This is the full transcript of Friday’s Press Conference ahead of the 2008 Australian Grand Prix. Drivers attending included SÃ©bastien Bourdais (Toro Rosso), Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India), Timo Glock (Toyota), Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren Mercedes), Nelson Piquet Jnr. (Renault) and, local boy, Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing).
Q: For most of you, apart from Mark, there is something new, something different about today. Perhaps you would like to go through and tell us what it is.
SÃ©bastien BOURDAIS: Well, there are a lot of new things for me this year. The first one obviously is the new track and there are a lot of things to learn and this morning was good. We took it step-by-step and in practice the discovery was quite nice. In the meantime the track was changing very quickly from very green to something better. It seemed like it was going to do the same thing this afternoon but I think we did not have the same luck as in the morning. We had very little running so not so much to talk about this afternoon
Nelson PIQUET JR: It was great also for me discovering the track little by little. It is much more different inside the car than walking around the track. It is much bumpier, but it was great. It is not an easy track and unfortunately also I didn’t get any running really and had a few little problems until the last 10 minutes, so I got a little running but I am happy. Things are going not as we planned but it is a start and I look forward to tomorrow.
Q: A big difference to testing surely?
NP: Yeah, much less running. Testing is much tougher but I think it is getting used to everything. The first time I went out there was a little pressure but I got used to it. It is good to be here and I hope everything works out better.
Q: Timo, into the big-time for you?
Timo GLOCK: Yes. It was a quiet session but overall the day was not too bad, I would say. It was a good feeling to be back in the car and not to have the same problems as we had in Barcelona at the last test. It was quite difficult at this test but today felt better and I just tried to get up to speed and get the car in the right balance. It is still difficult and overall the track changes quite a lot, but in the end it was okay. I still have to learn stuff about the race weekend but at the moment it looks quite okay.
Q: Heikki, new team?
Heikki KOVALAINEN: A new team and I am very happy in my new team. It has been a very interesting time in my career all winter working with one of the best teams in Formula One and things have gone pretty well. I am getting used to the team and how they work. Communications is good and the car feels strong and good and driving is getting better. Today both sessions were pretty smooth, no big drama this time. I stayed on the track which is not too bad.
Q: Same for you Giancarlo, a new team as well.
Giancarlo FISICHELLA: Yeah, it is obviously not a new track for me. It is a new team, a new challenge and it looks very promising. We made a big step forward in the winter time and even here it is not too bad, so I am happy about the job done so far by the team, by myself. Of course we still have a lot of work to do. It is going to be tough.
Q: Mark, no change but a very good time. Having said that a very good position but 0.9 of-a-second behind the McLaren. Or do we not read too much into it?
Mark WEBBER: Fridays we always know it is not that important to read too much into it. The car is not working too bad. It is still not easy to get the consistency yet, but we will work on that tonight. I am still pretty happy with the car. The guys have done a pretty good job. We actually had a pretty smooth run and no reliability problems. We are in good shape really to start working on the car tonight and get it ready for qualifying. We are not second quickest, we are still fighting for points at the back of the points I believe, so we will see how tomorrow goes.
Q: What were you looking for after last year from the car ad from the team?
MW: Well, obviously the reliability was very poor last year and absolutely unacceptable having the failures that we had. This year the team has worked really hard on addressing that because that is the level where everyone is now. The reliability rate is impressive and we have to make sure that we are better than other teams if not equal. That was the biggest thing we were looking for and for sure we were looking for performance and we have done a pretty good job there but we still need to improve the car. These cars are very sensitive obviously and the conditions, it was a very hot track and very windy, a few corners were very very difficult to get consistency, so everyone is in the same boat.
Q: A message to the fans ahead of this weekend.
MW: We are off to a reasonable start. We shouldn’t expect that position tomorrow because there are different programmes going on today and we just decided to do that programme. I was surprised we didn’t end up a bit further down but that’s the way it went. Other people probably ran a bit more fuel but anyway we are going okay. We are chipping away with our programme and the reliability is the biggest thing for us. It is only Friday and if we are there at the end on Sunday with a good smooth race, we will score points, I am sure.
Q: Giancarlo, we saw a few dramas on the circuit today. It looked as though it was very difficult. Was it because of the green track, why was that?
GF: Yes, first of all the main problem was the wind. It was very windy today and it was very inconsistent lap by lap and corner by corner. It was quite unpredictable at the braking point and in the middle of the corner with the understeering. The circuit actually wasn’t too bad for a Friday but obviously tomorrow and especially on Sunday with much more rubber on the track life will be much better.
Q: It will be much more consistent do you think?
GF: Everything will be more consistent for sure, especially for the tyres. Today there was a lot of graining, so it was difficult to be consistent, especially on the soft tyres.
Q: Just to go to the car, the team. The car seemed to be very good straight out of the box, what do you think you can do this year?
GF: Well, first of all we have made a step forward especially with the new aero package. The next race we have another small step which is good, so the team is working very well, 24 hours a day in the wind tunnel. They are working on the 2009 car, it is a very good project and I am happy about that. Yeah, we need to work really hard as we are doing now and we can have the benefit in the future.
Q: Heikki, where do you feel your position is in the team? Do you feel you are number two or you are equal number one, where is your position?
HK: I get asked about this every single session. I always give the same answer and eventually the questions will stop. I feel equal number one, number two, however you want to put it. The fact is Lewis had a much better year than myself last year. He gets a lot more attention and he has been with the team a long time. It is pretty understandable that people follow him but the fact is that also my car is exactly the same spec as Lewis’s car. The engine is the same and I have exactly the same opportunity and that is what counts for me. We are absolutely equal and it is my job to do the business well enough to be able to beat him. That would be my goal but I still have many things to learn. There are a lot of things I need to do before I can talk about it too much, so it is better not to talk about it and let the business do the talking hopefully.
Q: Do you feel under any pressure?
HK: No, I feel pretty much more relaxed now than I felt previously in my career. Of course the team wants to be the best in Formula One. The motivation and the determination back in Woking with the group of people working for our team is very evident. Everyone wants to win the races, wants to win the championship, but like I said, I still have a lot of learning to do. I have not set a certain goal for myself this year. I will try to improve on my performances from last year and work with my crew well enough to be able to do good results.
Q: Timo, a very quick time in the last test session of Barcelona but you said there were also problems there.
TG: It was Jarno who did the quickest time in Barcelona and we had quite a lot of problems. The tyres did not work and Jarno had it a lot easier but overall the test was really positive as well with the long runs for Jarno. We had just a little too many problems on my car but in the end when I started back in the car today it felt much better than the last test in Barcelona. That’s important but Jarno has so much experience in the car and he is a hard guy to beat. I will try my best but for me it is maybe the same as for Heikki and I still have to learn more about the team and more about how you set up your car over the weekend. It is completely different to testing.
Q: Is it important to have an experienced driver alongside you?
TG: For me it is perfect because you can just look at what the other guy is doing and you can learn quite a lot from Jarno. He is really good in setting up the car and being really quick for one lap and it is good to have such a guy on your side.
Q: The same question for you Nelson.
NP: For sure it has been great for me to have Fernando back with us. Not only for me but also for the team and for what he brings to the team. The team needed it after not a very good year. It was not a very good car last year. Having Fernando back, the driver who made them champion twice, not only that but also for me, it is great to know that I have one of the quickest drivers on the grid next to me and be able to follow him, look at his data, listen to what he says, so sure, it is great. I think he is the partner I would choose from the whole grid to be next to me.
Q: Expand on this afternoon. What were the problems?
NP: We had to change the gearbox and we could not finish it until the middle of the second session, so we lost more than half of the session.
Q: SÃ©bastien, has it been difficult to adjust to Formula One? Have you had to change much?
SB: Well, the car is obviously quite different from what I was used to. Champ cars are 200 kilos heavier, big slick tyres, the racing conditions in the States are obviously very different from what we experience here and the biggest thing is obviously the grooved tyres which you have to manage. So sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s very difficult. The consistency is usually the main thing, to get a grip on whatever’s going on, to determine whether it’s the track conditions changing or the tyres which make it very confusing sometimes. Yeah, there’s a little bit of adaptation but overall it’s been going very well. I’ve been very lucky that we had a lot of testing over the winter, something like 7000 kilometres, so now it feels like home but there’s still a lot to learn because there’s a lot of new tracks, a new organisation, a new qualifying format for me. It’s going to take a little bit of time but I think we have a great spirit in the team, a great sponsor with Red Bull and hopefully we can just put it all together and keep on stepping forwards.
Q: What are your feelings about the new car, which you’re not going to get for three or four races. How much of a step forward do you expect from that?
SB: That we can only know when we put it on the track, but for sure the situation is going to be a bit difficult. The closer we get to the transition point, the harder it’s going to be because our car is pretty much final since the Jerez test and obviously the 2008 versions keep evolving. We will continue to do that until we get our new car, so it is a pretty big challenge for us and we hope we can put it all together and transform it because the reliability of today wasn’t exactly what we were looking for but everybody’s working very hard and hopefully we can make it all happen.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Juha PÃ¤Ã¤talo – Financial Times Germany) Heikki, not only did you manage to stay on the track, as you said, but you also got some very good lap times. How much confidence are you taking with you for the rest of the weekend both personally and technically, and was it a kind of a re-setting of last year’s experience here?
HK: About the re-setting last year, I think I re-set it already last year, so coming into this weekend I wasn’t worried about last year, it’s all passed and there’s nothing I can do about it anymore other than trying to do a better job this time. Like I said, the sessions went pretty smoothly, I’m reasonably happy with the car, with both types of tyres. The lap times seem to be quite competitive, this is the way it should be. I’m looking forward to more competitive times and like Mark said, this early you just don’t know exactly where you are or where everybody is on Friday and after the practice sessions, so we need to wait and see, but I’m certainly taking positive confidence from today, and positive energy from today. I feel very good, I feel confident with the car, technically as well, I feel the set-up is OK, so I think we have a good base to work from for a successful weekend. On Sunday we will know how good it will be, but certainly it’s a good start for my weekend.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) According to what you saw today, Heikki, who is your hardest competitor here: is it Lewis or Ferrari?
HK: I think that’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t know what the other teams were doing. Lewis, for sure, is strong, I’ve known that since the winter testing. He’s very confident and he already did a great job last year, so he will be there, there’s no doubt about that. Ferrari were strong here last year, they were strong all the way through the last year, so I’m sure they both will be there as well. But we should not under-estimate the other teams as well: BMW, Renault, Red Bull, Williams, all these guys can be there, so I don’t want to make too many predictions at the moment. Everybody is an opponent for me and I’m alert to anyone’s attack.
Q: (Will Buxton – Australasian Motorsport News) Mark, comments came out this morning about the GPDA. How hopeful are you that the three guys in the back row become a part of it, and the three guys in the back row, how important a role do you see the GPDA playing? Obviously, it’s your rookie year and you’ve got a lot to think about but is it something that’s preying on your mind?
MW: SÃ©bastien is a member already. I don’t know about Nelson and Timo, I don’t think they are. I hope they will get involved, because everyone is benefiting from our work. We are not working ten hours a week, we’re working a few hours a week to constantly work with the FIA and Charlie (Whiting, FIA Race Director) and Max (Mosley, FIA President) to make sure that we keep evolving. Winter testing safety has gone absolutely fantastically, in terms of the medical response times, all those sort of things which was a complete disaster three years ago. All the equipment was not useful, so all the guys, irrespective of where they are in their career, are benefiting from the GPDA’s efforts and I hope that everyone is going to join and be a bit more unified together. We’ve got a meeting later on today. It’s going well, the GPDA. We’re working pretty hard but it’s not always straightforward for us. Obviously we are the guys behind the wheel and sometimes our voice is not that powerful. Sometimes it’s a bit disappointing but sometimes it’s heard, so we try and get the balance right and we try and move the sport forward. But it’s mainly safety, mainly safety obviously, but there are a few other little things which pop up which surprise us every now and again but that’s not down to who is a member, it’s just down to bigger decisions that get put through. We keep moving along slowly. It’s OK.
Q: (Mark Danby – Auto Magazine China) Just a comment from Mark and Giancarlo: the tyre compounds from last year, the soft and the hard, how do they compare?
MW: They’re actually the same as we used last year, so that’s how they compare.
GF: Same compounds as last year, and considering the track conditions, they are working quite well apart from the graining problem but here it’s an issue in Melbourne park. It’s going to be better on Sunday.
Q: (Mark Danby – Auto Magazine China) And the heat will affect that?
GF: Today was really hot. It doesn’t look a big problem for the tyres but physically it was very tough today, especially for myself because I am little bit ill. It was tough.
Q: (Mike Doodson) You guys are in the best place to judge your fellow drivers. Can each of you please nominate, who, apart from yourselves, you think will be World Champion at the end of this season?
GF: Probably Kimi.
HK: No comment.
GF: Heikki, say Heikki.
TG: We have to wait and see how the first race goes. You never know who will be on the top but I don’t know at the moment. We will see after the first race or two and then we will see which direction it goes. I would say Nelson!
NP: I was going to say Timo.
NP: I was going to say Kimi as well.
SB: Obviously we haven’t had the first qualifying yet, so it’s very blurry, but if you have to pick, obviously the guy who won the championship last year must be the favourite.
Q: Heikki, team-mate or compatriot?
Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) I would like to ask the three guys who have raced in the Australian Grand Prix before, how sad would you be if this event was dropped as it might be, and what is it about this week, this race, this city, the ambience? What is it that you enjoy about this Grand Prix?
MW: I’ve answered this question before. Of course I would be disappointed if it left Australia. We started in Adelaide in ’85, I think, and we’ve had a Grand Prix in this country ever since, so it’s been a very very good run for us, to have the best drivers and teams to come down here for 22, 23 years or whatever it is, to compete. There are a lot of historic moments and special drivers that have come down here to race and we should really keep that in mind, and embrace it and try and work hard to try and continue to keep the event here, irrespective of whether there’s an Australian on the grid or whatever. I think it’s still good that we work hard to have it here. It’s a long way from Europe and it’s a long first flight for everybody to come in terms of logistics; it’s a hard first race of the year in terms of spares and parts and stuff to get everything here but I think once everyone gets here and everyone gets settled in, I think the facilities for you guys, for the photographers and drivers and everyone, it’s a very very good event. It’s a safe city as well, that’s always useful, because not all the cities that we go to are massively safe, so we can just go and relax and enjoy it. I think it’s one of the best countries – of course, I’m from here – but I hope there’s quite a few people that agree that it’s one of the best countries to come to, to compete in, and I hope we can continue to keep coming here.
GF: Yeah, I agree with Mark. I really like this country. There is a fantastic atmosphere around the town. I’ve got great memories of Melbourne, first of all my first race in 1996 and my winning race in 2005, so I’ve got a great feeling from the circuit, with the atmosphere in the town. There are very good restaurants around, so it would be nice to keep coming here in the future.
HK: For me it’s great, coming from Finland, I get a bit of sun tan over here at this time of the year. Otherwise I don’t mind where they start the season but this is a great country. I’ve always loved to come to Australia, so I hope we keep the race in Australia. Whether it’s at the start of the season or at the end of the season is no big deal to me.
Q: (JÃ©rome Bourret – L’Equipe) Heikki, your new team had some bad moments last year. What was the atmosphere when you arrived there this winter? Did you feel any pressure, any disappointment in the team?
HK: No, I think everybody in our team wants to put last year behind them, they want to move on, and already in December, when I went to our technical centre for the first time, the past was already gone and when I was discussing with the engineers, everybody was only talking about the future, about this year, about the years to come, so I think it’s all finished for us. The team has cleared everything. This is really important for us and I think it’s important for Formula One. We’ve got to move on and this was the atmosphere already back in December and now it’s just getting strong and stronger, a good feeling.
Q: (Nick Sheridan – The Age) Mark, it’s obviously very hot today and it’s going to be very hot over the next couple of days. What kind of effect does that have on you physically and also technically on the car, over three days?
MW: I feel fine physically. I have a good headache today, I think that’s from the heat. When your head is very hot, you get a bit of a headache, but apart from that, I feel fine in the car. We have a fantastic water system in the car that’s like a kettle, about one hundred degrees, you might as well put a tea bag in it. We tested that today, so that’s good, you can burn your tongue. It’s really comfortable. Seriously, technically with the car it seems to be goingâ€¦ I haven’t spoken to any of the engineers since the last session because I pretty much got turned round to come straight up here, but as far as I’m aware, the car technically is capable of being pretty sound in these temperatures for the race. Obviously we’ve got hydraulics, brakes and lots of things which we have to keep in check in terms of the maximum temperature they get to but it’s testing, it’s testing for the car a little bit, and obviously as Giancarlo touched on, it’s not twenty degrees, it’s forty-odd today or whatever, 39 degrees, so it’s pretty extreme in the car but we’re ready for it. It’s fine.