Mar.22 (FIA) Full transcript of the FIA Thursday Press Conference ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend at Sepang featuring Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso), Sergio Perez (Sauber), Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), Jenson Button (McLaren) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari):
Pastor, after your performance in Melbourne, are you optimistic you can manage that at all circuits or do you think it was Melbourne-specific?
Pastor Maldonado: I hope so. I think we did a great start to the season, we’ve been working so hard from the winter just improving our performance in the car. I feel very confident with the team, so it’s looking forward. We can still be competitive though it is early to say but it’s a good start to the season and we’re looking forward, all of us in the team are pushing so hard, so we feel confident.
You must have been devastated by what happened on the last lap, what exactly did happen?
PM: It was a difficult moment for me because I was fighting with Fernando, it was a great fight and very clean and then the last lap I get too close, I was on the kerb on the wrong side of the track and I just lost the car. I’m disappointed for that because of the team result but nothing to do. I’m looking forward, y’know? It’s a new place and a new challenge.
Jean-Eric, first of all tell us about the last lap, but also the first lap, because you had a bit of drama on both the first and last lap – and welcome to your first press conference.
Jean-Eric Vergne: Thank you. First lap, I thought I had quite a good start. I was next to Mark and I don’t really know what happened in the first corner but somebody hit my rear wheel and I went straight in the gravel. I think I lost a lot of positions and I finished the first lap in 17th. And then I made my way up through the field and I had good pace for the rest of the race. And the last lap was a little confusing. Everybody was in the same pack and I guess I tried a little bit too hard to pass a few people. Kimi was in front of me and… I don’t even know who was in front of him but I lost position again to Daniel, my team-mate and in the last corner I slid a little bit and didn’t have any KERS left and Paul di Resta passed me only by one-tenth.
Obviously looking forward to this race, what have you been doing since Melbourne and how have you prepared for this race?
J-EV: I heard this race was quite tough just because of the conditions, really hot, so I came here quite early, I arrived on Monday night and did some sport with my trainer, visited a little bit Kuala Lumpur and yeah, just getting used to the heat. I’m looking forward to this race. I think we have a good car, the team has me working quite hard and we’re looking quite confident.
Sergio, obviously a repeat of last year for you in Melbourne, making the tyre last all the way through with just one stop. How did you make it work and nobody else try the same strategy?
Sergio Perez: To be honest I had no other option after the safety car. It came in the wrong moment for me. It was going really well ‘til the safety car came. Then we had no option, because if I pit then I was going to lose many positions, so we decided to stay out and I managed the last 20 laps with really old tyres and it was a shame in the end on the last lap I lost two positions due to clash of Pastor. The track was impossible to go through because of yellow flags, I lift quite a bit and then I had contact with Nico and to the end of the lap I lost two positions with my team-mate and Räikkönen.
Looking at that midfield battle it looks incredibly close, everyone’s made a step forward. Have you made a little bit more of a step forward, how do you feel?
SP: I feel really fine now in my second year. I know what to expect a bit more as well, everybody is very close also. The mid teams to the top teams, we are close so in some conditions maybe we can have some surprises from the mid-teams. Hopefully we can have a stable weekend this time, not like Melbourne. It was very difficult to prepare, especially the race. We went out there without knowing what to expect and it was of course difficult conditions.
Michael, the gearbox failure in Melbourne, obviously it wasn’t something you expected but do the team think it’s just a one-off, or is there a design problem? What’s the diagnosis?
Michael Schumacher: Well, it is a one-off. We did quite a few thousand kilometres in winter testing and never had this issue. We understood it though, and fixed it.
And there’s no penalty is there?
MS: No, I took the penalty in the race.
Obviously there are a lot of positives from last weekend – what positives did you take from it?
MS: The basic positive is that we definitely have a much-improved car compared to last year. Still we have to learn it and understand it in all circumstances to take the benefit and the full performance from it, as we have seen in the race with Nico, so there is still something to learn, but we’re positive that we can improve quite a bit, in race pace in particular.
Jenson, you’ve won here in the past, you were a winner last weekend, your team-mate interestingly enough said you managed to switch the tyres on, that you seemed to understand the tyres better. Do you think that was your advantage last weekend?
Jenson Button: I really don’t know. I think we all try to do the best job we can with the tyres but personally I don’t feel the tyres were a big issue for anyone in Melbourne. They seemed to be very consistent and we didn’t have degradation like we do at other circuits, like here, so I feel that I had a good balance with the car, I had a lot of confidence in the car and yeah, I think the consistency was pretty good throughout the race. Obviously we had the scare with the safety car for us – it’s always tough when you’re leading by ten or eleven seconds, to suddenly find a car right up behind you again, but I think we made good use of the safety car in the end and were able to come home and get a very important victory for the whole team.
You’ve won here from pole and also had your first podium here. It’s a circuit you quite like isn’t it?
JB: It is. It’s so different to last weekend, it’s very fast and flowing, very smooth compared to a street circuit and the tyres. It’s always more difficult for the tyres around here. But obviously we have the hard and the medium compound and they’re both pretty hard compounds, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. I think it’s just the temperature and the humidity that will be the biggest issue for them. And it’s one of those places where you really don’t know what the weather’s going to do. When I previously won here it was cut short, the race, because of a red flag. That’s the thing here, normally it doesn’t just rain, it chucks it down. So, if it does rain this weekend we hope we can continue racing because it’s a great circuit.
Fernando, is that going to make a difference to Ferrari this weekend? Obviously a street circuit last weekend and you qualified some way down but a great race up to fifth. Hopefully the change of circuit will make a difference to you?
Fernando Alonso: I’m not sure. Hopefully yes but I don’t think so, to be honest. We have been testing at different circuits: Jerez, Barcelona and then in Australia with more or less the same car with the same problems on it. The cars are nearly identical for everybody compared with Australia, I guess, so I don’t think there will be big surprises here. Let’s wait and see, and try to adapt the car to the circuit, the conditions, the heat. Then, yes, as you said, the qualifying. We saw the true performance, we are not as competitive as we want, probably, but then in the race anything can happen. In Australia with a good start and the stops and the strategy you can put yourself in a decent place. We will try to do a similar race here and try to defend as many points as possible.
And this is a circuit where you got your first pole position, your first podium in 2003, you have two pole positions and two wins as well, a circuit you enjoy?
FA: Yeah, definitely. It will be one of my favourite circuits always because your first pole position in F1 you always remember, the first podium you always remember, and both things happened here in 2003. So, it’s a circuit I love to drive. It’s quite technical and quite interesting. At the same time, after the accident of Marco [Simoncelli] last year racing here will be always sad, a little bit, knowing that one of our colleagues died here. It will be always difficult to race.
Questions from the floor
Q: (Alex Popov – RTR) Two questions for Michael. The first one is about this year, about the new ‘W-Duct’. Some people are already saying that due to the very long straights here you already have a pole position, do you agree?
MS: Certainly not. There is no doubt that we have an innovation that gives us some performance but I don’t think that it is a huge performance and that we only live from this. We’ll find out. I can’t really quantify this.
Q: But it will be better than Melbourne?
MS: Well, you’re probably talking in terms of nature of the track that it will another slight advantage but I think some get a little bit too excited about this compared to reality but that’s the usual story.
Q: And the second question is the story: do you remember well the first grand prix here in 1999?
MS: I do yes. I still have good memories of that.
Q: Are you in touch, from time to time, with Eddie Irvine?
MS: No, not really. I see his sister every so often and I see him maybe once a year and that’s about it.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi, La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, how can you manage the situation at Ferrari? It’s the third year for you at Ferrari and the third year you are catching up [to] somebody in front of you. How can you stay calm and relaxed and composed in such a situation?
FA: This is F1. There is not an easy time for anybody. We need to work hard every day and night to normally catch up people in these three years. But anyway, you know, the experience has been fantastic. As you all know, fighting for the world championship in the first year and then last year with one win and ten podiums. Obviously, the target is always to win the world championship but it was not possible the last two years. This year we are convinced that we will fight for it. We need to stay focused and work more than the others knowing that we are a little bit behind now. But the championship is long. We stay calm, we stay focused, because we see a lot of determination in the team. We see the team with a very good atmosphere, [we] trust each other in the team, we are very united, so the time will come to us very soon.
Q (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agencia EFE) Fernando, what is your state of mind right now? Are you nervous , are you angry, are you anxious. How do you feel yourself?
FA: I’m calm. Obviously, knowing we need to work, we need to catch up the guys in front. We are not in the situation we wanted to start the 2012 championship but after 11 years in F1, I think you understand how long the championship is, what you need when you have the best and what you need when you don’t have the best car – which is sometimes more points or less points. But as far as our targets and our goals [are concerned] we need to score as many points as possible in these couple of races and in a very short period of time try to be on the podium and win races. If we manage to do that we have plenty of races to recover the gap. If we don’t manage to do that it’s because someone else did a better job than us. We just need to wait and see but I have 100% trust in the team.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) A question for Jenson. I presume with these two races between you weren’t able to let your down too much these last few days.
JB: What do you mean by that?
Q: Having a good night out.
JB: No, I didn’t. I think we’re pretty focused on this weekend. It was pretty important to relax after the race because it was a great victory for us. I had a nice evening with friends and family as we all know that’s the best way to celebrate a great event. And then Monday/Tuesday I spent a couple of days in Melbourne just relaxing and then arrived here yesterday. It’s actually been quite a nice few days. Got here yesterday and thought it was quite important to get used to the humidity, because it’s quite different to Melbourne. Yeah, it’s been nice, it always is after winning a grand prix and you’re always very excited about the next grand prix and obviously your aim is to do exactly the same again.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) A quick question for Fernando. You touched earlier on Marco Simoncelli here. Do you have any special tribute planned, anything, a black armband, on your helmet, anything?
FA: Nothing planned. We did one picture this afternoon, Felipe and me and members of the team in Turn 11, where the accident happened and I think that will be the memory for him, and the whole Ferrari family and the Italian people will remember him always and that’s the most important thing.
Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, is it true that you have a visibility problem from your cockpit?
Q: (Abishek Takle – Reuters) Michael, we’ve seen that the Mercedes has pretty strong qualifying pace. Do you think you have the race pace to finish on the podium, given that you and your car seem to be a bit heavy on the tyres?
MS: We certainly understood in Melbourne that we have to do a better job in terms of race pace. I don’t think we would have been able to achieve a podium in Melbourne, despite going all the way through. Probably a fifth place would have been the max that we could have had. Nevertheless, we have good ideas how to improve on what we learned from Melbourne. Whether that means we’re going to be on the podium or not, that’s another story because you obviously have at least four cars which are very strong, with two McLarens, two Red Bulls and then you have quite a big group of cars which are very close to each other. So it’s going to be a challenge for all of us.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Question for the front row: not sure how closely you follow football but you may be aware that there was a player who had a cardiac arrest on the pitch. I’m just wondering if one of you could outline the health and medical tests you do throughout the year?
JB: Well, we all have a medical test for our licences, that is the only thing that we’re obligated to do. Yeah, most of us do a lot of fitness, we keep ourselves in pretty good shape as it is quite a physical sport. That’s as far as it goes for me.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Obviously professional footballers are very fit as well, but you can’t see these things coming. Would that be something that would concern you?
JB: It’s very different for a footballer. For us we’re obviously racing for quite a long period of time, and it’s more endurance. For them, there’s a lot of sprinting involved, it’s very peaky in terms of heart rate and what have you. It’s very different to what we do. I read about it in the newspaper as well. It’s pretty scary to see and it’s happened quite a few times with footballers. I don’t know what the reason for it is. There’s no point in even trying to speculate but it’s obviously a very physical sport and they’re pushing themselves to the limit and I’m guessing that’s possibly the reason why.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) A pair of questions for Michael: you drove a lot for Ferrari. How do you explain the situation they are in now? You are very close to Felipe; what do you suggest to him at this very critical moment for him?
MS: First of all, concerning Felipe, if I look at all the winter testing I think it was very clear that the two drivers were very close together. If you look at the optimum lap time achieved in the Barcelona tests, it’s again very close. So to see the big difference that we saw in Melbourne, I can only assume there must have been something not right for him. He’s been around for so long. He’s been fighting for the championship in 2009, he’s always been up front so I don’t see any reason why he should not be capable of doing so in the future. I trust he will do so, and that the team will do their utmost to give him the support that he needs. The first of your questions: there’s no reason to speculate because I’m not inside so I don’t know the details and there’s no reason for me to comment.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Sergio, there have been a few rumours these days of your name linked to Ferrari should Ferrari decide to replace Felipe. How do you take these rumours, and what do you think about them?
SP: Well, it’s only the first race of the season so it’s very early to speculate. I’m really focused with my team, with Sauber. I think we have a great car and there’s nothing more that I can say, just focused on my team, to try to make as many points as possible because we have a very competitive car and I was to trying to make the most out of the car we have. Melbourne was a difficult weekend for me because I had the gearbox issue so I couldn’t do a lap in qualifying so I qualified last and finished eighth. So it was a good race, and hopefully this weekend we can manage a good weekend. And as for the rumours…they are only rumours.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, when you say that Ferrari and you are going to defend yourselves in this race, are you aiming for fifth or sixth position, as in Melbourne, or do you think you could do something better or are you looking at Lotus who had a pretty difficult race, and it could be problematic for Ferrari to finish in front of them?
FA: We’ll see. I think we need to wait and see at the start of free practice. We don’t have a crystal ball to envisage our position. I think we need to see how competitive we can be here on this different circuit. As I said, we don’t expect any big miracles from Australia to Malaysia because the cars are identical but who knows? In Australia, no one thought that we could finish fifth. I think there were two McLarens, two Red Bulls, McLarens (he may mean Mercedes), Saubers, Toro Rossos so there were a lot of people quicker than us. In the race, for different reasons, with some mechanical problems as Michael had, Grosjean crashed on lap three/lap four, Kimi was out in Q1 so there were some incidents in the race that helped us finish fifth. Here, with a normal race, maybe we will finish further behind, maybe with a more crazy race or rain or something, we can finish in front, so we have to play before we see what we can do.
Q: (Carlos Miguel Gomez – La Gaceta) Michael, one of the last times you were here with Fernando was in 2003; as you may remember Fernando was a young guy and put his finger up to the rest on pole. Did you believe then that that guy could become a World Champion?
MS: I don’t know when I started to think that Fernando might be World Champion, but I think his talent has proved that from early stages onwards… I still remember a very good race that you did with Minardi – I think it may even be the first race in Australia. I think he proved his point straight away.
Q: (Carlos Miguel Gomez – La Gaceta) And the second question is for the poleman of 2003 (Alonso): in which race do you expect Ferrari’s big step forward?
FA: I don’t think it will be one race in which we change the car. This is up to you that you write that there will be a new car coming. I think at every race we will try to make improvements as we did over the last few years and it won’t be just for us; I think everyone will make updates at every race. We just need to make ours work a little bit more. Obviously we have a little advantage from that because our car needs more speed and maybe it’s easier for us to find than for some others whose cars are maybe more developed than ours. New parts will slowly come at every race and hopefully they work, but there’s not one magic race or one magic moment when we think things can change. I think we will work day and night and as I said before; the team is very focused on that and I see great reaction from everybody, so I expect a strong Ferrari soon.
Q: (Alex Popov – RTR) Pastor, it was a brilliant drive in Melbourne but in the early stage of the race you made contact with Grosjean and people at Lotus are very unhappy about this. Romain said you didn’t leave space for him in the corner. Can you describe your point of view of this incident?
PM: I think that I was completely in front. The overtaking manoeuvre was at the entry of the corner and I was quite surprised because the Lotus suspension seemed really fragile because the contact was minimal and it was not intentional. It was a clear movement, so it was a bit disappointing for Romain because he did a very good job, especially in qualifying. The car even looks pretty strong but this is racing.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Pastor, you said earlier in the press conference that you’re over your last lap accident; has it actually been easy to put that behind you these past few days, because I ask that more from the team perspective because you were on course to take more points in that one race than Williams managed throughout the entire season last year?
PM: Yeah, for sure. For sure all the team – even myself – were a bit disappointed because we missed a great opportunity to score some important points but this is racing. I think it was my mistake and now we need to look forward, turn the page. I think our car is competitive at the moment, we need to keep pushing like that, keep concentrated, keep working, focused. This is going to be a new challenge for us because the track is completely different, but we need to believe in our performance and hopefully we will again be in the top ten and fighting for good places.
Q: (Anno Hecker – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) This is a political one for the front row: last year’s race in Bahrain was cancelled. We all know the reasons why; the government is still in place, in five weeks’ time F1 will race there. What are your thoughts about that?
JB: I think for us, as you know, this is a very difficult subject and personally, from my point of view, we need to look to the FIA – for all of us – for common sense. We will go with what they have to say.
MS: I’m honestly pretty relaxed to go there. From our perspective, one is obviously that we’re going to be very well looked after, because they might foresee whatever and will be prepared. I’ve quite a few good friends over there and I’m pretty sure that for them it’s a very important event and they just want to make everybody happy. If you look around the world, you probably find other places where there might be the possibility that we could have the same reasons to think about and we don’t. So at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure that they’re going to do their utmost and we’re going to be OK.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Jenson, I saw a picture in the newspaper – I don’t know if you saw in Australia your girlfriend had a special T-shirt for you which said ‘Jenson press all my buttons.’ Did you see that after the race?
JB: I actually saw the T-shirt before the race to be fair. It was just after. Yeah, it was a gift from a fan. I think someone was trying to do some publicity for their T-shirt company. She was given it as a gift as we entered the circuit. It’s not mine which is quite annoying. Do I push her buttons? I think that one’s a little bit too private.