The first official press conference of the season was held today, with the three major title contenders of 2007 attending. Renault’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton joined newly crowned World Champion Kimi Raikkonen to answer questions from the World’s media.
Q: Fernando first of all. Back with Renault again. How different is it from the last time you were there?
Fernando ALONSO: Not very different. The technical group is exactly the same, most of the mechanics as well. Not very different to be honest.
Q: After last year do you think they have lost a little confidence?
FA: Maybe a little bit. Of course after winning two years in a row when I left in 2006 they were confident and they were believing in themselves a lot. Now for sure you know no good results last year, maybe a little bit lacking in confidence now but I think they know that were are able and they are able to do good things. They have nothing to prove to anybody, so it is just a matter of time and good work with everybody to put in a better place again.
Q: How much do you feel it is your job to pull them up and get them motivated again?
FA: I will try to do the best job we can. For sure coming back to Renault for me is a great challenge and for them too I think because they are extra motivated this year to have the success we have had in the past and I am extra motivated as well so we all have the same goal and the same target.
Q: What was the biggest difference initially in the cars without engine braking and without engine braking when you first experienced it?
FA: Less than I thought to be honest. The first time I test was in Jerez and I was expecting more problems than we had. Okay, in the long run you feel the drop in the tyres and you feel the loss of traction and the braking stability but nothing too big, similar with some times we had last year as well, so as I said not a big difficulty. But it still does change circuit to circuit and at some circuits there is nearly no difference compared to last year and at some others it is a little bit more, so I imagine that every circuit will be different and maybe Monaco and places like this will be a big difference compared to last year. But we will see.
Q: Has development diminished the difference?
FA: Yes, all the teams are working in that direction to try and get the mechanical side and the aero side to what we lost in terms of electronics, so for sure with the set-up and all the other things around the car we are trying to deal with the loss of the electronics.
Q: And have you changed your driving style to compensate for that as well?
FA: Not really.
Q: Lewis, if I can come to you. First of all tell us about the kayaking yesterday.
Lewis HAMILTON: It was cool. We had some fun.
Q: Give us a race report.
LH: Ok, well Heikki (Kovalainen) got off to a bit of a head start and he looked to be leading the race but he then took the wrong route. The only reason I was turning was someone was turning next to me and helped me turn and somehow I came out in the lead. It was good fun.
Q: Was it cold?
LH: Initially it was but then afterwards it was fine.
LH: I am.
Q: How are you getting on with Heikki?
LH: Really well. Really well. He has settled into the team very well and he seems to be enjoying it. He has been playing tennis and he has been on the fitness trip recently and we seem to get on really well.
Q: Having him as a team-mate the two of you have actually only got one year s experience each. Has that been a problem so far and will it become a problem in the races do you think?
LH: It s not been a problem and I don t think it will be. He has got a great career under his belt already, lots of experience as have I. We are both coming into our second year in F1 and we both have the same hunger for winning and pushing the team forward. I think it is quite good that we are both aiming in the same direction.
Q: Is it a different preparation this year from last year?
LH: No. I think it is better. Better preparation. Last year I and my trainer were both rookies and we did the best job we could which was good but there were areas we could improve on and we have done.
Q: Tell us about the different emotions from a year ago to now. Was there a certain nervousness last year or eagerness? What is it now? Is there more pressure now?
LH: I don t think there is more pressure, I think there is less pressure than last year. Last year there was a huge build-up and just a lot of weight hanging on my shoulders really because no-one really knew if I was going to do well or what. And neither did I really. It is a slightly different feeling. I think I know even more now knowing what a season feels like. I am even hungrier and I feel even more determined and just more excited about racing. It has been too long a break. It really has seemed to drag along even though the race is a little bit earlier. It just seems forever since we raced last.
Q: Same question to you about traction control. The biggest difference initially in the cars and engine braking. How big was that difference?
LH: It was not really too much of a problem. As I said when they tried to introduce it I thought it was a good idea because all the other categories I have driven in we did not have traction control. I am not going to say if I prefer one to the other because they are both quite different to drive but this one is a challenge and everyone is in the same boat. I think they have done a really good job in working with all the controls but I am sure we will keep on improving.
Q: And development has minimized that difference has it?
LH: It has definitely. So time wise I think you will see that we will all do similar times to when we had traction control.
Q: And driving style?
LH: The same.
Q: You haven t changed it.
Q: Kimi, again a year ago it was your first Grand Prix for Ferrari. What s the difference in feeling this year?
Kimi RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN: For sure it is much easier to come now. It is different because I know the team, know the people, so … (inaudible) . Last year went very well for us. Now it should be easier as I know the team.
Q: But you are favourite for the championship this year already. Does that put pressure on you?
KR: No, but I think we have not even started the championship yet, so let s see what happens. We will do the best job we can but for sure we expect to do well in our team. I think the two main teams seem to be a bit ahead of the others and four drivers, so anything can happen.
Q: And of course your team-mate is relatively more experienced than the team-mates of Lewis and Fernando but at the same time you are the most experienced pairing. How does that weigh up? What is the balance in advantages, disadvantages?
KR: I think we have a good team and a very good atmosphere and everything worked well last year, so I think it is going to be similar this year, so I don t know if we are going to be in a stronger position than the other teams because we have more experience. I don t think it is going to make much difference but like I said we should be in a good position but it is too early to say really.
Q: And same question about traction control. Was there a big difference in the cars initially?
KR: I think there was a big difference when we tried before Christmas for the first time with last year s car. It was a lot more difficult but then with the new car we improved in the areas where it was less good and it helped a lot. Now with new tyres you do not feel the difference on the one lap whether you have traction control or not. I think when it is a difficult condition, wet or slippery, then it will be much more tricky but you don t really notice.
Q: And have you changed your driving style at all to compensate for it?
KR: Not really, no.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) For Lewis, last year you always took time out to sign a few autographs, go to the front of the garage and wave to the crowd. Given that you are much more well-known now and that there are more demands on your time will you still do that or will it be more difficult?
LH: I plan to still do it. I did it this morning and I don t particularly see why I should change. There has to be a limit otherwise it will go on forever but you just have to know when to say that s enough but I am still planning to do the same.
Q: (Paulo Ianieri La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question for the three of you. With the new rules do you think that the start is the main issue at the moment? We don t exactly know how cars will react and you may lose or gain more positions.
KR: … (Inaudible) see at the moment much more chance to lose some places now. Before it was more or less automatic. You had a good start or not so good but it was always very close. Now it is up to you and if you make a mistake you are going to be very slow off the grid and you can gain but you can also lose. I think when it is wet conditions it is quite tricky to get a good start.
Q: (MC) Do the track conditions change a great deal, say between the pit-lane exit and the grid itself, especially the amount of grip you get? How much of a difference does that make? Do you know when you arrive on the grid how much grip you are going to get?
KR: It is always a bit different especially (inaudible) … At some circuits you have better grip on the exit of the pit-lane and at some it is the opposite. You get some idea when we do the warm-up but you just try to make a good start.
Q: (Oliver Holt The Daily Mirror) Lewis, how disappointed are you that Fernando is not going to be in the team this year, and in what ways is it going to be different without him?
LH: I don t feel there s a huge difference. Heikki s been welcomed into the team as Fernando was. Obviously it s different; when you have a two-time World Champion, when you come into your first season and someone you ve been watching for so many years, you come and you work against them – work with them – it s a privilege. From that point of view, it s a shame he s not there but it s a new challenge for me and Heikki. Having another guy in the team, you always learn something new from a different driver, so I ve got that opportunity.
Q: (John McEvoy The Daily Mail) Fernando, to turn it the other way around, how disappointed are you not to have Lewis as a team-mate this year?
FA: Well, more or less the same answer. I have Nelsinho and for sure with new drivers you learn new things. It was the same last year. When I changed and I joined McLaren, Lewis was arriving in the team as well as in Formula One, so always giving fresh ideas and a fresh way to do things and you always learn from everybody. We are not together but we are still racing each other in different teams and with Heikki as well and Nelsinho, with the drivers who have been in Formula One for a long time, now new drivers are coming. Every year is a new challenge.
Q: (John McEvoy The Daily Mail) A few days ago there were comments by Flavio Briatore I don t know whether you saw them, Fernando saying that he believed that Lewis didn t show you the respect that he should have done, as a double World Champion. What s your response to that?
FA: I ve no response to Flavio s comment. Flavio will arrive tomorrow, you can ask him.
Q: (John McEvoy The Daily Mail) Do you agree with him though?
FA: I didn t see any of these comments.
Q: (John McEvoy The Daily Mail) Do you believe Lewis did show you the respect he should have done?
FA: I don t know. I will not answer this question because I never saw that in the paper, I didn t speak with Flavio about this and I don t know if it s true or not. It s just speculation or rumours about some destructive things before starting the first race so, nothing.
Q: (Heikki Kulta Turun Sanomat) This is to all of you: It s going to be very hot during this weekend and especially race day. How different will it be compared to long runs in testing if it s 39 degrees or something?
LH: I think it s going to be challenging. In most of the winter testing we did it was quite cool. Coming here, obviously the climate is quite a bit different, so I think it s going to make it a bit harder on the tyres but easier to warm up and perhaps we will see more graining but I think everyone s in the same boat. We just have to try and manage it as good as possible. It s good preparation in this weather for next weekend.
KR: Nobody really knows how it s going to run. We ve got a little bit of an idea, it was a little hotter in Bahrain but it s a completely different circuit, different tyres, so we will do the best that we can and tomorrow we have some idea. I think it should still be OK.
FA: Yeah, we ll see, we ll see because normally on a hot track it s a little bit different, the long runs, the drop of the tyres always seems bigger than in the winter and we will see. We have the same tyres than last year here, but last year was much cooler, so maybe we don t know how these tyres will work in this temperature on this circuit, so we will see tomorrow. It s the same for everybody.
Q: (Marco Degl Innocenti La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, today Ron Dennis said that he misses you and considers you a very great driver. Are you pleased about that?
FA: I really don t care too much. It seems that Flavio speaks every week, now Ron as well. It s all OK but it s not very important to me at the moment. I m very concentrated on this first race. We still have to do a lot of work on the car if we want to be competitive enough to fight for races, victories, so I really don t care what people say.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speedsport News) Fernando, as you said, you have a lot of work to do. For the last three years you ve had a car that could win races and championships. What does it do to your motivation now to have to take this step back?
FA: Yeah, we will see. I think we need to see where we are because it s not so clear after the winter tests which are the best cars out there. It seems that, OK, Ferrari, McLaren and maybe BMW are very strong, as they were last year but there is Williams, Red Bull, Renault, Toyota. At some tests, some of the teams look better; at the next test it s the opposite, so I m really looking forward to Saturday afternoon to see all the qualifying and see where we are. After that, we will see what we can do. For sure the last three years, as you said, I started with maybe a more competitive car and ready to win races from the first Grand Prix. It seems that maybe that s not the case this year but I will not give up. It s a very long championship and there s time to recover. I have full confidence in our possibilities.
Q: (Livio Oricchio O Estado do Sao Paulo) The question is to all drivers: Even if this season didn t start yet, everyone is discussing 2009 when we will probably have a severe limitation on budgets, probably forty percent of what the teams will spend this year. Do you agree with the way Formula One is going?
FA: I really don t know. I m not very interested in these rules or these budget cuts or whatever. I think if it s the best thing and all the teams agree on this matter it s because they think it is the best for our future. That s all. I think from the driver s point of view, as long as we have a car in our hands and we are able to drive and enjoy our racing, the rest is not very important.
KR: I don t know anything about the whole thing, so I can t really comment.
LH: Similar to what Fernando said. I think every year we face a change in the regulations and if that s what they feel is the best way to go then we can do nothing about it, we just have to deal with it and as Fernando said, as long as we ve got the car, as drivers, we don t mind. We deal with it whatever you throw at us.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, do you think McLaren without Fernando is weaker than last year and it could be an advantage for Ferrari, or do you think that Lewis, even though he only has one year, has the experience now to make the car develop?
KR: I don t know. For sure, I don t see that Fernando is any quicker. He probably won t have as good a car this year as he had last year. McLaren, I don t know how good they are, it s difficult to say from the winter, so we will see in the first two races. I think there are a lot of people who know what they are doing, so I don t see that there is any limit why they shouldn t lose something, or not be able to make the car faster. It s a big team, it s one of the best teams, so I expect them to be strong and giving us a hard time.
Q: (Juha PÃ¤Ã¤talo Financial Times Germany) There is not a lot that the driver can do from the time when the last winter test was over to the day racing starts here. How did you spend those days between and did you have any holidays?
LH: I left Switzerland and stopped in Hong Kong for two days and just did a little bit of shopping just to break up the trip bit of sight-seeing. Then I went to Brisbane for a day as my trainer is from Brisbane, so we spent a day with his family. We had a barbecue and just relaxed and then I went to the Gold Coast. I did some training up there, it s really good weather, like it is here, so running along the beaches, playing tennis and just having fun, and then I came here on Monday.
KR: I was at home, to see my friends and family, and then came here on Monday, that s about it.
FA: Same thing. I was at home with family and came here on Monday.