Belgian Grand Prix drivers press conference
25 August, 2011
Aug.25 (FIA) Drivers press conference ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, round 12 of the 2011 Formula 1 world championship featuring: Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), Jerome D’Ambrosio (Virgin), Vitaly Petrov (Renault), Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), Bruno Senna (Renault), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Q: Bruno, how ready are you for your return and what about coming back here at this particular circuit?
Bruno Senna: Well, it is going to be a big challenge to come back into the middle of the season – or a bit later than the middle of the season – into racing but I have been participating in all the meetings with the engineers so I have been very much up to date with what is going on in the team. The Friday in Hungary was very useful for me to get a feel for the car and get a feel for how the car can go. But, of course, it is going to be a big uphill battle to get up to the level of these guys who have been racing for 11 races now. The fact that it is here, in Spa, is very special. It is my favourite circuit and a circuit that historically I have done very well on so I am really looking forward to it. I hope I can progress fast and hopefully do a good job for these guys because it is the best way to appreciate the opportunity that they are giving me.
Q: And, of course, you’ve driven a Formula One car around here quite recently in May. There is, I believe, photographic evidence of that.
BS: Yes, it was also good too. Every time you can drive the car recently it makes it easier for you to learn. It was for a demonstration, only a few laps, but still great to have a better reference than from my previous references and hopefully this time it will be a more serious run.
Q: What can you expect from yourself really this weekend?
BS: It is hard to say. Friday was very tough, Friday in Hungary was really, really difficult but again I only had one set of tyres. I know I will be having to learn how to deal with the tyres from the first set all the way to the sets in qualifying and then again learning how to deal with the tyres for the race as that will be my first experience with the Pirelli tyres on high fuel going to low fuel. All this experience I don’t have so if I can be anywhere near Petrov that would be a good reference.
Q: Jerome, your local race. What are your expectations?
Jerome D’Ambrosio: Well it is something special to be here definitely. For 17 years there were no Belgian drivers in F1 and Spa so coming back here is special. I felt it. It has been busy days for me with the first press conference for the grand prix back on the 10th of August. There is a lot of enthusiasm about me being here. Now on the other side I just have to keep on doing my job, stay focussed. I will just try to do the best. There is not much more we can do. I will just focus on getting the maximum out of the car. Hopefully the weather can play for us a little bit and then we will see.
Q: So what are your hopes for the Belgian weather?
JD: Well, a bit of drizzle in the race would not be a bad thing for us.
Q: What are your thoughts about the second half of the season and perhaps your thoughts on staying on with the team for next year?
JD: Well, first of all the break was something good. I think that as a rookie you take a lot of information in within a very short period of time and it is nice to have a break not thinking about Formula One. Then it is kind of a natural processing of all the information you have taken in during a couple of months. That is something good before the last eight races so I am looking forward to these eight races. I really wish to make another step and really put into application what I have learnt over the last 11. Now with the team I am really happy. I think they are happy about me as well so definitely at the moment we are speaking and hopefully we will be able to work together again next year.
Q: Sebastien, I believe you had a pleasant break in the United States during August. Tell us about that?
Sebastien Buemi: Yes, I went to Orlando and then to Miami for a few days. I came back on the 14th to go back into training for at least a week to prepare as well as possible for Spa. The rest of the season as we know, Singapore and all the next races, are going to be very hot and you have got to be fit. It was a good break and I could enjoy myself a bit but it is very good to be back here as Spa is a fantastic circuit.
Q: Things seem to be going a little bit better over the last two or three races. Perhaps you can just explain that. Obviously you have qualified 16th here for the last two years, well that’s where you have started, and you have also finished 12th here so presumably you are hoping for better. But tell us about the improvement in the car.
SB: We have been working really hard with the team to try and improve the car as much as possible. I would say the last race in Budapest was really good for us as we finished eighth and tenth so we scored a lot of points for the team. Hopefully now we can have a good weekend as well. We know in Spa everything is possible with the weather and also that can change really quickly. I think we have got some new stuff on the car which will help us as well so hopefully we will be able to use the maximum out of it and score points again.
Q: So quite hopeful of improving on that 16th in qualifying and 12th in the race?
SB: Yes. I mean we know that qualifying is important but not as much as in the past so even if we qualify there the race is really long and everything is possible. I am really looking forward to the race and score points at the end so even if I have to start at the back of the grid or not the best position I will not think too much about it. But it is really important to have a good base and if you have got it then you can finish well.
Q: Vitaly, a new team-mate. How is that going to affect you? Will it affect you at all?
Vitaly Petrov: First of all, congratulations Bruno. I know he has signed for the next two races. For me I think it doesn’t matter now who is my team-mate. I know what I need to do. I know how I need to improve the car so I will just do my job.
Q: And your feelings about this circuit as, for example, Renault was third on the grid here last year. You went from 23rd to ninth here last year. What are your feelings about this track?
VP: I like this track. I had very good battle with Mercedes with Michael and Nico (Rosberg) last year. Now it is very difficult to say where we will be right now. We bring some new good parts here. We bring some upgrades. We hope these upgrades will work here and we know our car likes this track so we will try our best.
Q: Michael, a big weekend for you. A 20th anniversary. Can you imagine, could you have imagined 20 years ago that you would still be here?
Michael Schumacher: Could you? You’ve been here 20 years ago, haven’t you?
Q: I’m afraid so, yes. But I don’t have to be as fit as you.
MS: Well it is an unusual situation and certainly not something to be expected from the beginning but proud to be here and glad. As I often call it, it’s my living room and a very particular place that lots of things, great things and special things, have happened. It is obviously a perfect scenario to celebrate this moment.
Q: Just looking back at the six wins plus one, but interesting that only one pole position. Is there a reason for that or just circumstance?
MS: In the end of the day there is no reason for this. Neither there is for other race tracks where I had more pole positions. I don’t think it is anything to do other than with having certain characteristics of cars that maybe suit some tracks and other tracks less. In terms of statistics if you look at the number of pole positions or race wins I don’t think it is up on the driver that you are particularly strong or weak in one or the other it is more adapting and having the package available for doing one or the other.
Q: And obviously it worked well with wins, particularly with the six wins.
Q: Looking forward to this weekend, the team has said they feel the car is well suited to the track. What are your thoughts on that?
MS: Well I mean we always feel this and indeed it is what it is. We have to face the reality and the reality is that at the moment we are sort of the fourth strongest team and the gaps to the front are unfortunately too big to battle with those guys unless there are unusual circumstances. Maybe this track potentially suits us a little bit more but the gaps are too big to really make an impression to the guys up front so seventh and eighth that’s our possible target that we can achieve and that’s what we are going to aim for.
Q: Sebastian, a good break? Can we ask how you recharged your batteries?
Sebastian Vettel: I think I did what most people do in their holidays. I didn’t work. I had a good time off trying to forget a little bit about Formula One. Just doing the usual things, enjoying the sun, enjoying the weather, good food, moving a lot, so yes enjoyed the fresh air, enjoyed the summer. After I think Hungary, which was unusual, and Nurburgring especially and England I think it was a good call.
Q: Is this a circuit that will return Red Bull to winning form?
SV: We will see. It is not our favourite circuit as there are a lot of straights here, more than on most of the other tracks. There are some corners but they are all in sector two, so sector one and three is quite difficult. We have seen that in the past but I think generally we had a very good car around here, the last two years especially so I am looking forward. It is a very nice track all in all and looking forward to the weekend. The last couple of races we know we might not have been on the top of our game but I think we have understood, learnt quite a lot so we will see where we are this weekend.
Questions from the floor
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agencia EFE) Michael, congratulations first of all. I would like to know how big the step was between what you thought Formula One was in Spa 1991 and what you already know in Spa 2011. Can you explain?
MS: You are talking about the development from the beginning to now mainly?
Q: Whatever you thought Formula One was before that race and whatever you know already?
MS: Well the main point is if you are not a Formula One driver, at least myself, I was doubtful whether my quality was good enough to compete with these guys. You see them as untouchables, especially in those moments where you had (Ayrton) Sennas, (Alain) Prosts, (Nigel) Mansells and so on. I didn’t really think I could match. Getting the first experience, coming over here and driving the car, I sought of quickly picked up the confidence that it was possible and from there on we all know. At the end of the day we are all humans, we all have limits and you drive within those and there is no reason why it is impossible to beat those guys in the past and neither these guys that are here right now. That’s the good thing about Formula One. It is always a challenge and it is always a motivating challenge that is great fun.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo The question is to both Renault drivers. You have a completely different car here. The exhaust goes to the back now more than to the side. It is a different concept than the car was projected and you didn’t test it. But can you imagine it can happen?
VP: Who said we have different car. We have quite similar.
Q (Inaudible question)
VP: No, no. It is first time here. We have some planning maybe to try rear exhaust, but both cars will be absolutely similar.
Q: (Pierre Van Vliet – F1 Magazine) Just one general question about the circuit. Is it a different challenge to cope with the longest race track of the championship. I mean, in qualifying, how difficult is it to put the three sectors together and to take care of the tyres.
SV: I was disturbed by Michael.
Q: Do you want to ask it again:
Q: (Pierre Van Vliet – F1 Magazine) I was talking about the fact that we are the longest race track of the season. How difficult is it to cope with the fact that it is a long lap, especially in qualifying. How do you put three sectors together and take care of the tyres in those conditions.
VP: I think it is a good time for thinking as it is a long lap and you can think when you want to come in and change your tyres. But, actually, or maybe me, I like it very much this track. I think it has a lot of interesting corners, high speed corners, and Eau Rouge you need to do flat. Last year it was with F-Duct, this year you need to hold with two hands, but I like it very much. And sometimes it is very interesting. In one place it is raining, in one place it is dry so it is always interesting to race here.
Q: So is it an issue the fact that it is seven kilometres, a very long circuit. Is that a bid deal or is it just normal? Sebastian?
SV: I like it. It is a long track. It could be even longer. I think that’s why in a way if it would be possible we would be delighted to race at the Nurburgring in the old circuit. The fact that the lap is longer here doesn’t make a big difference. We have a lot of straights, long straights, so enough time to recover. But sector two is the one that is most enjoyable as you have got all the corners there. As I said sector one and three there is only one corner really so it is one of the best tracks all year so I think we all love coming here.
MS: I think the basic is that we sort of manage to concentrate for a whole race, that is 300km, so we manage whether a track is five km or seven km is the same. It is not a big deal for us.
Q: (Julien Febreau – L’Equipe) Question for Bruno: could you tell us what the boss of Renault GP told you about the rest of the season, and will you keep the seat until the end of the season?
BS: Well, right now, I’m confirmed for this race and the next race but, for some legal issues still to be resolved, they can’t confirm the rest of the year or not. The intentions are that I do it but it still cannot be confirmed.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Michael, it’s been 20 years; what chance of you still being involved in Formula One in some capacity whether it be management or something in ten year’s time as well?
MS: Honestly, I’m not really intending, right now, because I’m fully focused and happy in what I’m doing. I have, in the past, never really expressed a wish to be in an operational area in terms of management or something, that’s not really the area, which I like. That might change in the far future but I can’t look far enough ahead to tell when that would be and if that would be.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Sebastian, you said that you had time to understand what happened in the last three races; what was the conclusion?
SV: Well, I think it’s no secret. I can understand that you’re quite curious now to find out what it was, but it was nothing, no secrets to reveal. Obviously, the last three races were pretty different in terms of conditions, especially Nurburgring was a bit of a surprise with very cold temperatures, whereas in the past, I think we have always been very competitive, but it was cold. It seemed that we were struggling more than others this year so it’s basic homework, nothing wrong that went on the car or nothing wrong with the car itself. So it’s just trying to get everything up to temperature quick enough where we seemed to struggle a little bit so, as I said, I think already for Hungary we made a step forward and now we go from there. Obviously, we’ve had no time to test in between so we can only analyse and think about those things which make more sense but we need to confirm them on the track.
Q: (Alexey Popov – VGTRK) Question to all five drivers – except Michael. It’s just about you! Can you remember, gentlemen, your first race with Michael, when you first saw him on TV or maybe as a spectator? And secondly, will you try to be more respectful than usual with him on Sunday?
BS: Well, the first time I saw Michael racing was Spa in 1991, on his debut in Formula One. I remember it pretty clearly when he had a really…
MS: How old were you??
BS: Um, eight?
Jd’A: How old are you?
BS: 27. Not that young any more. So I saw a great performance in qualifying but unfortunately he had a bit of a failure on his car up Eau Rouge, which denied him a good result but obviously he showed that he had great potential to fulfil in the following steps of his career.
Q: And will you show him respect?
BS: We’re racing aren’t we, so if it’s close racing or more distant, we will have to see, but we are fighting for every inch of the track and it’s a great privilege for me to be racing with him and hopefully he will be in a good position to be fighting for points.
Jd’A: Well, it wasn’t the best weekend actually. I was in the paddock at Imola in ’94 on Saturday and that was my first weekend in Formula One. Obviously, Michael was driving there.
BS: Will you show him any respect?
Jd’A: Well, I will really make sure he doesn’t lose… try not to lose a tenth when there’s a blue flag situation. I will really try hard on this weekend for him.
SB: For me, ’91 is a long time ago. I was a bit small, so I can’t really remember. I think the first races I really remember were ’94, ’95 when he was driving for Benetton.
VP: As you know, I started to watch Formula One very, very late because I was in my town to be honest, I never saw racing – I was racing myself but I never even knew what Formula One was, so I think I started to watch when Michael was battling with Alonso, at this time. And when I heard that he would stop racing, I was a little bit, you know… I said why? Because I wanted to race with him.
SV: I think Michael asked me to have some respect, so I’m not sure. I think the first time I was in touch with Michael was 1991 or 1992, probably as a toy car in kindergarten. I remember the first time I went to Hockenheim with my father to see free practice. We went all the way down to the first chicane. It was raining like crazy and Michael had this yellow Benetton at the time. To see a Formula One car and then to see Michael passing… he was probably just on an install lap, nothing spectacular but it was really very special. Unfortunately, nobody else went out because it was raining so hard. There was only a couple of cars but that was the first time that I remember. Obviously, after that there were a lot of races… when I was go-karting, Michael was sort of all the kids’ hero. When we had this race in Kerpen at the end of the season, he handed over the trophies and it was very special to see him, to meet him, to shake his hand and to get our trophies presented by him. Still there are some pictures from that time and to imagine now, to know what happened in the past and to see today that we are racing against each other in Formula One is quite crazy. Obviously, I have a lot of respect. It’s very special to me. As I said, he was the hero of my childhood. I can’t give you too much credit now, but I think he’s an OK driver.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Michael, in an interview with F1 Racing, you talk about pushing limits, occasionally going beyond the limits, during your early days, such as your battles with Damon Hill. Are you still able to find those limits and go beyond those limits these days, or are there different limitations physically, mentally etc?
MS: There are different limitations, yeah, by the rulebook, physically, because the rulebook always leaves you certain grey zones and leaves you clear guidelines at some moments. You have always to adapt to those guidelines and to those changes and that’s obviously the limits that you search for and occasionally you may overstep (those limits) and you may take the penalty for it.
Q: (Sven Haidinger – SportWoche) Sebastian, Force India and McLaren hired some Bridgestone tyre experts. Do you think that you’re missing something in that area with Red Bull?
SV: Well, no doubt tyres are very important but as I found out, we are on Pirelli tyres this year. Obviously, there are some people around who have quite a good understanding about tyres in general. We have some people on board and I’m happy with the people that we have in that area. There will always be some transfers. If it’s not drivers, then it will be engineers. That’s normal.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) To all of you, when we were in Istanbul earlier in the year, drivers spoke about their love for the track, yet it’s not going to be on the calendar next year. This week, lots of drivers have spoken about their love for Spa yet there are doubts about the future of this track. I just wonder if you find it disappointing that the quality of a track doesn’t seem to matter as much as how much a track or circuit can pay for a race?
SV: I think it would be a shame (if we lost this circuit), because there’s a lot of history here. Michael is the best example; Formula One has been here for a long, long time and I think it would be a shame to lose a circuit like that. Spa has made massive improvements for safety in the last few years. It fully deserves, from a driver’s point of view, to remain in the calendar for a longer time than all of us may be racing in Formula One.
Jd’A: I cannot follow what Sebastian just said there. I’m biased here, but it’s the best circuit in the world. The only circuit that I can compare it with is Suzuka really. They are the two circuits in the world that stand up above the others. The pleasure you get to drive a qualifying lap here and during the race… I can’t remember any race at Spa being boring, because of the lack of overtaking or anything. The fight with Mika and Michael at the end of the straight and then last year’s rain – there’s always something nice happening here so I wish that the circuit remains on the calendar for a long long time. As long as I’m in F1, I wish that every year I can drive on the track as it’s my home circuit so it’s also nice from that point of view.
SB: I think Sebastian and Jerome spoke well about it. It would be a shame if we lose a circuit because this is one of the best. At the end of the day we race where we have to race and we just concentrate on our job, but it’s definitely a pleasure to be here and there are always a lot of things happening and it’s definitely one of the best circuits and it would really be a shame…
MS: The fact of the matter is that if you go along the paddock, everybody wants to come back here. It has so much tradition, so much atmosphere and we all love this track. We would all love to be here, but unfortunately it’s not up to us to take this decision. If our word counts, you’re going to have it.
Q: (Walter Koster – Saabrucker Zeitung) Quite another question: Sebastian, do you remember my question last year; it’s the same time here. I can tell you; it was a question concerning the gift for the birthday of your friendly teammate. You intended to give him hair shampoo from the hotel. What will be the surprise on Saturday when it’s his 35th birthday?
SV: I don’t know. Maybe body lotion!
Q: (Bob McKenzie – Daily Express) There has been plenty to rejoice in the career, but when you look back, are there any regrets among the rejoicings and is there a high spot and a low spot?
MS: Certainly I guess in every person’s career, you look at it and you think well, what has happened, you take a summary, you almost make an account and I have to say in my case, taking the 20 years, taking everything that I’ve been doing…. certainly, going backwards, I would do certain things differently, but then in life you have to make some mistakes in order to understand it is a mistake and to sort of set your guidelines and, all in all, I guess the vest that I’m wearing, that I’m wearing inside me, is pretty white, and I’m pretty happy about this. I don’t have many regrets and overall, I certainly feel very excited and proud of what has happened.