Spanish GP: Friday press conference

Spanish Grand Prix FIA Friday press conference transcript with Jenson Button (Honda) Nick Fry (Honda chief executive) Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) Ron Dennis (McLaren team principal) Q: Ron, I'm sure Ron Dennis would love to explain the reason that ...

Spanish GP: Friday press conference

Spanish Grand Prix FIA Friday press conference transcript with

Jenson Button (Honda)
Nick Fry (Honda chief executive)
Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren)
Ron Dennis (McLaren team principal)

Q: Ron, I'm sure Ron Dennis would love to explain the reason that the water pistols are on the desks:

Ron Dennis: This is the consequence of actually saying to a journalist 'this is off the record, this conversation is off the record.' I suggested a whole range of things that could bring some humour into motor racing and I said on Fridays, the drivers could walk the circuit with the journalists. The journalists would find it very interesting if they were told that there are lines and other different aspects of driving round. I said you could even put humour into it by giving them water pistols to use as they went round, and of course, inevitably, when you are taken out of context, there is always a bit of twist put to it. Not all the ideas were so silly, but it was an amusing exchange that was definitely off the record and of course, as always, there's no such thing.

Nick Fry (whose water cannon has been squirting water for several seconds): This one's got premature ejaculation, Ron.

Ron Dennis: You should know about it. You should know about it. There's a reserve water tank under here, actually. (Much laughter).

Nick Fry: Doesn't work!

Q: A question for Ron and Nick: you were both pre-season favourites. How do you feel you've done so far, what is lacking?

RD(to Nick) : It's a more difficult question for you.

Nick Fry: You can have time to think about it. It's age, Ron. You need more time. Could do better, I think is probably where we are. We're trying to beat the best of the best. I still think that there are four teams which were probably the same teams at the start of the season which have a chance: clearly Renault and Ferrari and I think McLaren and ourselves. We've got more work to do. I'll be interested to hear what Ron says, but I think he will probably think the same.

But certainly, we're nowhere near thinking about giving up. The whole secret to this is just to keep going and to persevere. We're still absolutely filled with not only good ideas but enthusiasm and passion about this and we will be totally relentless and we will get there, whether it be tomorrow, whether it will be the next day but we will get there in the end. And the team spirit for us is incredibly good. We've got a fantastic pair of drivers and great engineers and we're learning fast and there's stuff that we didn't find out in the pre-season (tests) which subsequently we've learned more about. I think it's fair to say that we have learned more in the last two months than probably in the last two years about how to make the tyres work, but we've still got more to do, and the secret to all of this is to keep learning.

If we were sitting there thinking 'oh my Lord, what are we going to do next?' then I would be worried but that's absolutely not the case. We're sitting there with a whole bunch of things, experiments that we need to do. We know we need to improve in a whole bunch of areas. Making the tyres work with the car is clearly one of those. We've said before, our traction control system is not as good as it should be. We, like a lot of the others, have work to do on the engine and we've got work to do on the aerodynamics. We're the only big team without a full size wind tunnel and ours is coming on stream as we speak, and it's something which will certainly help us in the latter part of the series, so disappointed, absolutely. Should do better can do better and will do better.

Ron Dennis: I see our position as being slightly different to Nick's. We always try to under-promise and over-deliver to everybody that we talk to, be it our drivers or our sponsors. But there is, inevitably when we had a relatively strong season last year and we were narrowly beaten to the championships, there's expectation, but the expectation is more in the media than with ourselves. We know how difficult it is to win in Formula One. We've worked hard through the winter and we had minimal ability to determine how competitive or uncompetitive we were at the start of the season and of course, we all witnessed how difficult Ferrari's start to the season was, and how difficult... and that was reflected in their testing. So our expectations were to do our best and to try to go to the first race and win it.

You look back on what is fractionally more than a quarter of the season and we know where we can improve, we know where we are not as good as we know we can be. We have two drivers who can win races. We know that. Their contribution to the process is not just to get in the car and win, but it's also to help and work with the team when you're not winning. Of course, with the uncertainty for Juan Pablo and for Kimi, they have a choice. They have not decided where to drive and we haven't decided who's going to drive for the team other than obviously Fernando next year, and we try to respect each other's position but at the same time, as you're respecting it as regards the future, you respect it in the present and we are fiercely competitive, we want to win and we will want to win the last race as much as we want to win the first race, irrespective of where we sit in the championship.

But to write anybody off, and certainly to write McLaren off, and write Mercedes off after five races is not a particularly smart thing to do. We haven't got the strength of performance that we had this time last year but we were most certainly further behind in the points. We've had good engine reliability. The only failure we've had in a race was when we knowingly exceeded its performance parameters but that it was worth it because we were out of the points with Juan Pablo.

But we are ever improving our car and engine and Kimi and Juan Pablo are coping with the difficulties that come out of the current regulations, and they are not good from a psychological standpoint. It is not good, on a Friday, to run round at a thousand plus revs under your true potential, fuel loads which at least give you a constructive understanding of where the tyres are and you appear slow and you carry that mentally through the day and it's only really on Saturday afternoon where your true potential shows.

But that's a very short-lived period of time and it's only the race that really proves how competitive or uncompetitive you are. Friday is pretty much a non-event for anybody that is really focused on getting the job done in a race, where you really have to look after your engines. It's not just a question of engines failing, it's a question of the harder you push on them, the more you take the edge off their top end performance, so you really have to look after an engine to have the best engine that you can have at the end of the second race life cycle.

Q: Kimi, does that uncertainty about your future hang over you, is it something you think about?

Kimi Raikkonen: Of course I think about it, but I don't think that changes anything on my driving, so I don't think it harms me at all.

Q: And is it difficult to slightly have to put a brake on your performance because of the engine?

Kimi Raikkonen: I think that's normal these days. It is what it is and we do the best that we can with how the rules are and how we need to run the car and engine. It's not nice but you know yourself within the team what we're doing and that's the main thing.

Jenson Button: As a team, for us, it's not so bad because we have a third car. We have Anthony running around. But for the drivers, for Rubens and myself, I think it is pretty tough because we don't do so many laps, because we are looking after the engine and Anthony does most of the running.

Q: From your point of view, have you made progress with race pace?

Jenson Button: I think we have. We've made improvements in many areas so far this season that have helped us. It's obvious that we still need to make more, and we know the areas we need to work in. It's not just one or two, it's quite a few little areas, but the progress that we have made has been positive and the mistakes that we have made we have learned from, and I think that is very important.

Q: Nick and Ron, it has been suggested that this is more a Michelin track than a Bridgestone track. Do you think 1) that is the case and 2) is that what is going to happen throughout the championship?

Ron Dennis: I think on what tyre is suited to this circuit I would just say wait until Sunday because nobody really knows at this stage. The performance of the tyres is very close. Ourselves and Renault selected the wrong tyres for the last event. If we had gone on a different construction that was available to both of us, I think both Renault and ourselves would have been more competitive against the Ferrari, putting aside the difference between us and Renault. So I don't think we made the perfect choice for that event. I think we flattered a little bit, the performance of the Bridgestone there, so we could have done a better job, but here, it's too early to say. It's inevitable that the tyre war is going to go to and fro' over the course of the year. Of course, the concern is always that if Michelin's position is still that they intend to stop, which it currently is, then we hope that they will maintain their momentum of development and commitment that they're currently showing but so far they've fulfilled all the obligations that they made to us.

Nick Fry: Much the same. I think it's going to be nip and tuck probably for the rest of the season. I think both tyres are clearly doing a good job and putting in a strong performance. I agree with Ron, it's down to the choice of tyres and I don't think we had the same tyre as Renault and McLaren at the last race, as we have here today. We didn't have for the first three races, we went our own way which was much publicised but ironically, they were probably stronger performances for us than for the last couple. But clearly tyres in general are going to be critical to the outcome of this season.

Q: Who do you think is putting up the better performance at the moment, Ferrari or Renault or are they roughly equal?

Ron Dennis: I personally think that Renault have done a better job, certainly in the opening races but they're very strong. It's still Renault with whom we measure our own performance. That puts aside a whole range of relevant differences between the cars and how they're run, but I still think Renault is the benchmark.

Nick Fry: I think one thing I've learned in my four years in Formula One is that everyone at the front of the grid does a fantastic job and I think people's performance varies slightly from race to race but in general, the level of skill all around, and the level of talent is unbelievable, and at a much higher level than even I anticipated before I came into Formula One. So I think it's very difficult to say, just generally, which one does a better job. I think it does vary day-to-day, but I think all of the top teams have immensely talented people who work jolly hard and do a jolly good job generally.

Q: Looking at them on the track, Jenson and Kimi, what are your feelings?

Kimi Raikkonen: I think the Renault has been strong everywhere so you would think really that they are the team to beat because although Ferrari have done very well in the last few races, the Renault is always up there. They are very consistent this past year also, so I think they're the main guys.

Jenson Button: Obviously both teams have done a fantastic job this season, but it's easier for us to compare ourselves against Renault because we're both running the same tyres but personally, I think they've both done a fantastic job. They're the only two teams to have won races this year and they both seemed to be very competitive in Nurburgring, so we will have to wait and see where both of them stand this weekend.

Q: Kimi, yesterday Michael Schumacher announced that he will decide about his future only after the last race. I'm quite sure that Ferrari is one of your options for next year and that would mean that you have to take the decision without knowing if he's your teammate or not. How does that affect your career planning?

Kimi Raikkonen: I've said before, already, that it doesn't matter who is my teammate. It's not going to make me change my decision wherever I go. I will go wherever I feel is right, and if I want to stay, I stay. I'm happy now here, but my decision is not about Michael. I make my own decisions and hopefully whatever I make is going to be right.

Q: Ron, if you were Kimi, what would you to say to yourself to make you commit to another two or three years at McLaren?

Ron Dennis: If I was Kimi? Would I be married to his wife? It has some relevance. There are very few people -- very few - who really understand Kimi. I'm not sure if he even always understands himself. But one thing that Kimi wants to do is to be world champion. Three times we've failed very narrowly to give him the world championship that he seeks. There is an understandable underlying frustration there that is rarely seen by anybody and even rarely seen by I. I want him to be world champion. I'd much prefer it to be in one of our cars than someone else's but I believe in choices and if Kimi chooses to stay or go or we chose to offer him a drive -- all the other things, all the options just in, not that we both have, then I want him to succeed.

I'm absolutely sure that the best thing a driver can do is stay in one team -- history shows that, but that's not always the opinion that a driver has. I respect everything he has done and all he's brought to the team and I'll continue to respect that if he takes up one of the options that he has and I'm sure that he'll respect us when we take up our options. The position we're both in is exactly the same -- we don't have a decision to take at the moment. Kimi knows everything about the team. The one thing we all know is that life looks greener on the other side of the fence. All the things you could expect me to say to him and his management, I've said, and you can expect all the other teams that are interested in him have said similar things. They're not always truthful, but that's life -- it's Formula One.

Q: There's a report today that the sporting working group, which represents teams in the world championship, it's clear the teams actually voted down the FIA's freeze on engine development for a fixed period of time -- believed to be three years. Is that correct and does it mean the end for the FIA's proposal for an engine freeze?

Nick Fry: The reports I've had back from our representative at the meeting were that the meeting was an excellent one. They came back feeling that it was a worthwhile period of time. It certainly was the first of the sporting working groups established by the FIA and the processes that were put in place are ones that we applaud. It is democratic and based on majority voting. The people that were at the meeting were people of huge credibility and people who have spent a lot of their lives in Formula One and believe in it. I don't want to do a roll call, but we had Stefano Domenicalli from Ferrari, Dave Ryan from McLaren, Ron Meadows from our own team, Stevie Nielsen from Renault -- they're people who really do know about Formula One and one of the things that was very encouraging is that theses people voted with extreme conviction and it was good that every vote was carried by a majority of eight or nine of the 12, so it's very encouraging that three quarters of the field agreed.

Were votes all votes that we at Honda would like? I have to say no, but some we like and some we didn't like so much, but the process was one that looks a good one. I think if the majority vote for or against something and they're people of that credibility, then we'd go along with it like a good process. Obviously the outcome of that meeting has be ratified by the following groups: The Formula One Commission and the World Council, but with that sort of majority I'd expect things to be carried through and if nine of the 12 teams or eight of the 12 teams -- I'm not exactly sure of the numbers on that vote, but if eight or nine go that way on a vote, one would expect it to be carried through. Obviously we have more meetings to go.

Ron Dennis: Slightly unusual answer to the question. Formula One owes me nothing and I owe Formula One everything and of course I try to play a role in Formula One which some people deem is controversial or too aggressive, but I feel that my role is primarily driven by a desire for Formula One to be better and to grow and to always improve. When you look at the processes that unfolded last Wednesday I was encouraged by the fact that it was a democratic vote and it was not difficult to understand. All the people that went there had to work hard to understand the subjects and took a lot of time to prepare for the meeting. I'm sure that their objectives were very consistent with mine and many others in F1. If that's the way we build the future -- by a democratic process of evaluating all the options that unfold and that will be positive for Formula One, but it's got to be democratic and all the way democratic and that's what I hope to have.

Q: To Nick and Ron. I believed after July 1, the group must vote unanimously to get a rule pushed through? Is that true?

Ron Dennis: First of all, I'm not familiar with those regulations. The responsibilities of that part fall within our organisation. But I think your confusing the prefaces regarding 2006 and 2007. On the process for 2008, I haven't seen any formal documentation so I can have a clearer understanding of what each step of the process is. As far as I know though, that the working group operates on a simple majority vote.

Nick Fry: I'm with Ron. Other people in our organisation have a better understanding but I think you're confusing things with the technical working group and the sporting working group. Certain things are different and I believe this is one that operates on a simple majority vote which would have appear to have worked well. I think in the case of a split vote then the FIA gets the casting vote but that clearly wasn't necessary. There was a clear majority and I can say in my short history of Formula One that is one of the few times I've seen such a clear majority.

Q: The proposal engine freeze was passed by the World Motor Sport Council. It got the nod. Do you think the new sporting group will prevail?

Ron Dennis: Again, that's dangerous territory and I don't know all the details. But I think that it was presented to the World Council. It was a principle to go through the process. It was not a finalised concept. I share your view in that there seems to be some uncertainly as to how it will unfold. Nick made reference to the meeting of the World Council so we will see what actually happens to it when it gets there. But this was merely presented on the recommendation of experts. So hopefully if will be seen as that -- an expert opinion which should be followed.

Q: Jenson and Kimi. You guys are race drivers and naturally you want to win. Other than winning, what gives you guys the biggest buzz in Formula One.

Jenson Button: I think doing the best performance that you possibly can. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to win the race, but making the best of the equipment that you have is always very satisfying. I've had to put up with that for most of this season, but it is the next best thing to winning.

Kimi Raikkonen: I think that when you drive a Formula car because you drive the race and testing but if you don't win then you don't win and when you give your best it's all you can do and I've been in a position before where you can win and last year we had a very good season. I still think that okay we might not be there again but for sure we can win hopefully at least one win this year and if you work hard then finally you can get that win then it's a very nice feeling.

Q: Ron, when do you have to make a decision on the McLaren drivers for next season

Ron Dennis: We'll I don't want to repeat myself, but I am not in a position where I feel I have to make a decision. It's still early in season and if something presents itself with regards to taking a decision then we will. The continuity issue is the question that you have to say varies with the circumstances that exist at the time and when we have to make a decision we will. It's not particularly relevant and not something to massively influence a decision.

Q: Ron, one of your drivers has to leave the team because Fernando (Alonso) is arriving. But who is your first choice?

Ron Dennis: Well when we have a case to make a choice then we will make it. It's not a question of a first choice. When we make a decision on our driver line-up then we will answer your question, but it's immaterial now. I've given you an answer. It might be unsatisfactory but it's the answer I'm giving.

Q: Two aspects that have surfaced recently are safety in testing and revisions to qualifying. What are your views on both?

Nick Fry: On qualifying, it's important that we don't make a knee-jerk reaction. We've had five races and general agreement is that it's better than last year, so I think we would be extremely inconsistent to make dramatic changes at this stage. That doesn't mean we're against refining it but we, as a team, would not be in favour of major changes at this stage. We need to know more about it and make changes later if we need to. At the moment the case for major changes are unproven. We can see some areas where we might like changes to tidy it up in a small way. I think our general view is to make the tests as safe as they can be. In a testing agreement that we all signed, it was agreed with Gary Hartstein (FIA Medical Delegate) as to how we would do that. We put our signatures to it and I think that's what we should be working towards.

Ron Dennis: As far as safety goes, we have a testing agreement and attached to that is a recommendation of Gary Hartstein. I think one thing that's been overlooked is that nobody's drawn a line between a test and a race. At a race you have a huge quantity of spectators and a potential impact on the road structure, but most importantly there is a strong desire to have the race continue. If you have an incident there will be a doctor and a more intense medical team at a Grand Prix. At a test, if you have an incident the test stops and you have a deployment of the facility. There's no question that it will take longer to get a medical team to the scene of the accident then it would be in respect to a presence of a doctor at the scene. As you can imagine, bringing in a quantity of doctors to a Grand Prix situation has the attraction of being the national event and these doctors gladly give their time -- they are there to provide the maximum backup for driver.

It would be a challenge, but not impossible to find a large quantity of drivers for a test who are largely gonna be stood there all day -- not for a two-hour race. They would have to be there for the duration -- not for just a two-hour race. These are different to a race and what you do must reflect those differences in a practical and sensible way. It's a challenge to hit the balance but you can never have it too safe. These are highly skilled people who are standing by a track for three days and there is a significant difference in standing by a track for a race and a test. For qualifying, Formula One is about change - 5000 components in a car roughly for them to go quicker -- why should any part escape change. Any change should be well considered and not too often in a season, so whatever we change should be mid-season once and well considered. We can have a long discussion about can change but clearly what we have for TV is better but it should be limited to one change mid-season. That's my opinion.


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