Drivers attending Thursday’s Press Conference, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, included Rubens Barrichello of Honda, Pedro De La Rosa of McLaren Mercedes, Fernando Alonso of Renault, and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
Q: Pedro, how much has your role changed this year? Are you still doing pretty much what you have always been doing?
Pedro de la ROSA: My role is pretty much unchanged. Obviously, we are very limited on mileage during the testing season and we have to maximise every mile we do and every set of tyres. From that point of view it hasn t changed at all.
Q: So perhaps you can describe what that is.
PdlR: It is the normal work that a test driver needs to do. First of all you have to be at every grand prix as a reserve driver and that s why I am here. Secondly at the test sessions I am testing anything that is required by the team, backing all that work up in the simulation facilities at Woking and being of any help for the team. It is very similar to before but basically doing less kilometres at the track and spending more time in the simulator, so it is great fun.
Q: You are not frustrated at not racing?
PdlR: Yes, of course it is frustrating not racing. I have to be realistic as I am at that point of my career where I don t have many more years left. Not because of me but because of the other people s perception unfortunately. Every year that goes by it is just getting closer to a point where I won t be able to race again. I am aware of that. I am a realistic person and I am just hoping that something happens for me.
Q: Lewis had a little blip at the last race. How were you able to help him during that weekend and how have you been able to help him since?
PdlR: A blip? What do you mean? A blip could mean also to go up. We hope that the blip comes here. Yes, he had a bad weekend but all we can do from the team s point of view is to make sure that we make it as simple as possible for him not to make any mistakes. That s what we have been focussing on for the past few weeks, to make sure that this won t happen again. Not that he has to change anything, but from our point of view we make sure that is simpler for him to activate everything he has to from the cockpit.
Q: Does your role include driver coach, giving advice to drivers or anything like that?
PdlR: That s not a part which is included in my contract but obviously I am just trying to be helpful for everyone. I am just trying to listen as much as I can and know what the biggest problems are. For example this afternoon I will walk around the track and see if there is anything I can see. During test sessions I am driving around the corners on the side-road just to see with my eyes if I can help. If I see anything I don t like I go to the guys and I just tell them. I am very open and they can rely on me fully. They know I will always help, that s my role.
Q: Rubens, I think in Turkey it will be 257 times you have turned up to a race. Looking back at the last race you didn t look like a driver about to retire, giving Fernando quite a hard time. What was that like?
Rubens BARRICHELLO: It was bad. We were fighting for 10th place. I wish it were first and second. That would have been a lot better. He was having plenty of problems with his rear wing and I was having a lot of understeer on the car. Unfortunately in Formula One nowadays it is still very impossible to overtake. Hopefully in the future, if slicks really come into play, that will be the way to go. To play with a lot less aerodynamic devices and with a lot more grip from the ground and from the tyre that will give us the chance to follow other cars. As soon as I caught him I turned the revs down because there was nothing I could do. I was five kph slower on the straight. I feel very motivated. You talk to the young guys and they are all sort of fed up with F1, too much to do, PR. My life has kept on getting better and better. The first year with Honda I really did a lot of PR. But they put things in place and I am focussing and putting my energy on the car. I have been working quite hard. Last week I did 140 laps around Barcelona which I thought was phenomenal. I still feel young on that side. I am just going to prove Pedro wrong. I think I have many more years left.
Q: Going back to the car. Do you think you are close to scoring points?
RB: We had a god improvement last week and obviously the first race was what it was and we would have finished in the points already with the car. But the first race is always a bit crazy anyway. In Malaysia we were far out and in Bahrain we had the pace but we did not have the straight line speed to overtake. But I think we are very close to the points. I think Barcelona is open on that. The car is a good time better. I don t know how much improvement the others made because last week was very difficult to read. It was slicks on the car, people with less fuel and more fuel, so it was really difficult to see. But the car is better definitely better. We have made an improvement and hopefully that is going to put us on Q3 all the time and that will lead us to points and more.
Q: It would be a nice way to celebrate your record. Apparently the celebrations are going to last several races?
RB: There is a little bit of confusion. You ask everyone and the numbers seem to go up and down, so we decided to take Turkey because that is the races I have taken part in. The ones that are not happy with that, because it seems too early, then we have three races to celebrate the Brazilian way.
Q: Fernando, the car has been modified quite a lot. Outward particularly things that we can see but obviously inwardly as well. How are you feeling about the modifications since Bahrain?
Fernando ALONSO: I think we made a step forward in terms of competitiveness of the car and we will see this weekend what the result is. I think as Rubens said last week it was difficult to read times as it was a mix of slick tyre and more or less fuel between the teams, so you know we tried to concentrate on our performance and our car and I think we gained a couple of tenths in the car. We will see if it is able or not to make us easy in Q3 and not have the problems we had in the first few races and hopefully regularly get in the points. Obviously we were in Australia, we just had one point in Sepang and were not in the points in Bahrain. This is not possible for us, so we need to raise our level and hopefully here is the starting point.
Q: You have been in the top four here for the last five years including a win from pole position. What are the chances of maintaining that record?
FA: Very difficult this year. It is true that every time I come here to my home grand prix I had always the possibility to fight for the pole position and fight for the victory. If not, the podium was a real possibility always. This year I don t think it is a real possibility, just a dream as it was in the first few races. Something strange needs to happen during the race if we want to reach the podium now. Hopefully this will be the first step we need to do during this season to be close to the podium. Sooner or later we need to start improving the car and I think this race will be the first opportunity to see if we are going in the right direction.
Q: The President of Ferrari had some interesting comments to make about your chances of joining Ferrari in the near future it would seem. Did they come as a surprise to you?
FA: No. I have nothing to say. People talk about me, normally very often, which is good. It seems I am quite famous here. Part of that I respect everybody.
Q: A lot of the press thought that you would be going to Ferrari next year. But you weren t expecting to?
FA: I don t expect anything. This is only the fourth race of the championship. I try to be better and better every year a better driver. This year will be a tough season for me. It seems I will race in the middle of the group always, so at the end of the year I will be a better driver and for next year we will see.
Q: Kimi, what does it mean for you to be leading the championship at this time of the year, coming here for the start of the European season?
KIMI RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN: Of course it s nice but the season is only a few races old. It is a long way to go and it doesn t help if you are leading now and you can t keep it up and lead when it really matters. But so far it has been pretty okay. It could have been better at the start of the season but we are leading in the points, so I need to be happy.
Q: You won here in 2005 but it hasn t been a fantastic circuit for you this one, has it?
KR: No, last year we didn t finish. I think we only did nine laps in the race. I can t remember all the things that have happened here but usually they are not very good results. It can turn around. Hopefully this year we can be strong and finish the race at least. We will see how it goes tomorrow.
Q: How do you feel about the modifications made to your car since Bahrain?
KR: I don t really have a clear picture about it. I did four or five laps in the dry and it was a bit damp. The team is happy how we improved the car and we brought some new parts and they seem to work. It should be better. I tried the new front on a few laps on intermediates, so we will see how it goes over the weekend, how the car goes. It should be better than it was in previous races.
Q: So tomorrow will be a real discovery for you in comparison?
KR: I have been here before in dry conditions and every time you improve the car it should make it better. We have some work to do but I think for sure we can be fast here.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Livio Oricchio O Estado de Sao Paulo) To Alonso, can you confirm you are using the mass damper here? If you are, is it a new motivation for you and your team to improve in the championship?
FA: No, we are not using the mass damper. We are using a different concept of suspension but most of the teams are using it already, so we just will be similar to everybody from this race.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Kimi, how do you see the hierarchy between Ferrari, McLaren and BMW? Is the fight between the two of you or is BMW also a threat now?
KR: I mean they were second best in the last race, so for sure they are there. I think it all depends from race to race. If you look at the last couple of races they are very similar and we are a little bit ahead of them. I don t know how it is going to be here. We need to wait and see really but it is going to be close between all the three teams.
Q: (Anne Giuntini L Equipe) Pedro, has your role this season with two quite young drivers become even more major than it was last season with Fernando in the team?
PdlR: No, it is exactly the same really. The only thing for me that changes, that is more demanding every year for a test driver, is that you have very little kilometres available to you and whenever you are sat behind the wheel driving you have to be fully prepared. There is no room to have a run to feel warm and feel the car again. You have to prepare very well physically outside of the car because you are not that often in the car. That for me is the biggest challenge and maximising every kilometre you have. Every kilometre is a jewel you have and you have to use it. That s why I think my experience is important. But from a driving point of view, the fact that they are young and Heikki being new to the team, it hasn t changed much really. Fernando was new to the team last year, so it was a little bit the same.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, were you expecting some bigger improvements from the test?
FA: No not really. We had what we were expecting and we are quite happy with the car and the improvement we did. But, as I said, maybe we will not be happy anymore tomorrow when we see the others and they are quick as well. I think we did a god job and probably the others teams did a good job as well. It is just a matter of which team took the biggest step and we are optimistic we can improve, but we must improve what we did in the first few races. So let s start from this race.
Q: (Toni Lopez La Vanguardia) Question for Pedro and Fernando, today, the FIA has launched a campaign against racism. Do you agree that it starts here and now in Barcelona?
PdlR: He s a two-time World Champion, he should takeâ€¦
FA: He s from Barcelona, soâ€¦
PdlR: I don t really know what to say. I was not aware of that and all I can say is that the Spanish people will show to the world how good they are this weekend, and how good historically they ve been. We ve never had any problems here before and we will never have (them again). Wait and see. But I was not aware of this campaign or anything to be honest.
FA: Same. I was not aware but this weekend it will be OK and it will always be OK here. Everybody will be able to see that.
Q: (Jerome Bourret L Equipe) To Kimi and Fernando, can you imagine, during your career, racing two hundred and sixty GPs or will you be fed up with the PR etc before that point?
KR: What, whether I will do two hundred and sixty something races? I don t even know how many I have now but probably not.
FA: I don t know, I don t know. I don t think so either. I don t know how many I have at the moment either, but 260 seems too many years.
RB: By the time that I finish I will have three hundred anyway, soâ€¦
FA: The problem is Rubens. Without Rubens you can go for the record but with him it will be tough.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) After the test here there was a lot of discussion about the coming ban of tyre warming blankets. A lot of series don t have tyre-warming blankets and have pit stops. Is that going to be a problem for F1, to have this ban?
PdlR: My personal point of view is that obviously it s a matter of safety. Running without tyre warmers, tyre blankets, obviously increases the chancesâ€¦ or makes the speed difference between the car that comes out of the pit lane and the car that is on a flying lap much greater, so the possibility of an accident is higher. We have seen the bigger accidents over the past few years happen when one car is slower than another, not necessarily a car is stopped on the track. The speed difference is a safety issue for me, that s my point of view, so that s what I am saying. I ve raced all my career without tyre warmers but it s quite different in Formula One, mainly because the compounds or the compound-operating window is very narrow in Formula One. So until they are at a very high temperature, they do not work at all. In other categories you have a much more progressive build-up of temperature and grip, so it s easier. I find it more difficult here.
RB: Well, I think there are good and bad points to be honest. On the one hand people want to see some overtaking which is fair. We all want to see that, but the problem is that I think Formula One could become quite boring. People will invent a car that has a big tank again and whoever stays on the track gains the advantage of that one pit stop. I think at the end of the day it will become a little bit too much like IndyCars or something like that which is fine, but I think Formula One is about the competitiveness of what s going on on the track. To add to that, I ve also raced throughout my whole career before Formula One without tyre blankets but I never saw something like this. You go out of the pits and you already have a chance to spin out of the garage, and when you get to the first corner, it s like an ice rink and so with that, if you get conditions like we ve had at NÃ¼rburgring in the past or any race that is very cold and we take the wrong tyres, then it s going to be very, very dangerous.
FA: Yes, same thing. I think it s dangerous. As Pedro says, the speed difference between the cars and as Rubens said, the races will become boring because you need to stay on the track. When you pit, over the next two laps you will be eight seconds slower, so you cannot be creative with the strategy or anything like that, so it will become more boring. I know that in some other categories they don t have tyre blankets like IndyCars, but they don t have any corners either, they go around. I think Formula One is different, the compounds are different and as Rubens said, we should look for the maximum performance in the car. We are in Formula One, so it needs to be the peak of motor sports. And (the notion of) saving costs is a little bit ridiculous.
KR: I haven t run the tyres at all, so I don t really have any idea how it will be but I heard that, as Rubens and everybody else said, it s going to be very difficult, so I m not really in the right place to say. But if it s purely for saving money, it s the wrong place to save money. It s not much and they are going to spend the same money somewhere else anyhow, soâ€¦
Q: So Pedro, is the GPDA planning to do anything about this?
PdlR: Well, first of all we are going to talk between ourselves to see what is the majority agreement of the GPDA and then we will act accordingly. We are very relaxed about it, we are not in a hurry. We were waiting until this week, because I tested the tyres at Jerez back in early December, I think, and it was extremely dangerous. It was very cold and I nearly put the car into the pit wall, just coming out of the garage. The car didn t turn and I nearly hit the wall, so it would have been quite embarrassing if I had done so, but I just avoided a stupid accident. And then, when we came here, Bridgestone has made some further steps and now the tyres are easier to warm up, so they are working at a lower temperature range. They are still difficult; we were waiting for these tests to happen, so that we could have a meeting between the drivers who had done the tests with the tyres and then decide accordingly. We are pretty relaxed, we just know that the FIA will listen to us and we just have to be sure that we all have the same criteria, that s all.
Q: (Livio Oricchio O Estado de Sao Paulo) To all of you, considering the information about the 2009 aerodynamic package that you have, do you think it s a good direction for Formula One? Will it be easier to drive, easier to overtake?
RB: I think it follows the rule that I think all drivers want which is less aero and better mechanical grip, but whether it will be good or not is a bit too far ahead to know. But I think it is, it s a step thatâ€¦ Honestly, I don t know how we got into the grooves. We raced go-karts, formula cars and everything on slick tyres and all of sudden, for a boy who dreamed of racing in Formula One, they have this tyre that is just ugly. Of course, Bridgestone has done a super job with the tyres because we are going faster and faster, but you saw last week that when we put slick tyres back on the cars, even though it was a hard compound, we went 2.5s faster. That s the way it should be: slick tyres.
PdlR: I would add that where we are, or where we think that the regulations should be for next year, or what I am aware of, is that it s definitely in the right direction. These new regulations come from a thorough study by the technical working group and everyone involved in the FIA and there s some scientific proof that less downforce and more mechanical grip will improve overtaking opportunities. Still, Formula One will always be Formula One, it s going to be more difficult than motorbikes here in Spain there s always this tendency of comparing both and we just have to be aware of that. It s definitely in the right direction. I am very comfortable with that.
RB: Back in 98, when I first tested the tyre, I had a crash that I really thought I was going to stop, but because of the lack of mechanical grip caused by the tyre, I kept on spinning and crashed. So I think we depend a lot on the grip level of the tyre. If we have the whole tyre on the ground, it s going to help a lot on the safety side as well.
Q: (Carlos Miquel Diario AS) Kimi, do you agree with Montezemolo when he says it might not be good for Ferrari to have Fernando Alonso as your team-mate?
KR: (Laughs) It s better that I don t say anything.