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China - Thursday's FIA press conference
Thursday 12th April 2012, 14:30 by Ryan Wood
© The F1 Times
DRIVERS – Bruno SENNA (Williams), Vitaly PETROV (Caterham), Paul DI RESTA (Force India), Sergio Pérez (Sauber), Fernando ALONSO (Ferrari), Narain KARTHIKEYAN (HRT).
Bruno, great result in Malaysia. Do you think that was your best ever grand prix?
Bruno SENNA: I think it was a great race. We had strong pace and a pretty good strategy as well, even though we had an accident on the first lap, which could in theory have influenced our race result badly. Anyway, we had a strong race. I didn't make any mistakes during the race, apart from the first lap, and that’s very encouraging. It shows the car has good performance in the dry and in the wet and we had both conditions in the race. I think it was a pretty good effort, not only from me but from the team as well. I’m not racing on my own.
Do you feel that those are the perfect conditions for you to perform best in the car this year?
BS: I don’t think it's a case of this year but for sure in the early part of the season it’s best when you have more mixed conditions. I’m still learning the team, learning the car, learning the tyres. I only came into the season quite late last year and quite a few things have changed as well. All this settling period takes a few races, so I hope I can get them out of the way as quickly as possible but for sure a few races like this would increase the chance of a good result for us but later in the season the drier the race the better.
The potential looks a lot better than it did last year for Williams. Are you confident of that and of the development necessary to keep them there?
BS: Yeah, the team has done a great leap forward in terms of performance. The changes that happened definitely made the team focus on the right areas and now it’s up to us, to me and Pastor, and also the engineers to keep the development rate as high, or higher than the guys we’re competing against to try and continue in the position we are. It’s tough. If it was easy everyone would do it but it’s the situation we’re in. We're pushing very, very hard and for sure scoring points, especially big points as we did last race keeps everyone motivated.
Vitaly, you’ve been in the points here in the last couple of races, what are you feelings coming into this race? You’ve had a couple of races with Caterham, so what are your feelings about the team after a couple of races?
Vitaly PETROV: I think first of all, everyone has a good feeling to come back to a track when you have the first points in F1, so it’s a good memory. I have a god memory to come back here because in 2010 I had a good race here, in the wet. I was quite quick and managed to finish in the points.
What’s going inside the team? I feel quite happy. I feel more free to work. I felt much less pressure on my shoulders. Definitely I still have pressure because I have a very strong team-mate, so I need to work quite hard. But in general I’m a little bit more relaxed than last year.
I think we will be watching that battle with your team-mate with interest. It’s been a focal point of watching your team so far this year?
VP: Last two races we did a good job during the race. I know I need to little bit improve my qualifying performance but we bring some good maps and some good set-up to this race, and we have some good updates coming, so I’ll cross they fingers they work again, as good as we expect. Yeah, but as for the performance during the race we were not too bad. I think I need to work a little bit harder in qualifying and then we will see.
And are you comfortable now inside the car?
VP: Yeah, actually. It’s quite comfortable and we still need to adjust the seat a little but at the moment it’s OK.
Paul, were talking there about the battle between team-mates, which is always of interest. There’s quite an interesting battle between yourself and Nico, you seem to be very closely matched.
Paul DI RESTA: Yeah, I think it was pretty similar last year with Adrian. Obviously with Nico, I have to have a lot of respect for him. At the moment we seem to be the closest drivers, against their team-mates, but it’s always good to have that competitive nature in the team, you push each other along and drag the best out of each other. At the moment it’s work in progress because were trying to develop the car. And to do that fast we have to work together to build our team to try to challenge the likes of Williams and Sauber, who are a bit in front of us at the moment. But, having scored the points that we have in the first two grands prix, we’re certainly looking forward, hopefully until we get some updates on the car, and we can put some more performance on, which we’re quite confident we can achieve.
This is your second Formula One season. Do you think the first one was learning and that this one is about confirming the form you showed last year?
PDR: I think there’s more pressure for you to perform, in terms of being a second-year driver, but I’ve always had the task of just trying to pick the positive and certainly just trying to do the best I can in the sport I love doing. So far our race performance has showed to be stronger than our qualifying and the experience I got last year I think paid a lot to the result I got in Malaysia in tricky conditions and we managed to finish seventh. Everyone achieved the maximum we could from the package we had. We just need to make sure we're at the top of our game all this season, because to maintain the position, as a driver and as a constructor, that we achieved last year is a mighty challenger. But the vibe in the team is quite high and strong at the moment.
You talked earlier about how Sauber and Williams are perhaps a little bit ahead of you, whereas they weren’t at the end of last season. There’s a little bit of ground to be gained there. Are you confident of getting that back?
PDR: Yeah, I think we started this year very strong. They’ve obviously come up with updates and stuff. We’ve been relatively neutral. The tunnel and the factory are working very hard. We are looking forward to the next couple of races when we get back to Europe. We have a good package coming for Mugello. We’ve obviously been working very hard on that. We’ve taken the decision to leave it there to maximise that. Really, at the moment, we’re trying to do the best job we can with the car we have. Certainly in Malaysia we achieved a lot so there’s no reason why we can’t do that again. Last year here our car showed more potential than we thought, so I hope that the philosophies that carried on from that, certainly lead into this year. We got into Q3 here with a car that nearly never got into Q2 in Melbourne.
Sergio, tell us about the reaction in Mexico to your second place in the last grand prix?
Sergio PEREZ: Well, it’s been really great. I had some time there with the family, with friends, to enjoy the result we had. The people there were going crazy. It was a great result for my country. It was 40 years since the last podium we had in Formula One, so it was really nice to feel all the support I’m getting from the fans, from the country.
Do you think there is more pressure on your now? And also, will there be more money for development with, perhaps, more money from Mexico?
SP: That would be a good sign, no? Already, the interest has come up, not only from Mexico, but from other companies around the world that can help us to develop our car, which is important for us. In terms of pressure, I think the pressure remains the same, giving my 100 per cent every race weekend, trying to have success, and just try to the best, that will be the target for the next 18 races.
I think a year ago we were thinking ‘that Sergio Pérez is pretty good with the tyres’ and a year later we’re still thinking the same thing - after the first two grands prix. Have the specifications come to you? Have this year’s specifications helped you?
SP: I don’t think it has helped in terms of last year for me on the roadside. I can play the tyres, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work. I always try to adapt myself to different conditions that you have in Formula One most of the time, which is even more difficult, to be adapting to every single condition. You have different conditions in free practice than in qualifying and it’s very important to be able to adapt yourself to any condition.
But that’s something that you’re going to continue to exploit?
SP: Of course, there is a big potential there and with experience it will get better because when I came to Formula One it was (sound drops out) to keep changing your style. People always ask me ‘what’s your style?’ but I think in Formula One you don’t have one – you are always changing your style and trying to adapt yourself to any condition.
Fernando, what we expecting from you and what are you expecting from yourself and Ferrari this weekend? What’s changed since the last race?
Fernando ALONSO: Nothing changed. I think it’s going to be a tough weekend for us again. I don’t expect any big surprises as we've been saying, the team and myself, all week, the car has some small improvements, nothing big for this race and I think it’s the same, more or less, for all the other teams around us in the paddock. So I expect more or less the positions to maintain, or to keep the same as the first two races, which means a difficult to weekend for us. Struggling to be in Q3, I guess, in qualifying and then in the race to score as many points as possible as we did in the first races – trying to do a good strategy, a good management of the tyres and a little bit of luck. It’s always a factor that we always seem to forget is there. I remember in Australia we had a great team effort from everybody there, a good strategy, pit stops etc, but we also had some luck to get the fifth result and in Malaysia we had the same. Starting from the first corner, we avoided any accident. It seems normal but every first corner is always a risk. We had Grosjean and Schumacher crashing in turn four in Malaysia, which we were very close to being in that accident as well. So, it’s always… a race or a grand prix is not only pace, a good strategy or good driving skills. It’s a big package and luck is a big factor. Hopefully the luck is still with us this weekend.
Will a wet track be part of that luck?
FA: I guess so.
So you’re praying for rain?
FA: It can be a very good weekend for you or very bad because it’s a little bit of gamble in the rain. Anything can happen. You can be with the right tyre in the right moment or completely the wrong tyre in the wrong moment, so this is what happens in wet races. As I said, with a normal race we know our possibilities, we know our limitations at the moment, which is not quick enough. So in a wet race, we can lose a couple of points or we can win a lot more. Maybe this risk of a wet race can be good for us at the moment because in normal conditions we are not as fast as we expected.
Fernando, you’ve passed Jackie Stewart’s number of wins with your victory in Malaysia. Only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell have won more races than you. That last win of yours was also compared with Gilles Villeneuve in that it was a win against the odds. What does it mean to you to be talked about in the company of those drivers?
FA: I’m privileged to be in that group of great drivers that I watched on TV as a kid and now I’m having a good career in Formula One and I’ve been extremely privileged to drive for fantastic teams in my career. So, the number of victories will hopefully increase even more and I will be up in this table. Records are not something that you pay a big importance to now, as you concentrated on your next grand prix or you are so focused on your daily preparation that you don’t pay too much attention but I’m sure that in 10 or 15 years time I will appreciate it much more than now. But I’m not paying too much attention now.
Q: Narain, it’s been a difficult start to the season. Just give us some indication as to how difficult it has been for the team, for the drivers and the sort of mountain that there is to climb for the HRT team.
Narain KARTHIKEYAN: Yeah. The start of the year wasn’t very good because we missed all the testing and then we came to Australia with a new car and like all new cars, it had a lot of problems with cooling and hydraulics and few laps. Clearly our car is still lacking a lot of downforce, which is the biggest problem. Pedro de la Rosa is quite good to help the team to go in the right direction, he has a lot of experience with big teams, so we’re trying to improve. It’s still a very small team and we have limited resources but I can see that the structure is a lot stronger than last year. There are some good people in the team and so we will improve quite a lot at the Mugello test hopefully.
Q: It’s obviously left you as a backmarker in the last race which got you involved in a public argument which we won’t go into, but what is life like as a backmarker in Formula One, especially when there are a lot of cars on the circuit due to the reliability of the cars? Are your eyes on the mirrors all time?
NK: Yes, practically after the first 15 laps or so after that it’s very difficult because a lot of blue flags. I think at the last race there were something like 36 blue flags so it’s quite difficult. The car is obviously five or six seconds off the pace and in tricky conditions like when we switched to dry tyres, with less downforce and it’s so hard to drive and the car is a handful to drive in completely dry conditions, so in mixed conditions it’s really difficult. But it is what it is, this is what I have and I will try to do the best with what I have.
Q: Is the driver ever going to say that the car is too slow in those conditions, at one circuit or another?
NK: No, I think qualifying within the 107 percent is no longer a problem, but we need to improve for sure. We need to reduce the gap. If you take our lap times from last year, we have not improved so much. From the numbers we had, we were hoping that the car would take a significant step forward but that is not the case right now. We know the reasons, there is a wind tunnel programme and we’re trying to improve it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Flavio Vanetti – Il Corriere della Sera ) Fernando, are you surprised that the Red Bulls haven’t been as competitive as they were last year and that they will come back very soon?
FA: Not surprised because I know the complex world of Formula One and developing a car in Formula One is not the easiest thing in the world but for us and for the team, we were surprised that when we put the car on the track in winter testing that we didn’t have the results we were hoping for and that was the biggest surprise. From that point, you start working on the car, you start working on the improvements and you know that there’s not a magic button that you touch, or a magic part of the track that you can change and the car immediately becomes competitive. You start work that has to be done properly, step-by-step and hopefully new parts will come very soon that will make the car quicker but this is something that we need to be calm about, let the people in Italy work and here when we are on trackside and at the Grand Prix try to maximise the potential we have in our hands; it’s what we did in the first two races and what we will try to do in the next two.
Q: (Steve Dawson - ESPN Star Sports) Does any member of the panel acknowledge that they might have a moral difficulty in going to Bahrain next week?
There is no reply.
Q: (Carlos Miguel – La Gaceta) Fernando, in this race are you waiting for big improvements or is everything going according to plan? Or are you waiting until Barcelona for a big improvement?
FA: As I said, no big improvements for this race and I don’t think… No big improvements for this race and as I said, we’re working, we’re working on the car and I think we cannot say that for Barcelona there will be a big improvement because we don’t know. We are working day and night to do the work and to improve the car and I think we have some new parts for the car which we need to test tomorrow – maybe they are working fine, maybe they are not working and we need to come back with those parts. In Barcelona there will be more new parts which I’m hoping for. We need to test to see if they are working fine. For Canada there will do more, Monaco, so it’s nothing… as I said, Formula One these days doesn’t have a magic button where we change something, we arrive in China, we arrive in Barcelona, in Canada and you change one part on the car and you improve by one second. This will be constant work from the team, improving one tenth, two tenths, three tenths every step that we do and we need to do it quicker than the others because all the other teams will bring a couple tenths (advantage) to every race so we need to bring some more.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Sergio, how is your approach to this Grand Prix, considering that everybody is maybe expecting something similar from you in comparison to the last two races? It looks very hard not to be affected by the interest everybody has in you.
SP: I think we are really realistic as a team. We know that the Malaysian race was not a normal race, the conditions were extremely difficult for everybody. We got them right, we stopped at the right time more or less and we were able to fight for victory, but I think in normal conditions this is not where we belong, we have to be very realistic and our target is still to score as many points as possible. If we can score another podium during the year it will be great, but we are very realistic that it can really only happen in different conditions.
Q: (Carlos Miguel – La Gaceta) Narain, tomorrow in the drivers’ briefing what’s your position with Vettel?
NK: For me it was a racing incident and we’ve spoken to each other so it should be OK.