of having won the world championship, very mindful of the very hyper-sensitive environment in which we are competing at the moment and I had no problem in being asked to ensure that we were in strict compliance of the regulations. It was not directed at me it was directed at our team principal and team manager and I am cool and relaxed about it as I am about many of the other things that come our way at the moment.
Q: (Heather Alexander BBC Radio 1) Speaking to some of the Brazilian fans they tell me that they still miss Ayrton Senna. This is a question for everyone. They miss him here as a driver. Could each of you speak about the legacy of Ayrton Senna and what he still means to Formula One?
RD: Following his death, I personally realised I was going to be asked a lot of questions and I have been asked this question before and I think I would rather give the same answer which is that I had a private and personal relationship with Ayrton. We shared a great time together and I wouldn t have been surprised if things had unfolded that he wouldn t have come back and driven for McLaren, but at the time I said I am not going to share anything with anybody because I think it is the wrong way to go. It is too personal, less emotional than it was then, but still too personal. He was a phenomenal driver and a tremendous human being and it was a privilege for him to be in our team and obviously he won all his world championships in our team and in our cars and we miss him whether it is when we think of him here or even in any other place in the world and that is as elaborate as I would like to be.
FB: When you lose somebody like Ayrton, especially in the way it happened to him, surely it was very emotional and I remember at Imolaâ€¦ Senna was so good in everything you thought he would be in Formula One forever. Nobody could believe it, that Senna could have such an accident. For us Senna was somebody reallyâ€¦ I never had any relationship with him because he was driving for Ron and then afterwards for Frank, but for Formula One Senna was somebody incredible. He had an incredible personality, incredible fans and he was really a big star, like we had never had before. But it was a shock. All weekend was a big shock in Imola. I am sure the Brazilians miss him very much and people in different nationalities in Formula One miss him too.
JT: Ayrton was a legend, like Fangio was a legend, Jim Clark was a legend and you cannot forget them and of course when you go to Brazil the first driver you think about is Senna and unfortunately he is not here anymore as a living person and he will always be remembered as a hero and I feel it is rightful word for him.
Q: (Niki Takeda Formula PA) Question to all of you. Would you like to have Fernando Alonso in your car, not necessarily in 2008, but in the future? And in the case of Ron, I have to re-phrase that: would you like to keep him in your car?
RD: I m faced with the most difficult question, aren t I? The reality is I can only give you the same answer. Fernando has a contract with our team, this was the first of three years and we said last week, two weeks ago, four weeks ago, that we aren t going to have any dialogue with any of our drivers about whether they may or may not wish to stay in our team until after this Grand Prix. That s the only answer I have. The results speak for themselves this year. He s obviously a great driver and a great talent, so I don t think any team would not recognise that, but as regards our own position, as I said, it s not under any consideration the future of any of our drivers until after this weekend. We are concentrating on the World Championship.
FB: Fernando is with McLaren, like Ron said, he s under contract and he s with the team. I ve already had him in my car. I had four or five years with Fernando and then he decided to move from us to McLaren.
JT: He s a great driver. You don t achieve World Championships twice in a row, competing for the third time in a row, but at the moment it s not a question we have to answer. He has a contract and we have contracted drivers with us, with whom we are very happy. We just announced an extension with Felipe.
Q: (Ian Parkes The Press Association) Ron, I appreciate the answer you just gave then about Fernando and his contract situation. Looking beyond the final race, if he came to you and said â€˜I would like to leave would you agree to that, or are you somebody that holds a driver to their contract?
RD: I can only give you the same answer. I m not going to talk about anything about the drivers until it s an appropriate time and that s certainly not here, certainly not this weekend. It may be in the future, but the future is just that, so that s the best I can do for your answer.
Q: (James Allen ITV) Can you clear up the issue of the tyre temperatures in the final run in Q3 in China. Fernando said again yesterday that they were a bit high and he didn t know about that at the time. Can you clear up whether that is the case?
RD: You can t just do a yes/no answer to that, so I will try and give you an understanding and it will be interesting to see if Jean and Flavio have the same point of view. A racing tyre is a very challenging thing to understand. The pressures on a racing car s tyre are influenced by several things. The first thing about China is that it was incredibly humid throughout the entire weekend, which means that keeping the humidity out of the fitting cycle, out of the cleansing cycle, purging cycle was very difficult, so maintaining consistency in tyre pressures through their heat range is very difficult. Second thing is, no tyre is pre-set to the pressure at which it runs on the circuit. You are trying to determine how much more pressure a driver is going to put into the tyre on the out lap and you target that and virtually every tyre goes out with a different pressure to each other depending on where it is on the car and then you project, based on your experience in practice, where the tyre is going to finish in its given one lap and then coming in on a cooling lap. So you are targeting something which is an inconsistent and I would say that the ability of our engineers to get our tyre pressures absolutely to within a tenth of a pound when the cars come in after qualifying they probably achieve it less than 10 per cent of the time because of the intense variables. So all of the tyres that came in on both of our cars were out of the optimum pressure target that we had set for them. Is it true that they were a bit high on our tyres? The answer is yes. Were they abnormally out of target in relation to the challenge? No. If, as we were able to analyse, the performance between the two cars, there was below five-tenths of a second difference between the drivers qualifying, two and a half tenths were fuel difference because Lewis was fuelled lower and most of the time that Lewis made up on Fernando was at two specific braking areas, one in which he picked up nearly two tenths of a second and the rest of the lap took care of the rest. So the difference in lap times was fuel load and specific points on the circuit where Lewis did a very good job on braking. And they are the facts, the absolute facts. Maybe not what Fernando felt when he got out of the car, but I feel sure he understands now.
Q: (Byron Young The Daily Mirror) Can I just ask a rider to my question just now. May I ask Jean or Flavio if they have seen this guidance about drivers celebrations?
JT: It is the first time I have heard about it and I have no comment to make as I have never heard of any kind of special rules for the podium.
FB: I have the same opinion as Jean. I just heard the news.
Q: (Niki Takeda Formula PA) To all of you. If you have the choice between a very unhappy, but brilliant driver in your car or a happy, brilliant driver in your opponents car, which would you choose?
RD: I struggle to understand the question.
Q: (Niki Takeda Formula PA) Would you rather have an unhappy brilliant driver in your own car or see him happy in your opponents car?
RD: Our objective as a team is to win every race and how we win is very important to us. But it is not win at all costs.
FB: It is very difficult to make everybody happy. Sometimes you have a difficult situation in the team. We are competing and the drivers are competing. Don t forget that the first opponent of the driver is the other guy in his team. I think it is so difficult to have everybody happy.
JT: We always try to achieve excellence and that is to have everybody happy in the team including drivers, management, engineers and the mechanics and that is what we try to do. You cannot do it all the time, but it helps if you have continuity and people are happy.