Fernando Alonso believes that any improvements to his Renault R29, for this weekend s Spanish Grand Prix, will not be enough to rocket him into the Championship Battle. The Spaniard, preparing to race in front of his home fans at the Circuit de Catalunya, also admitted to being left disappointed with his season so far, after his team had failed to build upon its encouraging winter test pace.
Alonso also had some words of advice for his former team mate, Lewis Hamilton, who sat alongside the Renault driver during Thursday’s Press Conference.
Both Alonso and Hamilton were joined by BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella, to look ahead to this weekend’s Grand Prix.
2009 SPANISH GRAND PRIX
THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE May 7, 2009
DRIVERS: Fernando ALONSO (Renault),
Giancarlo FISICHELLA (Force India),
Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren Mercedes),
Nick HEIDFELD (BMW Sauber)
Q: Nick, how do you turn around the massive disappointment in Bahrain?
Nick HEIDFELD: Well, I think the position obviously was quite poor for the team. We could have performed stronger from our pace but it still would have been difficult to get into the points. Unfortunately we both had to change our front nose as we made contact with some other cars in turn one but that happens a lot easier if you don t start at the front. We knew that we would struggle more and more in certain races as we did not get any major updates as the team decided pretty early on that rather than bringing small updates we would provide a big package here in Barcelona. Here in the past it worked and I think this year the theory behind it was logical because everybody, including myself, was surprised by how close the teams were together this season. Everybody thought with the new regulations there would be massive differences but if you look at the last couple of races there are sometimes 10 cars within just a couple of tenths. Therefore it would have been the right choice to do small steps. We hope that we will make a bigger one here.
Q: You have brought new bits and pieces here. Do you think that is going to bring you right back into the top 10?
NH: Impossible to answer that. First of all we hope to see on the track what we have seen in simulation and the wind tunnel, then we can carry on with proper development. But as you all know the big question is what do all the other guys bring.
Q: And yet you are not using the double diffuser or the KERS here. What would that do?
NH: Well, we found out with KERS this season that it is not as big an advantage as probably people thought before the season. Some teams use it, some dont. Sometimes you put it in one race and take it out the other. Here probably it definitely would have been an advantage on the start because I think it is the longest straight until turn one, so it would have a big effect there. But in terms of overall lap time it is not that easy to simulate. We are still working on it and plan to have it back in the car in Istanbul as well as a double diffuser.
Q: Lewis, have you found KERS useful this year and can you envisage not using it?
Lewis HAMILTON: I think we would be a bit further behind if we did not have it. Mercedes Benz have done a fantastic job in preparing ours. It is performing fantastically through all the races with no reliability problems, so I am quite confident using it.
Q: And Fernando?
Fernando ALONSO: I don t know to be honest. I think some races it helps, some others not much. We are also happy with our system. We have not had big problems, only in Malaysia I think when it was that amount of water we had some issues. But we are happy with the system but as Nick said it is difficult to simulate or calculate the lap time advantage especially on some circuits, so it is something that we need a little bit more time.
Q: Giancarlo, you were perhaps expecting to use KERS here. You obviously do see an advantage in it?
Giancarlo FISICHELLA: Well, I never used it. We were supposed to use it here but unfortunately we delayed the programme and hopefully it is going to be introduced in Germany. I never drove with the KERS, so I can t say a lot.
Q: What about the modifications you had in the last grand prix? They really did seem to give you a little bit of an advantage?
GF: Yeah, the team did a good effort to build the double diffuser. It was a good step forward obviously. We made a step forward but not enough to move forward in the grid positions. Actually in the first two stints I was quite competitive and I was, let s say, one of the quickest in the circuit but once I went with the hard tyres I was struggling with the grip level and I could not score a better result. We need another good step like that. Here we will have a new adjustable front wing which is a small step forward, so let s see where we are.
Q: You have that here. Any other bits here as well?
GF: Just a few small bits, so not enough I think to move our grid position.
Q: So you might just get a little bit left behind again?
GF: Probably. Maybe in Monaco we will have another good step.
Q: Fernando, looking at this circuit you won from pole in 2006. You have been on the podium another three times. Obviously it is your home circuit. Is it a circuit that you like as well?
FA: Yeah, I like it. Obviously we all test a lot here in the winter time and we all know the circuit quite well, so it is not a big advantage for me to be at a home track as it is like a home track for everybody. It is a very special race for me. The atmosphere here is quite good and the support from the grandstand I can really feel it. Every year we come here it is something special and this year I think it will be the same. The whole team is doing 120 per cent every race but here 130 percent as it is good for everybody, also the mechanics, everyone in the team is quite well supported here.
Q: Pat Symonds says he has been disappointed so far. Is it the same with you?
FA: Yeah, I think when we finished winter testing in Jerez we were quite optimistic. All winter we have been more or less competitive. We knew in terms of pace and lap time what the others were doing and we were very comfortable with our pace and with our car. The balance of the car was good. We did not have big problems, so we arrived in Australia really convinced that we were ready to fight for podium positions and things like that and it was not the case, so it was some kind of surprise how competitive some other teams were in Australia. We knew that Brawn were quick in the last two tests but Red Bull, Williams, we really thought that they were behind us. We started improving the car from Australia. We introduced a new package in China, some new parts also in Bahrain, some new parts here as well. We try to catch up but as Pat said I think we were expecting a little bit more from the first four races, so only five points are not enough for the championship battle.
Q: I have been down in the paddock and a succession of cardboard boxes of varying different sizes have been carried into the garage. How much are you expecting this weekend?
FA: I think not much unfortunately. As I said we will improve the car from the last race but it is difficult to simulate what the advantage will be. It can be one tenth, it can be two maybe four but who knows. But I think in this particular race everyone will introduce new parts in the car, so everyone is around these two, four tenths or six or whatever if someone was clever enough. We all will move more or less these two or three tenths forward and the positions will remain more or less the same.
Q: Lewis, going back two months ago when you were last testing here I think things did not look so good. How are your feelings about the progress that has been made since then?
LH: Well, when we tested here I think the team kind of felt that perhaps we would not be so bad but when we arrived we were between two-and-a-half and three seconds slower than the leading cars, so that was a big shock to the system and the team have pushed incredibly, just an incredible amount from then on. I think the progress that we have seen in our performance from the second day we did here until now has been phenomenal. I think the team have done a great job and to see the results that we are getting, fourth in the last race, was a result of that but for sure there is still a long, long way for us to go and we are coming from a long way behind, so like Fernando said I think everyone this weekend will have made a step forward, so probably the positions will be pretty much the same as before.
Q: Do you think that rate of progress can take you back to where you were last year?
LH: Who knows. We will have to wait and see. I guess this weekend is a good indication of whether that is the case or not. We have a couple of things put on the car but like Fernando said we don t have a lot of things going on the car that are radical steps for us. It is just bit by bit that we are adding bits to the car. This weekend it will be interesting to see how far everyone else has stepped forward and the difficult thing is whilst we progress everyone else progresses at more or less the same pace and the key for us is to try and progress a bit faster than them. But with the way the world is, with the economy and everything, it is not the easiest to do that, so it is tough times.
Q: Tomorrow you are going to be honoured by the circuit here. They are going to unveil a plaque to you. What are your feelings about that?
LH: I was just recently told about it, just half an hour ago. I think it is fantastic. It will be a great moment to be standing. I don t know if Fernando will be there. Is it all the drivers? Well, I think it will be great to be standing next to Fernando as a known Formula One World Champion. I think it will be a real privilege.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Mike Doodson) There are going to be tremendous cuts made in the technical budgets of the teams. I wonder if you guys feel you also should suffer in the financial conditions. Are you expecting to take substantial reductions in salary? Would you be willing to do so if you were asked?
NH: I think it is always the same. You have two parties and both have to agree. If the team thinks they don t want to pay so much, they say no. If the driver thinks it is not enough, he says no. I think it will be solved by itself personally.
GF: Well, in the cut in costs for next year the driver salary is not included. And probably they are going to be different for the driver next year, we ll see. We ll see the options.
FA: The same.
Q: But do you think you should take a cut?
LH: I get paid what I am offered, it s as simple as that.
FA: As Nick said it is something you need to agree with your team. I think we are all in the same financial crisis in this world, same for you and your newspaper and your boss. All the bosses will ask the employees to reduce salaries and things like that and maybe you agree and maybe not.
GF: Because the costs are lower, the driver could be paid much more.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Lewis, it s been a tumultuous few weeks for you and the team; how much of a relief is it that a line has been drawn under it all now and you can concentrate on the car and the season?
LH: I think what s been impressive is that the team has not been affected by it. They ve been pushing since the test we had here and fortunately, through past experiences, they have been very, very strong, all together, and just kept focussed on their primary goal. For sure, it s a weight off the team s shoulders and the guys back at the factory can focus more on getting the car back to the front. So it can only be good for them.
Q: (Carlos Miquel Diario AS) A question for all the drivers: last year Jenson Button was at the back of the field and this year he is the big favourite for the title. Does this mean that the championship is only decided by mechanical possibilities; that the driver is not important? What do you think?
FA: I think the championship is the same as last year or the last ten years. I don t think Jenson was the worst driver last year when he was fighting for the last positions because he d been quite competitive throughout his career and in 2004 he was always fighting for podium finishes, finishing third in the World Championship, I think, so Jenson has always been competitive. This year, finally, he has the right car and he s proving that he s also able to fight for race wins and championships. I m happy for him. We all know that Formula One is about the whole package: the team, the car, the driver, the engineers, luck. Many factors can help you win a race or win a championship. We all respect each other here. I think between us, we are all good drivers, we are all competitive people and sometimes we know that some of us have the right car and some of us have problems and you need to work hard to make your car or your team competitive enough to win championships.
GF: Since I started my career in Formula One in 1996 there has been that problem: the car is much more important than the driver. Last year we had an example: Lewis was the World Champion and this year he s struggling to get into the top ten. Last year Button was struggling on the last few rows with me and now he has won three races and he s the leader of the championship. It s not just this year.
Q: To Nick and Lewis: should there be more emphasis on the driver and if so how?
NL: I think Fernando put it pretty well, I couldn t put it better than the way Fernando did but as he said, there s the team, the car and the driver and the way the team works and operate. They are all equally important and if you don t have one of those then you won t be competitive, you won t be at the front and you ll see some cars that have more performance than others and some people perhaps won t do such a good job with them. I think there s quite a lot of emphasis on the driver. I think we have a lot of tools that we need to deal with in the car and no one in this room, in the world, can understand what it s like driving the car and what different pressures we re being subjected to while we re driving the car but that s because you re not driving. There s only twenty of us that have the great privilege of driving them and I still feel it s pretty tough driving these things.
NH: Nothing to add.
Q: (Paulo Ianieri La Gazzetta dello Sport) For all four of you: in Bahrain, Fernando had some problems at the end of the race, had a problem with water but the fact that most of you had to lose some weight during the off-season could that be a safety concern?
NH: Not from what I ve seen. Obviously Fernando can answer that one better. I also lost about two and a half to three kilos but I felt better after the race than I did last year. I think you just have to find the right balance but it will be interesting to see what Fernando says.
FA: In Bahrain I had a very specific problem with not enough water in my body because I lost five and a half kilos in the race and this is obviously not normal at all. It was a problem with a radiator of the car and we had some hot gas going into the cockpit, so I burned all my back with the seat and that was losing me even more water from my body, to keep the temperature in the race. So I think it was a very unlucky combination of factors that left me in that condition at the end of the race but as Nick said, I think I was in better condition when I finished the first three races compared to last year. We are also running with less aerodynamics in the cars, so maybe the high speed corners are not so demanding in terms of physical etc., so I don t think that this year is any different compared to last year, even if the drivers lose some weight.
Q: (Jonathan Legard BBC) You ve sort of answered this but talking to Nico Rosberg on this subject of weight distribution and KERS, he was concerned that there was a safety issue for drivers, particularly those with the KERS in the car, that you were having to lose a lot of weight and he s at his lowest weight ever in Formula One. I just wondered how that affected you, is that a problem?
NH: I m on my lowest weight ever in Formula One and it s not a problem, no. The lighter drivers have an advantage now, yes, that s true. I weigh 59 kilos.
LH: 59 kilos! I have a long way to go to get to that weight. I m at 67 kilos but I ve always been 67. I started the season quite a lot heavier but that was just because I was eating really good.
FA: I don t think it s a problem. I feel, as I said, better than last year, especially when you take the bike. It s better this year. I don t think there are any safety issues.
GF: I thought they were too fat last year!
Q: (Ian Parkes PA) Lewis, in terms of going forward, in terms of repairing the damage done to your reputation over the last few weeks, is there anything that you can feel that you can do personally to aid that cause, in particular when such luminaries as Stirling Moss claim they felt let down by what had happened in Australia and Malaysia?
LH: Not really. I think I just need to get on with my job and keep being me; remain humble, just try to continue to do a good job and I hope that over the course of some time people will get to know exactly who I am and understand that I am in actual fact a good person. I do what I do because I love it.
Q: (Jon McEvoy The Daily Express) In the same spirit, Fernando, you drove for a year with Lewis. I was just wondering if maybe, in order to aid Lewis moving on, you might be able to say some generous words about Lewis the sportsman?
FA: I ve always said the same thing. I was a season at McLaren and I had no real problems with Lewis. We had a good competition which helped each other to find our limits. I can say that maybe I am missing that competition in a way because, as I said, it was quite fun to really push and find new limits from ourselves. The problems I had there were with the big bosses and the philosophy of the team, so I decided to move on from that period of my career but Lewis has always been a great driver, a great champion, fighting for the World Championship in his first season in Formula One, winning in the second season, so I think to really help the reputation or whatever has been damaged, I think will be very easy if he keeps winning. He will make people happy, his supporters and that s a very important thing, doing our job. The maximum we can do is driving the car, winning races, winning championships. This is the best thing you can do.
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) All the teams will improve, race after race, as you said. Fernando even said that the positions will remain the same, so would you consider that Brawn and Button have already won the championship?
FA: I think you have to wait because positions may change, but we saw sometimes that it s not only enough to have the fastest car on the grid, it s about finishing the races, it s also about having some luck at some special moments in the championship, so we will see. I don t think the championship has been decided. It s also like in football or soccer; always after four or five matches, one team always plays very well but the championship is very long, so you never know what is going to happen but at the moment they are favourites, for this race also but it doesn t mean that they will win the race.
LH: We ve only had four races. There are 13 races to go, there s a long way.
NH: I hope the positions will change after the first four races.
GF: Yeah, me too but it s going to be difficult. So far Brawn has the strongest car. I think they will have another good day here, so it will be interesting to see how they are here compared with the other teams but I think it s still the quickest car.
Q: (Marco Evangelisti Corriere dello Sport) Fernando, I don t want you to have any trouble with the fans here but what did you really feel yesterday evening when Iniesta scored?
FA: Well, in the end I think there is a Spanish team in the final, so this is good news and I m happy for Barcelona and for the fans. Obviously I m a Real Madrid fan, so I think it was more painful last weekend when we lost in Madrid but I think in the Champions League you always want a Spanish team moving forward. I have a lot of friends who are supporters of Barcelona, so I am happy for them as well.
Q: (Paul Logothetis Associated Press) Max Mosley said this week that he can imagine F1 without Ferrari in the future. Just wondering if you guys felt the same way.
LH: I couldn t imagine it.
FA: No, impossible.
GF: Yes, without Ferrari I don t think it would be Formula One anymore.
NH: Yeah, it was a bit strange hearing that from him because I thought that people were looking and listening to the fans worldwide and Ferrari is obviously the biggest name in F1 with many supporters and has been there since the very beginning, so they belong in F1 for sure.