DRIVERS: Charles PIC (Marussia), Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus), Daniel RICCIARDO (Toro Rosso), Jenson BUTTON (McLaren), Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull), Mark WEBBER (Red Bull).
Charles, it’s looking like a pretty tough initiation for you into Formula One with no testing of the new car, brand new car tomorrow. Tell us what your thoughts are.
Charles PIC: Yes, we have had not so much driving but we made an ad day in Silverstone for the shakedown and everything went fine. So looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully it will be dry to have some kilometres.
Charles, how important has it been to have the mileage in the old car?
CP: Yeah, very important. I made two days in Barcelona. We were able to make many laps so it was just great for me. It was very, very helpful.
Was it a big step up from GP2 to Formula One?
CP: Yes, of course, you have much more things to do and you have to understand in a very short space of time.
Kimi, welcome back. How much has Kimi changed in the two years that you’ve been doing WRC? And how much has your driving changed during that time?
Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN: Oh, I don’t know really. I don’t think a lot, a little bit older, that’s all. It’s the same really.
Has it been good to be back in a Formula One car again?
KR: Yeah, it was nice. It really hasn’t changed a lot, the car feels pretty similar, the tyres are slightly different but I was expecting to have more difficulties with them but they seem pretty good, especially when they are new – but of course they will wear out a bit faster but it’s been nice to drive.
We’ve seen pretty good pace from you and Romain Grosjean your team-mate, how real is that pace?
KR: We could probably have gone a bit faster if we wanted but I don’t know what the others are doing. The car feels good, the lap time at least in testing was OK – whether it’s enough we will see over the weekend and over the next races but so far it has been OK.
Daniel, obviously your home race, how big is this race? Was your first Formula One race bigger or is this it?
Daniel RICCIARDO: I think the first one last year in Silverstone was still pretty hectic. I think not having the preparation as I have at the start of this year probably made it a bit more intense. I’ve had a lot of media attention the last couple of days but I think the on-track stuff was, or will be, more intense in Silverstone. But yeah, I understand what Mark means about the attention here. It’s pretty full-on but it’s been nice, really supportive. And hopefully I’ll just get out on track and do a good job over the weekend.
You’re obviously with a new team with Scuderia Toro Rosso and in testing it looked as if it’s pretty good, certainly the first test looked pretty good, perhaps less so since then. What are your feelings about the team?
DR: It’s a good opportunity for me this year, it’s progress from last year and we’ll be fighting further up the grid. I think it’s hard to know where we are. From what I see the top teams are still going to be more or less the top teams or at least the top two or three but the midfield does seem a bit more tight. So yeah, I think everyone showed signs of potential but until Saturday qualifying and Sunday racing we probably won’t know where we all really stand. But I think realistically we’re still in the group we were in last year but it does seem like it’s closed up. So there’s probably more opportunity to leapfrog a few.
Mark, your eleventh Australian Grand Prix – just to remind you if you didn’t know – and also of course you were the winner of the last grand prix as well, though it was some time ago, how are you feeling coming into this one?
Mark WEBBER: Good, yeah! We had a pretty good winter, the team worked incredibly hard so we need to see how it’s going to unveil this weekend obviously, and then Malaysia is just around the corner, so we have two big races, we’re going to get a really good snapshot of the performances of the cars, and we feel like we’ve done pretty well but we have McLaren and Ferrari and Lotus and Mercedes, lots of good guys doing well so it’s going to be very exciting and difficult to see who’s going to do the business until we get going.
As an honest opinion, is it nervousness or excitement or apprehension – how do you start a new season like this?
MW: Probably a little bit of all of that. I think there’s a little bit of rust in all the teams, obviously we haven’t raced for a while so you’re looking at pit stops and strategy and drivers because we haven’t competed for a while. So, that’s always interesting to get on top of that at the first grand prix. I think we’re all just looking forward to getting our helmets on and getting on with it now. Obviously we’ve been talking about it for nine weeks now, about who’s doing what and we’re just sick of talking about it and want to get out there and get on with it.
Sebastian, a previous winner here and twice on pole. How much emphasis has there been in testing on qualifying pace? We get the feeling that we haven’t seen qualifying pace in testing and yet I would have thought for you it was very important last year in the races that you won.
Sebastian VETTEL: I think, no doubt, qualifying is always very important. It’s usually easier when you start from the front so yeah, I think generally as the other drivers said already it was difficult to read testing one hundred per cent – so we’ve got a feeling: first of all it’s important to have a good feeling about yourself, about the car, how you feel in the car. We were quite happy with that, surely it didn’t always go to plan but overall we can be happy and as I said it’s unknown at this stage what is going to happen. It’s good to finally be here and only a couple of days before we really find out.
When is going to be the first indication? Very often people say ‘you won’t know until Melbourne’ and then we get to Melbourne and they say ‘wait until qualifying’ or then it’s the race. When exactly is it?
SV: It’s the same again. I think nothing has changed to be honest. Now, we say after qualifying we will know a bit more and surely then you need to see. This is the first race, there are many more to come. This track is very different to, let’s say, a ‘normal’ race track, such as the track we have been to a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona. So, tomorrow we will not know that much more regarding the pace. Surely the guys who will be on top will be the ones to beat. Again, we will give you the same answers. You don’t know about fuel etc. Really, we have to wait until Saturday and then it’s the first couple of races that will show you a trend. Sooner than that is really not possible.
Quite a lot has been made about you chasing a third title. Have you thought about that at all?
SV: I’m here to win the championship, so that’s the target. Whether it’s the third or not wouldn’t make a difference. Well, it would but… it would be a nice thing but as I said the reason we’re here is to race and to win and the season is long, so there are a lot of races to come.
Jenson, like Sebastian and Kimi you’ve won here before, you’ve had two wins actually. You made your debut here as well. What are your feelings about the Australian Grand Prix?
Jenson BUTTON: First of all, I think it’s exciting for us all to start a new season. You do all the hard work over the winter of testing and what have you, and I think we all get very excited about coming to the first race in Melbourne. It’s the perfect place to start the F1 season. It’s good to be here. I’ve always enjoyed driving around Albert Park from the first time I drove here, and there have been a couple of special occasions for me, in ’09 and 2010. It’s nice to be back and nice to come here having had a good winter as well. The last couple of years have been a little bit tricky for us over the winter but this winter everything seems to have gone to plan. It’s difficult to know where we stand, as everyone has said, but I’m happy with what we’ve done.
And at least you’re going to hit the ground running at the start?
JB: We hope so, yes. You know, everyone always says it’s important to get points on the board at the start of the year. We all know that, it’s not a new thing.
What do you think about having two DRS zones here this year?
JB: I think it’s great. If you have a good DRS system it’s good for you and ours is pretty good. You always think that if you’re quick enough you don’t want DRS because you’re leading the race but if you’re a little bit further back in the pack it’s good to have two zones. Whether it’s going to make much of a difference I don’t know. The one DRS zone here (last year) was… some of us complained that it wasn’t good enough to overtake but I think it was the right amount. It made overtaking tricky, which is what it should be, but it gave you the opportunity. So we’ll have to wait and see what the two zones do.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Simon Cass – Daily Mail) For the three guys who’ve won the world title up to now. Could you just tell me who your grand prix hero is? And Kimi, if you decide you want to say you still haven’t got a hero, then could just tell me who you admired when you were coming up through the ranks?
SV: Kimi to start!
KR: I still don’t have one! Of course, I was hoping for good results for Finns but I didn’t really… it didn’t make any difference who won it then. There wasn’t one guy I hoped for or was looking up to so…
SC: Nice try…
JB: Do you still want ours or not?
SV: Obviously, when I was growing up, and I think similar to a lot of kids at that age in Germany, we were admiring Michael [Schumacher]. He was our hero, he was my hero. I had posters of him on my wall. And when I got a bit older I took them off and put some other posters on the wall, but anyway… So I was looking up to Michael but there have been and there are a lot of great drivers. For sure for me Michael is one of them.
JB: For me, it was a little bit earlier than Michael. For me it was Ayrton [Senna] and Alain [Prost] back in the early ’80s, because that’s when I started watching Formula One, at seven or eight years old. Obviously ‘Our Nige’ [Nigel Mansell] has got to be up there, just for the moustache more than anything else. But yeah, it’s difficult. Those are the guys I watched when I was younger. I suppose you get some inspiration from them and you want to be like them in the future. That’s obviously a lot of our aims.
Q: (Fulvio Solms – Corriere dello Sport) A question for Kimi. In this your second career, what do you bring from your experience at Ferrari?
KR: I don’t think this is my second career. I’ve been racing all the time, just in a different thing. I’ve been racing at a few different teams and all the teams run a slightly different way, mainly because they are all different nationalities, but you always learn from all the people and all of the teams and I have good memories, most of the time, of the teams. I try to get things in the team how I know I like it and I’m very happy with the team, they’ve been great people to work with – easygoing, no real need to change anything, and just if you like to do something differently, they’re happy to try to do it that way and it’s just been a good experience.
Q: Paolo Ianieri (La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, in 2007, when you started your first race with Ferrari, you won here; it was quite a big surprise. In winter testing, you have been very fast and many people have been saying you could be the surprise here this year as well. Do you think this is something we can expect, or are you ruling that out?
KR: Like I said before, I have no idea where we are going to be. We had a good winter, it could have been better but hopefully we are fast. We will know during the weekend but I think that many teams will be fast so… Are we going to be in the front? I don’t know, we hope we are going to be but let’s wait and see.
Q: (Julien Febreau – L’Equipe) For all of you: what do you think about the new noses of Formula One cars, from the onboard point of view and as a viewer? Is it a shame for TV viewers or spectators?
JB: Ours looks great.
MW: You can’t see the nose from the cockpit so it doesn’t matter if it’s last year or this year, you can’t see it. Honestly. You laugh, but you can’t see it so it doesn’t really matter. Even if the front wing is not on the car we can’t see it so… we’re very low in the car as I found out in Monza last year. The looks? Yeah, they look ugly, for sure. That’s disappointing. Adrian (Newey) always make beautiful cars. I still think ours looks better than the McLaren but the McLaren looks nice but we will see which one gets the most champagne. It’s an ugly regulation but that’s the way most of the teams have gone.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) This isn’t a new completely new question but it would be interesting to hear from you about the regulations regarding your positioning on the track. You can change position once but when you come back to your original position, you must leave room for your competitor. Will it be easy to judge that, and for you, the drivers, how can you manage it?
SV: I think generally with this whole rule debate, whatever, I don’t think anything has changed, to be honest. Yes, there’s a little bit more in writing but I always found that there’s a code of honour, if you like, or a gentlemen’s agreement. If you’re racing someone, I think you are allowed to race him hard but you should always give him enough room. Surely, here and there you might disagree but I think most of the time it has worked and people raced fairly against each other, so I don’t see that the rule will change much, to be honest. It’s not natural to… you’re not racing to push someone off. You’re trying to defend your position if someone tries to overtake and equally, you’re trying to overtake if someone tries to defend, then you at least expect to have enough (room) to survive.
JB: I don’t think anything’s changed for us. We had that rule last year anyway, it just wasn’t in writing, but it’s the case for us for a couple of years now.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Kimi, you have come here with many new cars. Compared to 2004, let’s say, McLaren, 2009, Ferrari, is this better or worse? How do you feel?
KR: Usually you have a new car here every year, so it’s not a big surprise. I don’t know, it’s different tyres, the car feels very similar in the test to what I remember in the past. You have DRS, it’s just a button that you push, it doesn’t really change the driving itself a lot. It feels similar, I don’t have very good things to compare, really, because it’s a few years since I last drove a Formula One car. It doesn’t feel much different.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) We will have six World Champions in this year’s championship but no Italian drivers. Most of you raced in Italy in go-karts or drove for an Italian team. May I have a short explanation about this situation, why it’s so difficult for the Italians to grow up and come into Formula One?
MW: Daniel, yeah, exactly, Daniel. You have an Italian passport Daniel or not?
DR: (Speaks mock American-Italian!) If you watched Family Guy you probably know what I’m talking about. I see a lot of things as coincidence. I haven’t been around long enough to know the reasons for it. Yeah, that’s probably the way I’ll see it. It’s not like the Italian drivers are doing anything wrong. There are two Australians on the grid now, a few people from other countries and whatnot. I don’t know the answer. I lived in Italy as well and raced there and the competition was always fierce and there were some Italian drivers at the top but there were also a lot of other European guys and whatnot. For me, it’s probably more just coincidence. I don’t know if there’s any more intelligence behind it.
SV: When I was in karting and I raced in Italy it was always the toughest challenge to go to Italy and race the guys there but there were a lot of Italian drivers that I admired when I was young throughout the classes: in my class but also in the higher classes. I don’t really understand… maybe it’s the Italian industry not being open enough to spend money on young talents. I don’t know. If I compare to Germany, generally I think you will have years when you have, I don’t know, three German drivers, no French drivers, then four or five French drivers and no German drivers, five English drivers. So it changes. Last year we had complaints from French journalists that we didn’t have a French driver. This year we have three French drivers in Formula One. This is how quickly it changes. It’s a shame to see on one hand that there are a lot talents from Italy, young drivers. I remember a lot of guys I raced against. It was pretty impressive what they did but then not to see them in the junior categories in single-seaters, so throughout BMW, Formula Three and later on. The problem is that motor sport became – always has been – but lately became quite expensive, so you really need the support from early on. I think motorbikes are quite big in Italy and there’s a lot of drivers from Italy in MotoGP for instance, but not necessarily in Formula One.
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez – Agencia EFE) Kimi, you’ve been in Formula One for many years and the last two years you’ve been watching from the outside; what do you like the best from Formula One and what is the worst for you?
KR: I didn’t see much in the last few years so, like I said, it’s the same people, similar stuff going on. In my mind, it hasn’t really changed a lot. I have nothing really to comment on that.
Q: (Alex Popov – RTR) I just saw Daniel take a picture, I suppose it will be Tweeted. It is not as extreme as Brad Keselowski from the car during Daytona but… But Seb, why don’t you Tweet? Come on!
SV: I don’t like it. There are some good new technologies but I prefer to talk to people.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Kimi, if Formula One is so far from you that you didn’t even watch the race, why did you come back?
KR: I had other things to do than watch the races. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like the sport. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be here. I always liked the sporting and the racing but like I said, I was busy doing other stuff. I watched some races when I was home and it was on TV, but I didn’t try to go to the TV and watch it somewhere, like it was something I had to do. I’m happy to be back, like I said, otherwise I wouldn’t have come back but I like the racing in Formula One.
Q: (Wei An Mao – La Vie Creative) I would like to ask all of you if you like Melbourne and do you think it’s important to keep Australia on the calendar?
MW: Of course, yes. I think it’s in the top three on the calendar. I think that we should work hard to keep it here. I don’t think there’s many people who don’t like coming here. Of course the flight’s a little bit long but once you’re here it’s a pretty good place. It’s a very well organised event. It’s one of the few events where Bernie actually trusts the organisation to have lots of different categories racing in amongst the Formula One schedule, which you can hear now on Thursday and there’s still stuff going on. It’s the same on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Definitely one of the best events of the year, so we need to keep the best events because not all the races we go to are like this.
SV: I think it’s a great race like Mark said. Obviously it’s his home Grand Prix but I think that for most of us Australia is far away but it’s definitely part of the calendar and should always be. I think the people here are very enthusiastic about racing, very passionate and I think it needs Formula One. It’s a great place to be and I’m looking forward to being here but also to come back in the future.
JB: Yup. I totally agree. This is the best place to start the season, it really is. I heard of talk of it possibly being somewhere else in Australia – I don’t know if that is true – but personally I love Melbourne. I think it’s a great way to start the season. The circuit’s obviously very different to most circuits we drive – it’s a street circuit – but it’s a lot of fun, I’ve had some good years here.
CP: Yes, for me, it was the first time here in Melbourne and in Australia, very nice city, very nice parks to do some sport in, and a very nice track, so it’s all very nice and I’m looking forward to driving the track tomorrow.
MR: It’s a nice place to come, nice race usually, exciting races, things happen and hopefully it stays. As Mark says, it’s a bit far away to come but once you’re here it’s OK.
DR: Yeah, of course, I’m all for it. Yeah, any excuse to come back to your home country but to have a race here is amazing. I think it’s a great city. I’ve spent quite a few years racing karts here as a kid, so it was always a nice event to come to Melbourne. I did drive the track last year in P1. I thought the circuit was very good as well. I’m a fan of street circuits, it’s bumpy, it’s close to walls, it’s got good character, so there’s a lot reasons why it should stay. Now that I’ve given Mark some support on the Australian front, hopefully it will stay a bit longer.
Q: (Matt Coch – pitpass.com) Following the track thread a bit, you guys have all had long careers and driven on a number of different circuits. If you could pick one circuit, taking the event out of equation, just picking one circuit, what’s your favourite track – ever?
JB: Wow, that’s a tough one. Obviously you’d look at most on the F1 calendar for your best track. For me I love the fast flowing circuits, I think we all do, like Spa or Suzuka but also circuits on other calendars. Macau is crazy to drive in an F3 car, good experiences there. And some other circuits in karting. It’s difficult to pick one.
CP: For me, I think it’s Nurburgring and Barcelona.
DR: I think that out of the F1 calendar I think Macau as well. I would definitely vote to race an F1 around there. I think it would be awesome.
SV: I’ve got more than one. The question was name your favourite one. I don’t have only one so…
[Images via LAT and Sutton Images]
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