DRIVERS – Heikki KOVALAINEN (Caterham), Romain GROSJEAN (Lotus), Timo GLOCK (Marussia), Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren), Nico ROSBERG (Mercedes), Felipe MASSA (Ferrari)
Heikki, it’s been a difficult start to the season for you. What were you expecting from these first three or four races?
Heikki KOVALAINEN: Well, obviously we’re hoping for better finishes. I think we’ve had some issues pretty much every race, but we’re working on them and we’re trying to make sure that those kind of troubles that we’ve had don’t happen again. We’ve done everything we can; everything we could do in this short time to make sure that we have a trouble-free race.
Are you expecting a big step forwards, therefore, for Barcelona?
HK: We have upgrades coming, not only for Barcelona, but all the way through the season. We are still catching up. We have not yet joined the midfield, so we’re still targeting that. Obviously everybody’s bringing updates, so how much we will be able to make a rapid gain remains to be seen. But I think we’re working flat out and strengthening the team in every area to be able to do that.
So, what are your hopes for this weekend then?
HK: Hopefully to have a trouble-free weekend, without any incidents, especially in the race. To have smooth pit stops without any extra incidents. Hopefully we can get everything out of the team and out of the car. Like we’ve shown in the last couple of race, especially in China, we were able race a few cars for quite a long time in the race. Hopefully we can carry on doing that.
Romain, now 26-years-old, happy birthday! This is a circuit you know well, you’ve been talking about your GP2 races here and I think you had a ‘full house’ here if you understand what that means.
Romain GROSJEAN: Yeah, well, it’s a circuit I know quite well, from racing in GP2 and testing with Pirelli for the development of the tyres. I think it’s a nice circuit, I quite like it and think we can have a good car here. The weather will be, for once, stable, with some decent temperature and hopefully we can have a clear qualifying and a clear race altogether and achieve an even better result than what we had in the previous race.
In China you got the result you were waiting for, or maybe you were hoping for even better?
RG: You always hope for better! In a way what you want to achieve whenever you start the race is to win. That’s the goal for every driver on the grid. But China was a good race, I think it was very tight, some good battles and we were showing that we were able to carry through the race with good pace and some good moves and to be able to be gentle with the tyres. That was the key in China and I think that will the key one more time here.
But this is such a different circuit and the temperatures and conditions are going to be so different.
RG: Yes, but I hate the cold, so I feel better here. The tyre strategy will be different and the tyre usage will be different here as we have these temperatures but as well I don’t think we are not going to struggle with warm-up issues or making the work, which will help us to set up the car in a good way.
Timo, obviously the team has been playing catch-up since the start of the season but how do you feel they’ve been getting on? It seems to be a very steep learning curve.
Timo GLOCK: Yes, absolutely. If you do 200kms of testing before the first race, every lap, every kilometre you do is like a learning process for us at the moment. I’m quite happy with the past races, I think we’ve closed the gap quite significantly: last qualifying we were three seconds behind; first race we had five and a half seconds, so there’s a clear step forward and that’s good.
The results seem positive and the car’s reliable as well, how far can you go, do you feel?
TG: I hope we can continue like this in terms of improvements but it will be difficult. European season everyone comes with new updates so we just have to work hard and continue the process we’re doing at the moment. It would be great to have at every race a step like we had in China, so we have to see what we can do. We have some little parts here, which could improve the car again, so we’re looking forward to it. I think we have a good baseline to really catch-up.
Is the big update coming at Barcelona like most people?
TG: Yeah, we’re working on it. It’s not definite how much we will get out of it but at the moment we’re getting new parts every race. If that continues I don’t care how big the update is in Barcelona. If you can keep it up through the whole year that’s more important.
Lewis, did you expect to be leading the Championship with three third places after three races?
Lewis HAMILTON: Good afternoon everyone, no, definitely not. The target every year I think is to have consistency and sometimes it just doesn’t go to plan but this year I think we’ve been quite fortunate. Finishing on the podium for the first three races has been fantastic for us. Obviously it’s very early in the season. In previous seasons you’ve seen Championship leaders swapping and changing throughout the year so it doesn’t really mean too much at the moment.
Do you feel your car is suited to this circuit? I mean it seems that the game has changed this year with less downforce. The tyres are just so, so important, even more than they have been before – is that the case?
LH: I personally don’t think they’re much more important than in the past, I think last year we had similar tyre degradation and we had to manage the tyres in a similar way. If you look at the last race the people on a two-stop were slow at the end of the race and people on three stop were overtaking them. It was the same last year – that’s how I won the race. This year the tyre window, the working range is slightly narrower than it was last year, which is making it a little more difficult for people to warm-up the tyres in qualifying, for example. It is a little more challenging but it’s providing good racing.
And who is your main competitor? Is he [Nico] your main competitor having been the winner of the last race, or your team-mate? It’s difficult to say, isn’t it?
LH: It is very difficult to say. You know, when you look at qualifying we’re competitive there, Mercedes is now the quickest but it’s quite close between a lot of the cars, but in the race pace then you look at the Red Bull being very quick, the Mercedes is very quick, we are quick, even Sauber’s quick. It’s a real mixture at the moment and it’s just about trying to stay consistent and trying to maximise every opportunity you have.
Nico, sadly only a few days to enjoy the win from last weekend but very interesting, this is a circuit that you’ve done very well on in F3, in GP2, made your F1 debut here and had fastest lap – you must be looking forward to this weekend?
Nico ROSBERG: Yeah, for sure. This is a track I really enjoy, I’ve had some very good memories here but again it’s just difficult to know where we’re going to be exactly. In Shanghai of course we did very well but previously we did have a few issues in the races, so it’s possible it’s going to be a bit more difficult here.
You mentioned those issues, which were tyre-related, and yet you seemed to get it absolutely right in China, can it just go back to square one again here? Is that how difficult it is to get it right?
NR: Well at the same time the engineers and everybody have really been making some good progress on the car, setup-wise and things like that. So we’re learning very quickly, so it wasn’t a coincidence that we were fast in Shanghai. No, we did a good job and got the best out of it – but the situation could be different here with the temperatures and that might prove a little bit more of a challenge but I don’t know.
The emphasis more on setup than it used to be?
NR: Tyre management is more of a problem in the races than it used to be. That’s definitely the case and that can be influenced with setup and various other things.
Q: Felipe, this has been a good circuit for you in the past: two wins here, three times qualified second. Do you feel that you’re on an upward curve now?
Felipe MASSA: Yeah, for sure it’s a very nice track. I have had a great time here. I would expect to have a good race here, the best of the season – so far. I’m just looking forward to having a nice race, scoring good points and working now on having a better race all the time.
Q: Did you feel you had made progress in Shanghai?
FM: Yes, definitely, even if the result at the end was not very satisfying for the team, for Fernando or for me, it was a normal race in terms of race pace, in terms of qualifying and everything. Everything was normal. For sure it was a much more different race in Shanghai compared to the first two races.
Q: And will these temperatures, even though they are very different to Shanghai, will they be more suited to the car?
FM: I hope so. For sure it’s a different track, very different to Shanghai but in a way, we’re still working to improve the car, still working to make the car more competitive and the car here is not very different to the car in Shanghai, so we will see how the behaviour of the car is on this track in qualifying, but also in the race and see if we can do something different, be more competitive than in Shanghai.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Julien Febreau – L’Equipe) Lewis, it seems that you’re even stronger as a person than last year. Do you feel that way and if so, do you feel that your challenging season last year has helped you?
LH: I definitely think that the last three years have added to where I am today. I think there have been a lot of lessons learned and a lot of good and bad experiences which of course definitely help you when you have a good car and when you’re in a much better position. Yeah, as for all athletes, I think you have to get your mind set in a certain way and there are many things that can affect that. For example, look at Tiger Woods. He’s there and sometimes he’s not and he’s the best out there. It’s really a massive mental game which is about trying to get your mind on the right path. But I feel that I’m there or thereabouts at the moment, still working hard.
Q: (Alex Popov – RTR) Romain, you had a very intense race last Sunday in Shanghai. Your personal battle with Maldonado was perhaps even more than intense. Do you personally see it as revenge for Melbourne?
RG: No, it’s not revenge. I made a mistake with Mark Webber which is why I had to fight with Pastor Maldonado. I think that the fight was a little bit tight. Honestly, I wish we hadn’t touched each other’s cars, but at the end, I ended up in front of him and then I could pull away and finish my race at my own pace and even overtook the second Williams to score more points but that’s what I was glad of.
Q: (Alex Popov – RTR) Romain, did you have a lot to say to your engineer about your strategy during the race? Is there a lot of communication?
RG: Well, there is a lot of briefing before the race when there is time to go through the strategies. We had two options basically: either two stops or three stops. The question arose during the second stint: either you really want to push and try to go for three stops, or you make your tyres last for the 20 or 25 laps that you need and you just go for two stops. I think our set-up was pretty good and the car was working very well on the prime tyres. The second stint was very good and we had pitted to cover Sebastian Vettel, if not, we could have done more laps in the second stint which would have made the third one even easier, but at the end of the story, my engineers did a good job, they helped me to save the tyres and make them last longer. When you are fighting with other cars, it’s always difficult to save them. You have to realise that the race is long and that you still have a few laps to go.
Q: (Thomas Hanratty – Gulf Daily News) Obviously there’s been a lot of media hype in the build-up to this weekend; has it been much of a distraction for you, in terms of your preparations, or have you just been able to block everything out and keep focused?
HK: It hasn’t had the slightest influence on my preparation. I’ve prepared for the Grand Prix, physically and mentally, the same way that I do any other race. That’s all I can answer to that question.
RG: Well, we’ve been preparing for the event as well as we can. As you say, we can’t ignore the situation but in another way, I hope the race may make a clear vision and help the situation and I think the Grand Prix will be nice.
TG: No, we have made the same preparation as all the other races.
LH: They’ve said it all. The team has just been focusing on preparing ourselves for the best way of trying to get some wins.
NR: No, we have been preparing to the best of my possibilities and the team’s also.
FM: Yeah, the same preparation as always. We came here for the sport, that’s the best thing to do, it’s a sport.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Nico, now that you’ve tasted the taste of success, do you think it’s going to be harder for you to cope if you’re not racing… if you’re not fighting for the win at every race?
NR: Niki Lauda said right after the race, ‘Nico, believe me, the first win is by the far the most difficult and after that it becomes much easier.’ So I’ll go for that, he should know.
HK: I got a message from Bernie (Ecclestone) after the first race (win) which said that ‘now it’s downhill’, so there’s also that option.
Q: (Alex Popov – RTR) Nico, after qualifying in Shanghai you explained the huge gap of half a second by the drop in temperature by a few degrees, that you had changed the set-up between Q2 and Q3 etc etc, but in the race itself, after the first ten laps, the gap was five seconds, so it never reached the same half a second, so how do you explain that? Was that you?
NR: No, definitely not. It was just that everything came together. I was on top of my game for the weekend in qualifying and the race, but also the set-up – the car was working very well still, I think, in qualifying. Even in Shanghai, we were stronger eventually in the race but of course it was enough to win by some margin. All in all, it was a really strong weekend.