DRIVERS – Heikki KOVALAINEN (Caterham), Daniel RICCIARDO (Toro Rosso), Kamui KOBAYASHI (Sauber), Fernando ALONSO (Ferrari), Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren), Pedro DE LA ROSA (HRT).
Heikki, you made some comments in your preview that this isn’t your favourite circuit: brake cooling so important here and the track evolves more than others. Perhaps you’d like to expand on those comments?
Heikki KOVALAINEN: Good afternoon everyone. Yes, I read that preview and I think our press officer Tom Webb had something to do with that. It doesn’t mean I hate the place. I mean look at the weather, look at the circuit. Everything here is actually very, very good here. I’ve had pretty good races in the past here. I was on the front row with McLaren in 2009, so there’s nothing negative for me to day about that. That’s all I can say really. I look forward to a good race. It is a street circuit but not as hardcore as Monaco or Montreal. It’s easier, the kerbs are easier. It’s slightly smoother, we can run the car very low. It’s very, very smooth. I think if you just find a good set-up on Friday and Saturday morning I think it’s really good fun to drive. In terms of competitiveness, whether we’ll be closer to the cars ahead of us or not, it’s hard to say yet. We need to wait and see where we are. But I’ll definitely look forward to a good weekend. I think everyone here will have a good weekend, the weather looks fantastic.
Just looking overall at the performance so far, over the seven races we’ve had so far, how do you feel the team is progressing: definitely getting closer to the teams in front?
HK: I think it’s fair to say that we were hoping to start the season closer to the cars in front of us. Obviously at the winter testing, we thought we were closer but then we arrived at the first few races we were not as close as we thought. But since then the team has made a lot of effort and in my opinion in all the right areas. I’m very happy to see that. I think we are making good progress. Obviously John Iley from McLaren has joined us very recently and I think in the next few races we’ll see updates coming every race. For us they feel like quite significant updates but I think we need to wait and see how they translate onto circuits, actually on to the racetracks before really making too many predictions. The main point being that the team had grown a lot since last year and since the beginning of the year I think we have focused absolutely on the right areas to make that relative gain to the teams ahead of us. Whether we can do it or not, really on track, I think we need to wait and see. I think we can do it and I’m looking forward towards the end of the season more regularly beating the cars ahead of us.
Dan, it’s virtually a full year for you in Formula One now, are you pretty much where you want to be?
Daniel RICCIARDO: Good day everyone. It’s gone very quick. Someone, probably my dad, told me very recently that it’s nearly been a year that I’ve been here. I remember Silverstone like it was a week ago. Time goes very fast. You have to try and take advantage of every opportunity and make the most of everything so… I’ve had some good times in the first year and some times I wish were better but generally I’m enjoying it. It’s a huge experience and a great learning curve for me but after a year it’s time to kick on and get some solid results. As for this season we’ve been a bit up and down. We kicked it off pretty well in Melbourne and we probably would have liked that to continue, which it hasn’t done as smoothly, but yeah, we still have a long season ahead of us. The experience is growing now and I think it’s time now to try to get a few more points on the board and to turn a few heads would be nice.
Of course you’ll know all the circuits from now on – apart from American, which no one will know – so how important is that? You haven’t raced here but you were here as a Friday driver last year.
DR: Yeah, I think it helps a bit. Once you get to this level you can pick up a new circuit fairly quickly but I guess if it’s one you’ve driven on over and over you tend to know a few more secrets about it. But, having FP1 here last year will get me into the groove of things a bit quicker but you know come Saturday and qualifying I think everyone’s pretty much into it whether it’s a new circuit or one we’ve been to before. There are some special circuits on the calendar, maybe Monaco for example, where the more experience you have there the quicker you’ll eventually be able to go, knowing a few more little secrets; knowing which lines to take. But generally I don’t think it changes much now. Looking forward to a stronger second half of the season and hopefully that can start here. It’s nice and warm, a bit like home – though I haven’t really been living at home much in the past six years or something, so maybe it will take me a little bit of time to get used to the heat again, but yeah, looking forward to it.
Kamui, first of all, the Sauber seems to be suited in certain areas and not in others, but what about this circuit?
Kamui KOBAYASHI: Here I think pretty OK. Only we have to focus on working the tyre with this track temperature because this is quite… extremely high. I think the car itself is OK for this track but difficult to say how it will perform on the track in this temperature.
Is it still about tyre management. Your team-mate for example is always cited as someone who will make a one-stop, just as he did here last year. How does that affect you?
KK: I think in the last race Sergio did a really great job with the tyre management. But I think this season so far, it’s very important to be [in] clear air. If we are in traffic we damage the tyre of course. It’s not only the tyre management, we have to be clear. It’s not only the driving, it’s the situation as well. It’s difficult to say that it’s coming only from the tyre and the driving, it’s all a mixture. Let’s say Sergio last race had great driving but he also had quite a lot of time with not so much traffic and that’s the key to managing the tyre. Also last race I think everybody expected in the race to do two-stop but actually one-stop is quicker. But at the same time it seems to be difficult to overtake again because everybody is like a train. So that was mis-predicted for the last race. For my situation I had to change strategy during the race, which is quite difficult. But I think the team did a great job for the performance and they gave us really great advice and we see a good step from the car and we try to understand more the tyre because with this track temperature it’s difficult to see but with there experience I think we can sort it out.
Fernando, we read that you team-mate, part of his resurgence is because of a different set-up and he’s gone his own way on set-up. How does that affect you? Is it an advantage for you?
Fernando ALONSO: I’m not sure about the different set-up comments. I don’t think that there is any big difference compared with the first races. It’s not affecting my programme. For Felipe, he’s getting some good confidence now in the car with the last changes and some tweaks maybe in the set-up but nothing dramatically changed. And now it seems we can both be competitive. This is the best news for the team. As we always repeat: the team, myself, he’s having full support from everybody inside Ferrari and now we are convinced that in the second half of the season we will both be up at the front.
How do you feel about the development of the car? Obviously it didn’t start off as a very good car and you were pushing for development. Has it taken longer or shorter than you imagined and now are you nearly there?
FA: I’m extremely happy with the effort of the team. It’s true that we didn’t start in the best position so maybe in that aspect we were a little bit advantaged because it’s easier to improve to a bad car than a good car normally because we had many things that didn’t work at the beginning, so maybe it was a little bit easier to put everything right. Bit it’s true that in the last four grands prix or something like that every new part we bring to the race it correlates and is working as we expect from the wind tunnel. This is something we struggled with in the past, in the last two years especially. Yeah, more self-confidence in the team now, in all the new designs, in all the information we get from the wind tunnel, this is good. Not just for now but for the near future.
Lewis, championship leader, three times second at this race, pole in 2009 as well – but it’s a very different championship this year, as we’re all aware and it’s very important to bank points, as you’ve pointed out in the past. How difficult is that for you – as we see you as an out and out racer who wants to win all the time – how difficult is it for you, is it a change of mindset?
Lewis HAMILTON: Good afternoon everyone. Not for me: I still want to win every race it’s just you have to be perhaps a little more strategic with your approach this year. We’ve seen seven different winners, both me and Fernando have scored pretty much in every race yet the Championship is so close. I don’t think there is too much of a different approach but you have to be a little bit more sensible this year.
And, in terms of the Championship again, obviously consistency is hugely important. Is the development still coming all the time from the factory? We hear about it from various other teams, is it still coming from McLaren as well?
LH: The guys are working as hard as they can and pushing as hard as we can to improve. We’ve not had the same size of upgrades as others potentially have. We’ve not really had an upgrade since Barcelona but we hopefully will have something very soon.
For here or for the British Grand Prix?
LH: Probably for the British Grand Prix, I would have thought.
Pedro, first of all, problems with the brakes at the last grand prix, do you think you’ve pretty much sorted those out?
Pedro DE LA ROSA: We are not sure. We think we have and actually we’ve brought slightly more front brake pulley, which was our limiting factor in Canada, knowing that Valencia is also a little bit easier on the brakes. So, I think, all in all, we should be OK and be able to go flat out all the race and finish this race with the brakes.
How much are you enjoying the development of the HRT team and the car itself? Especially when you get as close as you did in the last grand prix as well, where you were starting to make in-roads with the team in front.
PdlR: Well, we’re having fun. We’re having fun because in the team we are all pushing very hard and we are making progress, which is essential in this sport, especially when you make more progress than the people around you. However, we still have a long way to go and we are not where we want to be and there is still a lot to be gained. But we’re having fun because each race we are more competitive, and especially in Canada it was such a shame to retire so early because I was having a lot of fun inside the car. We were able to fight, we were able to fight against people behind and in front and we were actually looking good on strategy. But anyway, let’s see how it goes here. Valencia is a similar track to Canada in terms of car setup. Slightly more overall downforce but there are a lot of slow-speed corners and a lot of heavy braking which we seem to be quite good at.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
(Alex Popov – RTR) Question for Fernando and Lewis, first of all for Fernando. It seems to be already a silly season but not even for the next one but for 2014 and beyond. It seems to be a lot of rumours, even from your team, about you and Sebastian together. What do you think about the possibility of this cooperation? And for Lewis, about this point, you seem to be a lot more friendly with Fernando now than back to your cooperation. What do you think? Maybe in the future would you like to work together in the same team.
FA: Rumours, I think, with Ferrari are always the same: when I won the 2005 Championship with Renault, I was linked to Ferrari immediately – and I arrived in 2010. So, if Sebastian is linked now, maybe he’ll arrive in five year’s time. I don’t know. Every summer it is the same with Ferrari, as I said, but at the moment we repeat the same thing. Extremely happy with Felipe, whatever team-mate comes in the future will be welcome, will be part of the team and part of Ferrari and, as I said, when I joined this team the most important thing in Ferrari is to help each other to make one red car win. It’s something that President di Montezemolo is very clear on when you arrive on day one in Ferrari. So, whatever teammate is coming in the future, if it comes, will be no problem and we will try to work as we are doing now with Felipe.
LH: I really don’t know what else to say. It looks like they have a good team already and me and Jenson provide a strong line-up here at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. That’s the thing I need to focus on; that’s the most important thing for us at the moment. I don’t really know what else I can say.
(Adrian Huber – Agencia EFE) Question for Fernando: Fernando, would you be happy repeating last year’s second place, or do you want to win here, considering this is one of the very few circuits where you haven’t won yet?
FA: Well, difficult question. Sure, getting some podiums now, in the next couple of races, especially in July when we have three races in four weeks, it will be important to have some consistency in this very important month, we think. But, being on Thursday, we only think about victory, because we want to win, especially here in Spain, in front of our fans and we will try our best. Difficult question because we know second in this type of Championship is also good points.
(Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Fernando, what do you like on that track, what do you dislike and how to you rate the atmosphere of this venue?
FA: From the track, I like the heavy braking in the last sector especially, which is maybe the most challenging one. The first two sectors are more or less the same. So much straights but they are not really straights so you are always turning in and it’s not so easy maybe for overtaking for this reason – but in the last sector you find some interesting combination of corners that I think you enjoy. The high-speed corners plus the last braking which is a little bit challenging. What I don’t like from this circuit… nothing really. I think it’s all fine. There is not any place or anything that is a big problem. The atmosphere is one of the best. It’s one of my preferred grands prix of the year. I like the city, I like the atmosphere here, there are a lot of activities around the grand prix as well – like Singapore in a way, with a lot of music concerts around. There are some go-kart circuits outside for the fans and some other activities, so I think the weekend overall, with the beach 400m from the track etc., makes something nice for the people that come for the weekend. I think we also like it from a driver point of view.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Lewis, Ron Dennis came out with an interesting comment after the Canadian Grand Prix when he was asked about you staying with the team. He mentioned that you were coming towards the end of a contract that was signed at a time when the economy was somewhat different. He said ‘now there has to be a balance.’ Can you understand Ron’s comments, first of all, and do you appreciate that when it comes down to negotiations with McLaren and yourself and your management team, you might have to ease off on your financial demands because economic times are very different now?
LH: Ron is a very tough negotiator. He was very tough when they negotiated the contract that I have now and I expect him to be the same when we go back in (this time). I don’t see there being many problems, to be honest.
Q: (Julien Febreau – L’Equipe) Fernando, you know Romain Grosjean pretty well from your experiences at Renault in 2009. In your opinion, what are his best qualities for this season and in which area could he still improve?
FA: Yeah, I know him. We were teammates first as a test driver for us and then racing with us as well. He’s a very talented driver. He won GP2 easily and in 2009 in Formula One I think the car was not so easy to drive and he found it tough, but now he’s showing his potential. He’s young, talented, very quick. He can keep up a very good pace with few mistakes over a whole race. Things to improve? Experience for sure because this is something that you never stop learning and the more races you do, the more championships you do, you improve little things and little tricks at different circuits. A little bit of consistency will only come from experience. I’m happy with his performance, happy for him. I think he will have a very interesting season from now on, after the podium in Canada and the toughest time will only come on Saturday with the football, I think.
Q: (Ignacio Naya – DPA) Fernando, Pedro and Lewis, I know you are football fans. You are probably following the European Cup. I would like to know what you think about the Spanish team. Are you enjoying them, what do you expect from them, how are you going to follow the match on Saturday, and have you talked to Romain Grosjean?
PdelaR: Well, I’m enjoying it massively, because we are the best, it’s simple, having a great time watching our team – a lot of Barcelona players in the Spanish national team which also helps. It’s great to see us doing so well. Actually, I also quite liked what the Spanish coach said the other day, that we go from poor to rich too quickly. I think it’s a great competition and we should never forget that all Spain is behind the team and we are all very proud. I don’t know who is unhappy about it: no one. Not me.
FA: Yes, same thing. I enjoy it, I watch all of Euro. I will watch Saturday here in the motorhome with some friends. I haven’t spoken yet with Grosjean at the moment but I will. Yeah, I’m enjoying it as well, like Pedro. I think we are very privileged to have this national team, this generation of players. Probably, as Pedro and the coach said, we will remember this generation in a few years’ time, but now it’s very easy to criticise, but we will regret this soon.
Q: (David Croft – Sky TV) I think you’re sitting on the fence a bit with your football punditry here folks. What we want to know is who has got the best chance of winning this weekend, Spanish or the English football teams or Lewis or Fernando out on the track? Pedro, you get the casting vote on this one.
PdelaR: I don’t know what you want.
HK: Pedro, you need to talk after this press conference and ask for some money and then you make the comment.
FA: I will not give you money. You can tell Lewis, no problem.
LH: I don’t even know when the game is, if I’m honest. Hopefully I will be able to watch it then. They’ve been playing pretty well recently. I hope that we have a better shot this year than we have in the past, but there are other great teams out there. Spain, of course, is obviously one of the best teams there so it will be interesting. I’m not going to pay Pedro either.
Q: (David Croft – Sky TV) You’ll be rooting for Italy, I suppose.
FA: Yes. Sorry but I prefer Italy in this game.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis, you said in Canada after the race that you weren’t able to make a one pit stop strategy. With these hot conditions, do you believe that your car can react well or will it be too hard on the tyres? And regarding your pit stops: you had a problem with your pit stops again in the last Grand Prix and you had to push a lot. Did you work on the pit stops in the last ten days?
LH: On the tyre side of things, I anticipate it could be another very very tough weekend, trying to look after them. I think it will be very interesting to see how the teams vary as they did in the last race. You have to expect teams like Lotus and Sauber doing very very well on their long runs and Ferrari are also very very good on their long runs. So I definitely don’t anticipate even doing a one stop strategy this weekend, but I will obviously try to look after the tyres as best we can.
In terms of our pit stops, we are constantly altering and improving race by race, and the guys go back to the factory after every race with footage of the pit stop to understand and analyse exactly what went wrong, so that next time we go out we don’t have those problems. I think this weekend we will have an even better set of pit stops again. I think at the last race the first pit stop – if we didn’t have the problem with the pull away – I think it would have maybe been the fastest of the whole season so far. I think it was 2.8s or 2.9s. The stationary time was 2.9s, I think, or something like that, so quite quick, but I lost a second as I pulled away. We are just going to keep working on it.
Q: (Olaf Mol – RTL7) Fernando and Lewis, some countries are no longer in the European soccer championship like Holland; some of their soccer players are being criticised for not talking to their fans. Do you feel that Formula One and you as drivers are doing enough for your fans?
LH: Do we think we are doing enough for the fans? I don’t know. If you look at the last race, for example, we had such a great event. There are definitely races where there aren’t so many people who come to watch the race, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job. I don’t know what else… I’m sure we can always do better, but I don’t see a problem, personally.
FA: Yes, I agree. Anyone can do more or less, depending on which one, but apart from NBA (National Basketball Association) I don’t think there’s any big sport that does a better job than Formula One.
HK: I think that FOTA has asked the fans many times… Martin Whitmarsh has been very open and the fans have had a word, and I think many times the fans have been happy. I don’t see any problem there, no.
Q: (Patrick Grivaz – Radio France) We are here in Valencia, Spain and there is an economic crisis in Europe and in Spain particularly. I want to ask a question to Pedro and Fernando: what is your feeling about the economic crisis in Spain and what can you do about it?
FA: I think we obviously feel sad and worried about the situation in Spain which is not ideal at the moment. I think we are in a completely different matter which is sport and we are having a great event in one city which will be known worldwide on Sunday on millions and millions of televisions throughout the world, so it’s very good publicity. At the same time, I think the economic crisis is not only in Spain, not only in Europe but worldwide and if we question races and sporting events, we will never finish, because then we have to question why, in Poland, they hold the European Championship, maybe the Olympic Games and so on and so on, because there are macro-sporting events over which there is always a question whether they are necessary or not.
PdelaR: I fully agree, it’s terrible for Spain, it’s terrible for Europe, the world. We are in crisis. We have friends in Barcelona who have lost their jobs and it’s very bad. But as Fernando said, it’s not only in Spain, it’s everywhere, I would say. The only thing we can do is first of all concentrate on our job and try to make their lives better with a good entertainment show on Saturday and Sunday and then also, as a team, I think HRT is an example of what you can do in Spain: invest at a difficult moment, give opportunities to young mechanics, engineers, people, drivers and this is what we are doing. It’s very bad, but as I’ve said, crises come and go. It’s not the end of the world. We have to look ahead and we have to recover, we have to fight crises and wait for the long straights that will come.
Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) Fernando, how much involvement do you have when teams come to select teammates, wherever you’ve been. Do they consult you, do they ask you what do you think of him, could you work with him?
FA: In the past, never. Now at Ferrari, yes. I’m in Italy every week so when we are there, sometimes I see the president, I see Stefano (Domenicali – team principal) and we talk about development of the car, we talk about GT, now there is some work on a new GT car that they are doing some test with at the end of year. We talk about the future of Formula One, about Corsa Clienti which is owners of old Formula One cars which they want us to take to some circuits to teach some senior drivers, and also about the future and teammates as well.
Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) So if you said you didn’t want A or B would you hope that they listened to you?
FA: I doubt it. It’s an open chat, we talk, but in the end, it’s their decision.
Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) So would you welcome to chance to work with Lewis again, would that be on the agenda or is that..?
FA: No problem.
Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) Not a problem, no one at all, even Sebastian Vettel?
FA: No problem. Why?
Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) There should be no reason, absolutely, but you would welcome the challenge from whoever would be deemed good enough to be a Ferrari driver or whichever team you were in?
FA: Yeah. I do. I think I have a lot of respect for Felipe. I think the challenging moment, that even from the outside it’s difficult to appreciate, what a challenging time he’s given to me in the last three years. He’s not bad, even if from the outside he looks…
Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) So you wouldn’t mind him staying on then? Do you think he could stay on? Has he got the potential to do that?
FA: I think so.
Q: (Carlos Miguel – La Gaceta) Fernando, Lewis and Pedro: when I saw you in this row, I remembered McLaren in 2007. What were your best and worst memories of that season for you three guys when you were teammates?
PdelaR: From my point of view it was a pleasure to have two super drivers next to me and learn from them. It was really interesting. The worst bit, clearly, was to lose the championship at the last race in Brazil. I think that the three of us – more them than myself because I was unfortunately not driving – but we all woke up at one point at four or five am in a cold sweat around our heads, because it was a shame but they are the best, it was really a pleasure for me to be in the team with them. I learned. I’m a sponge.
LH: It was the same, losing the championship was definitely the… I had only just got to Formula One but just having it and then losing it and then having it was very very tough. I think the best moment was winning my first Grand Prix that year; firstly getting into Formula One and then having the great opportunity and privilege of working alongside Fernando and Pedro, and working for such a great team, and winning my first race in Montreal. That was part of my life that I could only have ever dreamed of.
FA: Yes, same. The worst moment was losing the championship, for sure, at the last race after being at the top of the table for the whole season, and then we lost it at the last race. Best thing for me was the technical approach that was very different compared to Renault and all the things that I learned on the technical side in that year… I think they were very very important for the rest of my career and I improved 200 percent as a driver that year.