Attendees (L-R): Jenson Button (McLaren, 2nd), Sebastien Vettel (Red Bull, 1st), Nick Heidfeld (Renault, 3rd)
Q. Sebastian, never an easy day at the office here in Malaysia but as you told the team on the radio, ‘I love coming to work’, and when you take home the win it is hardly surprising.
Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah I guess so. Another great day. The start was crucial. I thought I had a really good start and then I saw Lewis lining up behind me quickly. Then I was surprised going into turn one as all of a sudden I saw something black in my mirrors. I knew it was a [Renault] and then I realised it was Nick. Obviously for the first stint it was a good thing to happen as I could pull away lap by lap. I think the grand prix was different to what we saw two weeks ago especially with tyres going off.
On the one side you do not want to be the first in as the shorter you get the more stops you might have to do in the end, but on the other hand if someone goes in he has the advantage on new tyres and might undercut you. I think it was quite difficult and it was tight with Lewis but I always had a couple of seconds in hand so we could control that – but still it was never easy until the last stint. Lewis had a problem, I don’t know what happened to him but I realised Jenson was behind and I could comfortably control the gap so with not too many laps to go it was quite good. Very pleased as I said. I love what I do and I don’t think I can be happier at this stage.
Q. Different to Australia but in some respect very much the same. Lap 29, you are told you cannot use KERS. Did you know the problem and how much of a difference did it make to your car and your feelings at the time?
SV: Yeah, it was not according to plan, but then it was coming back. It was a little bit on-off during the race. It is something we have to work on but still never forget two weeks ago we didn’t race it at all and today it was very crucial at the start. Without KERS again we would have been in a completely different position and the race would have unfolded in a different way. It was giving us what we needed and being in a luxury situation, being a little bit ahead, we had a little problem so we turned it off and it went back on. But coming here only 10 days overseas, reacting the way we did, we can be very proud of ourselves. We cannot stop pushing. We have seen how close it is, much closer here than in Australia, so that’s how quickly things can change. We have to keep our heads cool, keep working, keep pushing, but I am not worried to be honest. All the guys, they know that this is the only way forward so for today we all enjoy and we can be very proud.
Q. Jenson, I would imagine you will enjoy second place?
Jenson BUTTON: Yeah, it was a really confusing race in a way, trying to understand the pit-stops and whether it was worth looking after tyres or not through the stints. So it was pretty tricky. Then, the last stint, when we put the prime tyre on, the car came alive and I had so much more grip. I had a feeling that the tyre wasn’t going to go the same way as the soft tyre and my pace was much better in the last stint. A fun race. A couple of really good battles. Happy to come away with a second. I had the team telling me to back it off and look after the tyres but in a racer’s mind you want to push as hard as you can as you want to try and catch the leader. Even though it was not really on you have still got to give it a go, so I had a lot of fun out there and great to get 18 points.
Q. The team told you no-one had achieved a 19 lap stint on the prime tyre at any stage this weekend and you did it in your final stint. Give us an indication as to how difficult it is to preserve these tyres.
JB: Well the thing is it’s very difficult to understand what to do with the tyre. If you try and preserve it sometimes you make the situation worse as you are not carrying as much speed through a high-speed corner and then you get less downforce and you damage the tyre more so it is a very, very tricky situation to be in. But I think we did pretty well. As we went through the race I think we understood the tyre a lot more and our consistency was much, much better with the tyre and we didn’t get down to the canvas so a big thank you to the team. They did a magnificent job today with the pit-stops and the strategy and I think we have made some good progress so, looking forward to China, we should be excited and hopefully we can challenge these guys.
Q. Nick, congratulations on your first podium since Malaysia in 2009. So much happened in the middle of the race but, specifically, tell us about your start and then tell us how you managed to hang onto third place under pressure from Mark Webber at the end?
Nick HEIDFELD: The start was fantastic. Good fun. In Australia I made up many positions on the start but I didn’t expect the same happening when starting from sixth rather than 18th or whatever it was in Australia. I found myself actually fighting with Sebastian who watched me in the mirror and just paced himself to keep me behind. After that I did the best I could but Sebastian was quite a bit quicker. Then in the first stint there were some drops [of rain] coming down and I called the box to say my tyres were going off and they said ‘stay out, there might be rain coming so we don’t want to do an extra pit-stop’. Then, our first pit-stop was not perfect, lost one or two positions, and after that I was a bit lucky with Fernando (Alonso) who lost his front wing or damaged his front wing and had to do an extra pit-stop. I had some good pace later on, especially on the prime tyres, similar to the McLarens probably and had to defend from Mark towards the end when he came flying by. But I think once he was behind me his tyres also started to degrade. I used my KERS just in places where I needed to defend and it is great to come third. Second podium for Lotus Renault. It is a great step forward from last season.
Q. Sebastian, defending champion and two wins out of two in your defensive year. I would imagine you are feeling very positive going through to China now – or is there a renewed threat from McLaren?
SV: Well I mean first of all we can be happy today and enjoy and try to take that momentum into the next race. As you said two races, two out two is perfect, couldn’t be any better but there is still a very long way to go. The championship is far away. There are a lot of points still to get so we have to keep our feet on the ground. At the moment things are looking good. I think we worked hard over the winter so if that is the reward then I think there is no problem putting even harder work in. I am very happy with that and tomorrow starts China and we see how we get on there.
Q. Sebastian, what a start to the season. Your 12th win and I think it is four wins in a row if we count last year as well.
SV: I don’t know. I don’t count. I think it is better not to. Yeah, very good result. I was very pleased with yesterday’s result especially as we knew going into qualifying it will be tight and we expected similar in the race so the start was very important. Again thanks to the boys, thanks to the team. I think it shows how – I mean we had some bad experience two years ago so we don’t need to do that again –important KERS is and it saved our life today at the start. I was focussed on Lewis behind me and all of a sudden Nick was there so it was quite funny in a way. I had to defend a little bit into Turn Two, focus on a good exit which was crucial as then I was ahead and could use the first stint to build up a little gap. I think we were a little bit quicker than the Renault, which was behind, or the Lotus. Then I tried to take that gap into each stint. It was a bit of a luxury situation as we could wait for other people to do the stop. Of course, they were closing then as it is quite powerful. If you change tyres you come out and you are much quicker than the guys out on the circuit with the used tyres, But with a couple of seconds in hand we had this luxury so there was no need to panic. Coming in first, especially the first stint, it started to drizzle quite heavily and I was surprised. It didn’t have a really big affect on the handling and the grip level but still there were drops on the visor and you could even smell it. It was quite big. Then it started to get less and it was not a problem anymore. When you come in for your first stop and you know it is drizzling around turn five-six-seven-eight then you just pray for the rain to stop as other people might stay out, one or two laps, and they get a free stop as it starts raining. It was tight. All in all I think it was a difficult race today. As Jenson said you never knew how hard to push, how hard to save your tyres. Everyone was trying to do the same. I think there was a lot to learn today and a lot to take into the next race but for today very, very happy obviously.
Q. The only time you did seem to lose a little bit of time was to Lewis in the second stint. Did you have a problem with the tyres?
SV: Not really. As I said we had a decent gap. He pitted earlier than Nick and earlier than us and I think he went to another set of options after his first stop. As I have just tried to explain it is very powerful and I think we were stopping at the right time in the first stint but tried to push probably a bit longer for the rain whereas he came in and that one lap can make three to four seconds difference. Naturally he caught up and then I was just trying to look after the tyres and look after the gap. He was closing in three-tenths a lap at this stage but we again tried to push that stint as far as we could so I wasn’t worried when he was catching up these couple of laps.
Q. Jenson tell us about the start first of all?
JB: Well as we all do I have watched the footage from the last five year here and the inside line has always the best into Turn One so it was my aim to get to the inside as quick as possible. I even had a little go at Lewis down the inside and then I heard an almighty racket down the outside and (turns to Heidfeld) what shall we call you now?
NH: Lotus Renault GP.
JB: …it was the two Lotus Renault GPs. They had an amazing start, but also the guys did a great job into Turn One. I was in a safe place on the inside but I obviously lost a position to Nick. Then we got underway and I realised I had been very conservative with my front wing angle. I think we are all trying to look after the tyres and I backed out too much front wing and I was really struggling at the front end. Sometimes that can also cause degradation of the rear as you have to put in so much steering lock and then when you get on the power with steering lock it causes oversteer. That was why my first stint was not very good, then every stint from then on I improved. A good day. Good points, an exciting race I am sure to watch. I don’t think anyone really knew who was going to finish behind Seb and nice to get 18 points on the board.
Q. And you had the Ferraris behind you at the end of that first stint. How close were they and did that precipitate your pit-stop?
JB: With these tyres as soon as they go, they go. It is what they are supposed to do and it is exactly what they do do. As I said I had the wrong balance on the first stint and I thought that the rears would be okay but they went off a lot earlier than I expected. I didn’t expect the Ferraris and the Lotus Renault GP to be as consistent as they were and our degradation was bigger so made a few set-up changes in the stops and improved from there. But a big thanks to the guys. They made some really good calls in the pit-stop. The first race of the season we had a good race and this is again a step forward in terms of performance in qualifying and the race. We’ve just got to hope it keeps happening as we can’t let the Red Bulls have it their own way for much longer. Our aim is to challenge these guys, but it is not easy. They are very, very fast.
Q. How hard did you push to try and jump Lewis, or did that just happen?
JB: He had a long stop, but obviously I also wanted to jump him, because on my third stint of the race, I was behind him, and I felt I could have gone quicker, and I think on the last stint I really felt good on the prime tyre and I could pull out a really big gap on the rest of the field, and try to chase down Seb, but he was just too quick, but I had to have a go.
Q. Nick, quite a lively race. Jenson said it was quite confusing; was it for you?
NH: No, not at all. I think it’s easier if you have a good start from the back to see what the guys in front of you are doing. I was kind of lucky that there was enough space on the outside opening up for me just to concentrate on a good braking point. I not only had a good start, but also a good braking into turn one and managed to secure second position.
Q. And how hard was Mark pushing at the end there?
NH: He came close, there were big, big steps. I guess he was on quite fresh tyres but then he must also have started to get some degradation and luckily that was enough to keep him behind me. On top of that, you know that we have KERS and I tried to use it, not for lap time but more for defending, and I don’t think he had KERS, did he? Did he have problems towards the end? That’s what I was told. That was a big help for us in defending.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Livio Oricchio – O Estado do Sao Paulo) To all drivers, Formula One is a little difficult to understand. In qualifying, some teams are one second slower than in race conditions where everyone is together. Can you comment on that?
SV: Racing has changed. I think the big secret is to be on top of your tyres all the time. If you told everyone that on lap 11 or lap nine for instance, please go as fast as you can, it would probably look a little bit different. On the other hand, you try naturally to go as fast as you can but also at the same time try to look after your tyres, trying to predict what is going to happen. Obviously, you know strategy-wise what is your sort of plan, how many laps you need to achieve etc etc. There are a lot of tactics going on. Sometimes you’re holding back, other times you’re pushing flat out, so, therefore, I think the gaps between the cars, how quick people go, who’s quickest on whatever lap might change quicker than what we are used to seeing. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons, from my point of view.
JB: Yes, I totally agree. We’re all trying to find a pace that we think is right for consistency but also speed, and it’s very tricky to find that balance. I was a little bit surprised, personally, in the first stint, how quick the Lotus Renaults were, and, also, I was surprised by the Ferraris. But I got a bit more of a handle on it in the second and third stints and I think we had pretty good pace.
NH: Adding to what was said, probably some cars are better on long runs than others. That’s what will be more crucial this year with the Pirelli tyres, because there’s more degradation. It seems we already had a better pace in the race in Melbourne than we had in qualifying. On top of that, I think this weekend was not easy for us because we lost a lot of time on Friday and we definitely didn’t have the perfect set-up and there’s probably a bit more to gain there in the future.
Q.(Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Jenson, you and Lewis had different strategies with the tyres, he went onto the hard tyres earlier than you. Was there any reason for that?
JB: I think it was the preference of the tyres after qualifying. I think he flat-spotted a tyre in qualifying and that meant that he would run on the prime tyre. I don’t know what we feel now, but before the race we felt that the tyres were very, very similar in terms of pace, but also in terms of the degradation, which was very surprising. For me, strangely, I had a much better balance with the prime and I was quicker on the prime compared to everyone. So it worked for me, but maybe that was just the balance I had on the car.
Q. (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Moto und Sport) Sebastian, halfway through the race, your engineer asked you not to use KERS any more. First of all, what was the problem and secondly it seemed from that moment on you were half a second quicker per lap?
SV: That didn’t work, then! Yes, correct, at some stage he told me not to use KERS, then we activated it again. I don’t know what was the problem. Obviously, something was wrong, otherwise, as I have said many times, it’s lap time. Obviously, as I tried to explain before, I think it’s very difficult to read the true pace. At some stage, in the third stint, I think, so my last stint on options, I was lapping a second a lap quicker than Lewis for two or three laps, I think. At that stage, I don’t think I used KERS, I think that’s the time you are talking about. But surely, I can assure you that not running KERS, for us, is a disadvantage. As I tried to explain, we worked very hard and we got it working, but in the race something happened, I don’t quite yet know what it was but we used it for the majority (of the race) and I don’t think pace has anything to do with it… especially turning it off and then going quicker, has anything to do with that.
Q. (Joris Fioriti – AFP) To all of you: do you think high degradation tyres have really brought more show to F1, because it looked very confusing and somehow messy for the spectators. And secondly, especially to Jenson and Nick, do you think that Sebastian Vettel will be the man to beat this year, to become World Champion?
JB: At this moment in time, yes, is the answer, I concur with you regarding Sebastian being the person to beat. He’s got a 24-point lead and that’s a lot after two races, but there are still another 17 to go, maybe 18.
SV: You have already calculated that in the car?
JB: I know everything. You should be careful, right! Of course, the Red Bulls’ pace is very good. He’s won two races out of two and nobody else has been consistent, first off. I think in terms of pace we, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team are the second best but I think we need to find some improvements. That’s in the pipeline. It’s exciting for us that we’ve made some good improvements already and hopefully in China we can make a really good race of it. From what I heard, the race was pretty good. There were people all over the place which is good, isn’t it? Was it better or not? I was in the car, I don’t know. It is complicated, and I think at this point of the season it’s going to be because there’s a lot that we’re trying to learn ourselves on the circuit. If we had one tyre for the whole race and didn’t have pit stops, would it be exciting? I don’t know. I think that it’s the correct thing to do, to make the tyres that they have and I think Pirelli have done a great job of actually getting tyres that have degradation in the time that they’ve had to build these tyres. I think that in the time they’ve had to build these tyres they’ve done a very good job. I think it made the racing exciting today. For me, I didn’t know who was going to finish behind Seb. I did in the end, which is great. I think it’s working well and I think that as the season goes on we will realise and understand the tyres a little bit more every race. The races will calm down, but hopefully not too much. Hopefully, they will still be exciting.
SV: Well, regarding the up and down, Jenson described how he struggled on the first stint, he was very happy in the last stint. Within one race, with a different set of tyres, there were some things that you can fine tune in the car. Potentially, that can make a big difference. The fact that if you feel comfortable in one stint compared to the other, it can make a difference in pace. Regarding the show, it’s hard for all of us to judge because we are very busy with our own race and looking after our own tyres but I think there are more battles going on, and that’s obviously something people want to see. For all us, I think there’s a lot to pick up and a lot to learn, because there are so many things going on: more than one stop. So the racing has changed. Obviously, if you look at the race speed, the lap times compared to last year, we are much slower. In qualifying, the difference is not that big, but in the race there’s quite a difference. There are some things you lose, there are other things you gain, so it’s always give and take.
NH: I think both things are true. It’s probably more complicated to understand from the outside, but at the same time the show’s better, because for sure there was more overtaking going on. I think it’s quite easy to answer that. Regarding Vettel and Red Bull being the team to beat, I think that’s also obvious. They’ve been the quickest for the first two races. I think McLaren have done a very good job, having finished where they have in the first two races, compared to winter testing, but I also like the fact that I’m asked, being a Lotus Renault driver, if it’s the team to beat. Unfortunately, at the moment, I think we are a bit too far behind. On the other hand, we made some good progress, we finished two races on the podium, so we hope to keep the momentum going.
Q. (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Sebastian, last year in the first two races you had a technical problem in Bahrain and you gave away a win. In Australia you had a problem with the front brakes. Now you have won two races out of two; how different is your approach to these two races?
SV: No difference. Obviously, what happened in Australia, what happened here today was good but that’s two out of 19. I can’t calculate as quick as Jenson, but I will take it a bit easier. He was obviously good at maths. Shame he became a racing driver then! Obviously, there’s a long, long way to go. I don’t have to tell you, from the experience that I have: ask Jenson, two years ago, how important it is to have a good start to the season. Ask Michael. I think he had a couple of good starts to the season. Every point you can take on board is important and how important, we’ve seen the last couple of years where the championship has been decided by not much, only a few points, so every point you can take, the better it is. For what we did in Australia, and what we did here, we can be very proud. We have worked very hard and we have a very strong package, but that’s it. Tomorrow, we focus on the next race. I’m sure the boys are very happy but they are already packing up and getting ready for the next one so step by step: there’s a long long way to go, a lot of things can change. We’ve seen within 10 days how the pace can vary. It was much tighter here than in Australia. Some people were already talking of brutal dominance or whatever. I tried not to read anything and we came here and it was completely different. That’s just two races in. I don’t think I need to explain how many things can change. Look at last year. I think Fernando is a very good example. People wrote him out of the championship, he came back, then they wrote him off again, he came back and he was the favourite going into the last race. It will be very similar this year, I guess. It’s all about being consistent and getting your stuff together and making sure you use everything you have.
Q. (Sarah Holt – BBC Sport) Jenson, Sebastian has spoken about the season ahead. How important was it for you to kick start your championship push here and be the man chasing Sebastian?
JB: Yes, it was very important. The first race didn’t really go my way. It was a frustrating race and I made a mistake and got a drive-through for it and had to find my way back through. So, it was just one of those races really. But the pace of the car was very good, I was happy with the performance and in the race also. So, I came here looking for a good result and until the last lap I was still trying to fight for the victory. I know it was a long shot but you’ve got to give it a go. I’m happy to take away 18 points. It gives me confidence not just to come away with second place, but the feeling of the car is good. We need to improve, but the feeling of the car is good and that’s important to me. We’ve only got a few days before the next race, but we’re doing everything we can to make the small improvements and the details that we can and hopefully have a better race in China.