Participating: Lucas Di Grassi (Virgin), Nico HULKENBERG (Williams), Heikki KOVALAINEN (Lotus), Robert KUBICA (Renault), Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull)
Q. Gentlemen, how is it to be in F1? Lucas, would you like to start?
Lucas DI GRASSI: For me it is a great honour to be here in F1. It is my first races as official driver, so there has been a lot of work, a lot of effort to arrive in this position, so I am just enjoying every minute I am in the car, trying to learn as much as I can and trying to evolve as a driver. It is a great feeling.
Nico HULKENBERG: I mean it is nice and great to finally be here but I am sure every driver who has come here worked very hard and long for it, same for me. Just happy to be here and looking forward hopefully to a long career.
Q. It is the same thing for Robert and Heikki in a way; a new team for you, Robert. What are your feelings about that?
Robert KUBICA: Quite happy, actually. It is not easy to change after four years being with one team. It is quite a different mentality team, so we have done quite good work in winter to prepare for the new season, new challenge. It is okay.
Q. And for Heikki?
Heikki KOVALAINEN: For me also. Obviously I had a very different winter. We started from zero with the team and have seen the team growing and building all the time. We managed to do a little bit of testing but arrived here a little bit on the back foot. But today has been fantastic. Both cars have been running without any problems so far. It is very good and the atmosphere is very good. I am enjoying it. I think F1 is good as always.
Q. Lucas, tell us about your day today and how things have been going?
LG: I had pretty much a difficult start to the day in P1. I had some small issue in the car which did not allow me to do many laps and I need more mileage. Everything got back to a good position in P2 as I did quite a good run with both sets of tyres and we were able to do a different set-up change, so it helped a lot.
Q. How do you see the weekend developing for you and the team?
LG: Everybody in the team is pushing really hard. As everybody knows the car came together months ago and we had a lot of problems in testing, so our main reason to be here and our main way of development is to get everything done properly and with it on time. We are not rushing anything. We are making sure the car is having the best performance. The team is working very, very hard and the team worked all night last night, so everyone is giving 100 per cent and I am trying to do the same when I am driving.
Q. Nico, a remarkable day for you ending up sixth. How has it gone?
NH: It was okay. We were able to go through our programme and be able to get comfortable in the car on the track. It ran smoothly without any technical or other problems.
Q. In testing, you held the record for red flags, so you must be happy with the reliability today?
NH: Yeah, I mean again also Williams has pushed very hard and still everyday there is a new guy coming from the UK bringing new parts, not only performance parts but reliability parts, to get our car better. A big thank you to the guys in the factory. Without them we would not be where we are.
Q. How good a teacher is Rubens Barrichello? The most experienced guy on the grid.
NH: He is not really teaching me. I am just looking at what he is doing. As a team-mate he is always transparent. I can see how he drives, how he works, how he approaches the weekend, so in that aspect I can see and learn from him.
Q. You have got a new engine. Is it quite a surprise where you are?
NH: With a new engine? I think Cosworth have also done a good and remarkable job. We did not have any problems during winter testing and again here the engine is running fine and performance wise it is not too bad at all.
Q. Heikki, you had the Mercedes engine last year and you can compare the Cosworth to the Mercedes. How does it come out?
HK: I think to give a direct comparison is probably not fair as the performance of the car at this stage is very different. But I think so far they have done a very good job. Like Nico says, the reliability has been fantastic. I have not had a single problem. I don’t think if anyone had a problem with the engine and just the initial feeling is that the power is competitive. I don’t think that will not be an issue. I think it is good.
Q. What is lacking within the car? Is it your confidence?
HK: It is not confidence. What is lacking is another 10 to 20 months of time and give the team a bit of a chance to put some performance into the car. We built the car and the team in just under six months time and you cannot ask for more than this. We put the car on the track in testing and today we looked like a professional race team. We were running the car first on the track this morning. I mean you cannot expect performance to be better than this yet. I am sure it will be. We have already shown many things that not many teams could do, so I have all the confidence that given a bit of time, give us a year or two, even less than that, we can put a lot of performance in the car and move up the grid. You have got to start somewhere and we are still growing, we are still building the team so it is not my confidence. I am very confident in fact. I have had a good winter and I feel 100 per cent shape and I feel today I had a very good today and we went forward but we need a bit of time.
Q. How do you see the weekend developing? Do you feel you will be able to close that gap to the established teams?
HK: If we could find three or four seconds it would be pretty good, wouldn’t it. I am sure we will be working hard but we just do not know yet what everybody else has done. We have just focussed on our own preparation today like a professional race team does. We will prepare for the race, we have compared the tyres, we have done various checks with the set-up and tried to tune the car for the circuit and also for myself getting adapted to the circuit. That is what we are really worried about. I am sure eventually we can close the gap to the leaders and that is what we are here for but it will not happen overnight. The teams ahead of us are all good teams. Formula One is incredibly competitive but we have been quite brave. We have entered the competition and from what we have shown today I think we can go with chin up, full steam ahead.
Q. Sebastian, how do you feel about today?
Sebastian VETTEL: I would have loved to run more. I think this morning the circuit was not in very good shape with not a lot of rubber down, especially on the new part of the circuit. But in the afternoon I think we had quite a lot of rubber, but I did not run very much. I had a problem with the brakes, brake failure, and Mark had a problem as well, so I would have loved to do more laps.
Q. Is it a worry to have that failure? Brakes is a big thing this year.
SV: It is not a nice feeling, but it depends where it happens. I think it happens if you go up in Monaco up to the casino it is the worst place. Here there is quite a lot of run-off, so it was no problem, but it is not something you like to happen.
Q. Fifth fastest with that brake failure. Do you feel that is where you are or do you think it should be better?
SV: I think today is still very difficult to read. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it is a bit more difficult, but if you really want to say precisely where everyone is I think at this stage it is still a bit too early. From what I have seen in the session it is no secret that this afternoon Ferrari seemed to run a bit heavier whereas Mercedes tried with a little bit less fuel in the beginning and then put some fuel back into the car for the rest of it. I think at this stage we are in decent shape. I would have loved to run a lot more and get more laps and more data, but at this stage I think Ferrari and McLaren look extremely competitive.
Q. Last year the team did a fantastic job with the development. It is almost certainly going to be a development battle this year. Are you confident in the programme that Red Bull have?
SV: Yeah, as you said it will be the same kind of battle as last year. Obviously that is not very cheap. But for everyone it is the same thing, so where we are now and I am sure the cars will improve a lot as they are still quite young. I think this year there is a lot to discover with the new regulations, no refuelling, the tyres are different, so I think everyone is in a steep learning curve and we will see. The cars we will have at the end of the year they might be better but you get 25 points for a win here as you do at the last race, so we will see.
Q. Robert, your feelings about today? You ended up 15th.
RK: It was quite a good day. It was different running with this temperature compared to winter testing, so we have quite a nice run, smooth without major problems. We have to work a bit on the car to improve it and try to do our best tomorrow which will finally be the day of truth.
Q. You’re a former pole-winner here. What are your feelings about the circuit, particularly the new part?
RK: The new part doesn’t look really interesting, at least for myself it’s a kind of a street circuit, it reminds me of a Monte Carlo a bit, the Monaco race track. It’s very slow, a lot of bumps, quite tough for the tyres and very appropriate compared to the old section of track. Yes, it was quite dirty as Sebastian mentioned. This morning it was quite slippery there. Afterwards it improved but there is still quite a big delta shift between the grip of the new section and the old section.
Q. And you’ve been quoted as saying that Renault could create a surprise?
RK: When did I say this, a long time ago? Well, it depends how it goes but I think we were in pretty good shape in winter testing, maybe not in the last tests but before we were surprisingly good. But we have to keep working. Actually, we are doing it very hard. The guys didn’t go to bed last night, preparing the car because new bits arrived quite late, so it was quite a tough two days for them. But let’s hope we will pay them back on the performance side.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Mikolaj Sokol – Rzeczpospolita) Sebastian and Robert, with 23 cars on the track, some of them significantly slower than you, how can you deal with traffic? Is it a big issue?
SV: Yes, I think it is a big issue, especially practice and at least the first qualifying session. Of course, speaking to Lucas or Timo or the other guys, Heikki, it’s not the easiest time that they have to face. Obviously they are just about to start, so I think it’s fair to give them time. For sure, if you arrive and you have that big delta between the cars and at least six cars are quite a bit slower than the rest and for sure it could be a problem and one or the other will suffer. It will happen in qualifying that you probably don’t get your lap time. These guys are trying their best as well, so you have to respect that, but if you’re five seconds quicker then it’s very difficult to estimate at the start of the lap if you will be fine or not. Here, I think it’s quite OK because you can see quite a lot, but if you go to Singapore or Monaco where half of the circuit is blind anyway then it’s very difficult. We’ve had problems in the past with traffic, it will be quite a mess but that’s life, I guess.
RK: Yeah, I’ve had similar problems to Sebastian. They are there, for sure they are not having an easy time to keep the car on the track, so that’s how it is. They are there and from our side we can only try and get some more space when they are in front of us, but it’s hard for them, it’s hard for us. That’s how it is.
Q. (Tomasz Richter – TV Nova) To you all, do you enjoy the new section of the track or would you prefer to go straight after turn three?
RK: Old one, probably, old section, so old track.
SV: I think that the biggest difficulty is that you have a different level of grip as well, which makes the delta quite high. If you look at the asphalt of the new circuit compared to the new track it’s quite different. That doesn’t make life easy, it’s actually very slow, very bumpy, so I also prefer the old track.
HK: I don’t know the reasons for the change – I don’t know if there is a good reason. I thought the old one was good but for me, if we drove to the centre and back, I don’t really have a preference.
LG: I preferred the old one. I raced here in GP2 and it’s quite a fast part of the track which is now a very slow section and very bumpy, so I preferred the old one.
Q. (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat ) Sebastian, how difficult is it to decide which compound to use for Q3 at this circuit?
SV: Well, I think the biggest unknown is how the racing will look on Sunday. Obviously the temperature should help all of us but I think it will nevertheless be something new. Either it will be total excitement for the spectators, a mess for us in the car, because some drivers will struggle more with tyres, some less, or it will be boring and the cars will just follow each other because they’re stuck behind each other and they can’t do much, so I think we have to see. In qualifying, first of all we need to see what we have done today compared to the others. Then tomorrow morning – the latest at lunchtime, more or less, you have to decide what you want to do in qualifying. I think first of all you have to manage to get into Q3. It looks tight, so it won’t be easy. There is a strong midfield as well, so if you are talking of the top teams, you have a very, very strong midfield and they could easily ruin your day. I don’t know yet. If you ask me now, I have no clue. I also think it makes it more difficult, as I said, because we don’t know how the race will unfold. We will see.
Q. Nico, your ex-partner Nico Rosberg set fastest lap in his first race for Williams, so do you expect the same this year?
HN: No, I don’t expect the same. I hope for a good points’ finish but as Sebastian mentioned, we are still a bit left in the dark as to who is where, even today. There are big differences in lap times, and obviously big differences in fuel loads, so we will have to wait and see where we end up but I hope for a good points result.
Q. (Cezary Gutowski – Przeglad Sportowy) For the Renault-engined guys: there is some noise about getting engines up to parity. Do you think your engines are that under-performing? Do you think you really need more horsepower?
SV: I think an engine here, an engine there. Obviously engine regulations are frozen and yes, last year we didn’t have the easiest time, especially myself. We had some engine failures. Nevertheless, I think we did a very good job recovering. Reliability was fine after we fixed the problem and we did not have to change an engine, so we did not have to take a penalty. I think, last year, everyone had more or less the same opinion that the Mercedes engine was probably a bit ahead of the rest and as I said, the regulations are frozen, so what can you do? I think we don’t have anything to fear, no weakness from that side, so for sure, as I said, a little bit maybe, but it’s very difficult to measure as well. The cars are different. If you look at our top speed compared to the Renault top speed, it’s totally different because the car is a different car, different concept, different amount of drag on the straight, so you can’t really compare just from the speeds.
RK: If the regulations were the same I might have some sort of feeling because I switched from another engine supplier to Renault but we are running much heavier this year, so it’s difficult to compare. I think we just need to wait. Actually, in the past Renault has always been very good with their consumption. I think a lot of people improved that so we maybe still have a bit of an advantage but not as big as it was in the past, for sure. Horsepower is always welcome, more power is always welcome.
Q. (Oliver Knaack – Berliner Zeitung) Sebastian, you missed more than 30 minutes of this last practice, can you describe the exact failure of the brakes, what happened at the front or rear and what was the problem?
SV: Maybe some of you, between the practice and the press conference were able to have a coffee. I was not. I just got out of my suit and had a short de-brief and came here so I don’t know the reason yet for the failure we had, so we need to see. It’s always difficult. You don’t really analyse within the session because you just make sure you change (the damaged part) as quickly as possible and use the amount of time you have left. It was on the front, the front left. I think you could see that from the TV.
Q. (Tomasz Richter – TV Nova) Nico, we could see some black smoke from the front tyres; do you expect some brake issues regarding the heavier cars and are they the same brake specification as last year?
HN: It shouldn’t be a problem but Bahrain is always quite heavy on brakes. I’m sure every team is aware of that. We take that into consideration but it’s just brake dust. If you have big braking from 300kph down to 60 kph, there’s just a lot of smoke but right now I’m not too worried about that.
[Original image via AUTOSPORT]