DRIVERS – Jean-Eric VERGNE (Toro Rosso), Charles PIC (Marussia), Vitaly PETROV (Caterham), Pedro de la Rosa (HRT), Michael SCHUMACHER (Mercedes), Jenson BUTTON (McLaren)
Jean-Eric, this is a new circuit for you in Formula One but I understand you’ve raced here before? Jean-Eric VERGNE: Yeah, I think it’s my favourite track. I’m really happy to be here in F1, to learn this track in and F1 car. I found it amazing in Formula 3 and World Series. So I can’t wait to drive tomorrow in this car, it should be nice.
So you’ve been here in Formula 3 and World Series by Renault?
JEV: Yes. I won three races in F3 in the same weekend here and last year I won as well. I finished second and first. It’s generally a good track for me, so hopefully I make a good run here as well this weekend.
A lot of people feel that with the problem with the technical director at Toros Rosso that development might have finished but I understand that’s not the case.
JEV: So far everything is OK. The team is still pushing really hard. I don’t have much to say about it.
You have some updates here though?
JEV: Yeah we have some good updates. Well, I don’t know if they’re good, but we have some and also we’re testing some new things for next year’s car – front suspension. So, everything is still going on quite well in the team and we’re looking forward to this weekend.
Charles, obviously you’ve raced the first half of the season – how do you feel it’s gone as far as you’re concerned?
Charles PIC: Quite good. I am quite happy about my first half of the season. Everything was new for me. So, first races were not easy because everything was new and there were a lot of things to learn. But I am quite happy with my progress and quite happy with the team’s progress because the start of the year was not easy. We were not able to make the winter tests. They worked really hard and made a lot of improvements and even if you cannot always… it’s not easy to see because the position is not changing but we are trying to close the gap. So, really looking forward to the second part of the season and to updates coming from the summer, so we’ll see how it is and on my side I will be focused to keep pushing hard and improving myself.
I guess you measure yourself on your team-mate obviously but also on the people either side of you and in front of you. Are you happy with the gap between yourselves and Caterham?
CP: Yes, we are not in the position yet to fight with them but it was much closer for the last two races – Hockenheim and Budapest. It’s great and I hope that with the update it will be even closer this weekend.
Vitaly, the one problem you’ve had so far is qualifying in relation to your team-mate, whereas in the races you seem to have beaten him. Is that something you intend to tackle in the second half of the season?
Vitaly PETROV: Of course I will try my best. What is good is that I know the problem, so we will try to fix this problem in the second half of the season, so I will try to get close to my team-mate and then we will see.
One of the things you did during the break was visit some cities in Russia. It seems that you’re going to all sorts of cities that most of us have never heard of. What’s the idea behind that programme?
VP: First of all it was part of my private sponsor, called Russian helicopters, so I visited two big cities, the first one is Rostov and the second one is Ulan-Ude. Actually, it was a good visit because it’s the first time I’ve been there. You know, Ulan-Ude is very close to China. It’s like if you go across the river you will be in China. From Moscow it’s six or seven hours flying. I visited the biggest lake in the world, it’s called Baikal. Unfortunately I was just there for one day. This lake it’s line is for 365 kilometres and length, it’s quite… I don’t how much it is. Actually, it was a good experience and I hope that I will go back there maybe, one day.
Pedro, the team has obviously made strides forward, what are your own ambitions for the second half of the season and what about your thoughts professionally for the second half of the season?
Pedro DE LA ROSA: Professionally? You mean racing? Well, I think that we’ve made progress; we’ve managed in this first of the season to go in qualifying, from not qualifying in Australia outside the 107 per cent, to 103.4 per cent in Valencia, so I think that’s a very, very aggressive improvement. However the positions are similar. In fact we’re qualifying in more or less the last two positions and then it’s difficult for us. Although we’re closer to pole position we still haven’t made enough steps on the positions regarding the qualifying and the race finishes. So that’s where we are concentrating: we still have to make the car quicker in the second half of the season. We don’t have anything new for the next few races. We will have an upgrade for Singapore. That’s where we are – but we are definitely happy with what we’ve done and what we’ve achieved, although it may not look like it in the results. We’ve still can do a lot better in the second half.
And how important will the break have been to the team? OK, you’re saying they won’t have brought anything for the immediate races – but for future races?
PdlR: I think the break is nothing as we haven’t been able to work or gain any advantage from the break, so for us it doesn’t make any difference. Before the break we knew that the upgrade was coming in Singapore, if everything goes to plan – and after the break it’s still the same. Until Singapore I think we will be more or less in the positions that we’ve been so far, and then wait for Singapore for this next upgrade.
Michael, another milestone here at Spa: 300th grand prix weekend. What does that mean to you? Does that mean a lot to you at this stage or will it in the future?
Michael SCHUMACHER: It’s certainly an interesting, beautiful, nice number to be around. A number that I didn’t think about, that I would do that, at the time that I retired at the end of 2006. And now here we are and I’m counting the 300 – because at one point it was the talk about whether there would be somebody able to beat Riccardo Patrese’s record of 250-whatever. I said ‘forget that, it isn’t interesting for me’, and here we are. And suddenly… it isn’t anything that I’m challenging or looking for to have just a number on my board but being the 300, yeah it’s a beautiful side-effect.
I think you’ve seen the poster down the road which says ‘Michael, make it 400’. What chances?
MS: I guess I can say not. It’s obviously nice that the fans are still with me and encourage me to go on. This morning I had a beautiful welcome, becoming the honorary citizen of Spa, that is something very special to me. And that’s why the 300 becomes special – because it’s in Spa. It all happened to me here in Spa. First race, first victory, some beautiful victories and interesting races and 2004 the seventh title, last year the 20th anniversary and now number 300 and being honoured. So it’s a full package. Spa has always meant a lot to me. I always called it my living room – now I can officially call it my living room. It’s good.
But should we never say never?
MS: For the 400? We probably say no for that one.
Jenson, during the break, not only an Iron Man but your own triathlon as well. But the triathlon didn’t end quite the way you wanted to – perhaps we should share that story?
Jenson BUTTON: I think we should move on from that one!
The whole of Britain knows about it, so how about the whole of the world.
JB: I did a triathlon for [charity] Help for Heroes and it was quite cold in the water. People were wearing wetsuits, I’d left mine in the hotel so I decided to try to squeeze into my girlfriend’s… which felt OK until I got into the water and then it tightened up in… certain areas. So that was the end of my race. I had a panic attack in the water! So yeah, good and bad memories but it was a great event and I think everyone had fun and we raised a lot of money for Help for Heroes. In the end it was fun but the most important thing is what we raised.
Your aims for the second half of the season? How do you see the second half of the season? People are talking about perhaps driver orders that you’ll help Lewis…
JB: I’m I think 40 points behind Lewis, so you’d say that I’m going to give up on fighting for the Championship just because I’m 40 points behind my team-mate? Lewis is 40 points behind Fernando and I still think he thinks he’s got a very good chance of winning this Championship, so no, we go racing as always and try to do the best job we can. The last two races for us before the break were very good: I had a second in Hockenheim and obviously Lewis’s win in Hungary – so we come here positive we can get a very good result. So, no, that’s definitely not the situation and we want to get as many points for ourselves but also for the team. The team championship, the Constructors’ Championship is very, very important to McLaren and it’s something that we’re going to work on as much as we can.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: (Mike Doodson - Honorary) Michael, congratulations on the 300. When you were with the red team, I think you set a record for reliability. I think it was something like more than 50 races without a single mechanical retirement. With the current team, things have been quite the contrary. I wonder if you have thought about trying to move elsewhere, which is what somebody, let's say 20-years old would be doing at that stage of his career?
MS: I haven't thought about that. Maybe I should! First of all, you have those moments when things do run against you and I have mentioned that at any time I have full trust in the guys because they all do their utmost. Nobody wants to retire, everybody does their best job but then we have prototype cars and unfortunately things like this do happen. I don't mind too much about this, because I was aware, reasonably early in the season, that we wouldn't be fighting for the championship so to retire is not a big deal for me at that moment, not being in the championship anyway. Much more important is that if you would be in the championship, then it would obviously bother me much more. So, no, I look forward to the rest of the season. We still have a lot to go through and a lot to improve on, a lot to understand. The team is pushing hard to go forward in order to make our process a much more reasonable step forward compared to what we have been doing. Already we have achieved quite a bit more but I think it needs a bit more of that. And then reliability.
Q: (Adrian Huber - EFE) Michael, congratulations again. You said just now, forget about the 400 but having all the records in Formula One, can we maybe think about 326/327? Can you remember all of your races? How many can you remember without looking at the stat sheets?
MS: I don't know how many I would remember; certainly not all of them, that is very clear. How many it will be in the end? We will have to find out. Don't know yet. Certainly go to the end of the season.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri- La Gazzetta dello Sport) My question is similar: when does the point come when you decide if you're going to continue or if Mercedes decides whether they want to stay with you? Do you already have a deadline, or are you already starting to talk about it?
MS: I think we made a very clear statement some time ago that by October we will be able to give an indication and nothing has changed since then, so no news I'm afraid.
Q: (Ian Parkes - PA) Jenson, just following on from the earlier question and your answer regarding not supporting Lewis at this stage, Martin Whitmarsh has today suggested that there could come a point at some time this season when you might be asked to support Lewis. Is that something you would consider further down the line if the situation dictated, or does your personal attitude just say no, I'm not going to do that at all?
JB: Personally, I think it's a pretty pointless conversation right now. If I was 40 points behind Lewis in the championship and he was leading, do you think they would turn round and say 'you've got to support your teammate'? It's not a big margin, it's less than two wins. Half the grid is in front of their teammates. All their teammates are not going to turn round and say 'yes, we're going to help my teammate win the championship' because you still think you're going to have a good chance. And until that chance is gone you're going to fight for it. I'm not here to just race around and just help my teammate win a championship because none of us are. We're here to fight and we're here to do the best job we can for ourselves first of all and also for the team. I think it would be a pretty boring championship if there's only twelve of us actually fighting for a victory and the rest of us were there to help our teammates. It's not the sort of formula that we should want. So yes, I'm going to be fighting all the way until I either win the championship or it's not possible.
Q: (Vladimir Rogovets – Znamya Ynosty) Michael, we know that all drivers are very very superstitious. Do you have a mascot without which you cannot sit down in the car? Maybe for Spa you have a very special mascot.
MS: I've had one for more than 20 years. It's my wife. She comes tomorrow.
Q: (Oana Popoiu - F1Zone.net) Michael, do you remember the feeling you had on your first podium, and how was it different after that?
MS: I think it was in Mexico, if I'm right? Is it right? '92? Was it two? Yeah, '92, OK, so there you go. Is it different? Probably a little bit but no matter what, up there it's always special. It depends on the circumstances. If you are a regular podium contender and you have the package to win races then you end up being third, you have less joy up there obviously versus not expecting to be there at all and then being third. So it really depends on the circumstances. Remembering Valencia, yes, it was a beautiful feeling, for myself, for all the guys, the team for everybody, it was beautiful. It was that way in '92.
Q: (Gabor Joo - Indexonline) Michael, you have 299 races so far. Can you single out one which is your favourite?
MS: I keep talking about Suzuka in 2000, both for the quality of the race, for the end of the race and for the whole meaning of that result obviously, so it was a total package of many circumstances, why that race turned out to be a very special one for myself and then for so many others.
Q: (Pierre van Vliet - F1i.com) To all of you: Spa is a very historical circuit where Grand Prix racing started back in 1925. Have you ever been on the old track having a look at the 14 kilometer layout like the fast Masta downhill between Malmedy and Stavelot?
JEV: I was too young.
MS: Even not me!
PdelaR: Why me? Unfortunately not.
Q: (Frederic Ferret - L'Equipe) Michael and Jenson, why is Spa so particular for drivers, why do you like it so much?
MS: There are many reasons, particularly for me because I started in the days when corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont were extremely challenging corners, because the cars were built in a certain way and the circuit made them absolutely on the edge. It's one of the old character tracks with lots of history. It is going through the natural countryside that we are in, the up and down like a rollcoaster so there are so many variants that make it so particular and so special. We all, as race drivers, prefer high speed and if you have a challenging high speed corner it's special, and if you go through Eau Rouge... even nowadays it's probably a little bit too easy flat out except maybe in the race sometimes, but the sensation, the forces that go through you in a cornering sense and in a vertical sense, that is a combination that you don't find everywhere.
JB: I think there are many different things: the history of the place. When you used to watch Formula One, you would see the greats racing around here and the circuit has changed over the years, even since I've been racing in Formula One, but it still feels very special. This circuit is very very flowing and there are only two corners that are below third gear and that's very unusual, especially when you have so many corners on a circuit and it is one of those circuits which you just love driving. Whatever car you're in, it's just such a great feeling driving around a circuit like this. I think there are only a couple of other circuits like it. One is Suzuka, one was Silverstone. I think it's changed a little bit now. It's lost a little bit of the flow but those three really stand out for me, to be a real fast flowing circuit, and a circuit where we just love driving out of the pits and knowing you're going to tackle.
Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado de Sao Paulo) Michael, you are here for your 300th Grand Prix. Do you still have the same passion as you had at the beginning for the first races, and are you able to deliver in the same way as you used to do when you started in Formula One?
MS: I think that by saying yes I answer both of the questions. I have the same passion for what I am doing, yes, absolutely. Formula One is the ultimate racing and if you're involved, you're only involved because you want to do the best that you can do. Obviously we all depend on our machines, but nevertheless, within your machine you have a certain frame with which you can prove yourself and that's the challenge and that challenge you like to outbrake that frame and you like to do anything on top of that. That's the particular moment that you can have and the great thing in sport is that you have immediate feedback: whether you do achieve or you don't achieve. There's been plenty of satisfaction that I've had over more than 20 years now and I still enjoy it.
I would probably think that my capacity to achieve is better, because I have a much better view and understanding, a lot more experience. If we have problems, it takes me less to come to the point with the team in explaining those problems and that's helpful.
Q: (Walter Koster – Saarbrucker Zeitung) Michael, for the second time, you are now an honorary citizen in Maranello and now here in Spa. What are the conditions which are necessary to fulfill this reputation and do you have special duties? Please explain to us concerning this subject?
MS: The only thing I can say is that both moments, the idea and invitation from those citizens that they offered me this honour and I was definitely pleased to achieve it, but I have no obligations and I'm just happen to have received such an award.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri- La Gazzetta dello Sport) Next week, after Spa, we have Monza, another special for you, Michael. Is there any particular souvenir of the Italian Grand Prix that you remember? Which has been your best race?
MS: We obviously had a very beautiful ending in 2006 at the time. In both ways, I do remember it being special, because we were behind in the championship and in that race we put ourselves back into the championship fight. Then came the beautiful celebration, obviously my message to retire after the race so it was a very particular weekend.
Q: (Ian Parkes - PA) Jenson, it was only a year ago that you did your 200th Grand Prix but given the number of races in the calendar, do you see yourself emulating Michael and hitting 300?
JB: Yeah, there's no reason why not. It's four and a half years of racing. Yeah, it's possible. I really don't know how I'm going to feel in a couple of years' time. Now, of course, the hunger is there. If I lose that, that's when I'll stop. If I'm in a position where I get the choice to retire it's the best position to be in, but it's a long time before I need to start thinking of that.
Q: (Oana Popoiu - F1Zone.net) Jenson, you never won at Spa and you've had a bit of misfortune here. Do you think that's maybe a little jinx?
JB: Not really, because that was really only one year. I think you mean 2010, with Sebastian. I love racing here. It's a great circuit to race on because to qualify here when you get everything out of the car is such a nice feeling because this place is really unforgiving, so you're always living on the seat of your pants. It's a great place to race. There are a lot of possibilities for overtaking, in wet and dry. I've had quite a few podiums here but never on the top step. Hopefully that opportunity will arise very soon.
Q: (Patricia Sanchez - La Gaceta) We've been hearing about F1 with electric cars. What would you think about that sort of competition, and how would you like to drive a noiseless car? Is that safe for you?
MS: Looks like none of us has heard anything about that. We have partially electric cars already. We have KERS!
Q: (Patricia Sanchez - La Gaceta) My question is basically about having a Formula One race with no noise. Would that be the same feeling for you? If it happens.
JB: If. I'm sure we could try and make some sort of noise that we like. It would save our hearing, because these things are pretty loud. We wouldn't need earplugs, which is quite a good thing. I don't know. I don't know what the possibility is of having a completely electrical car, how many manufacturers would be involved.
PdelaR: I must say I've heard about it, it's Formula E, and it's obviously a new era, and we should be open-minded to the fact that we're used to racing with noise, but I remember a few years ago, going to indoor karting in Finland and racing with electrical cars for the first time which was an incredible experience because you were racing, you were braking for turn one, or accelerating on the straight and then you had a kart next to you and you didn't hear it, which was shocking, because we are basically from the noise era, but we should be open-minded. Let's wait and see how it develops, because it could be extremely interesting...
JB: Can you hear a Formula One car coming?
PdelaR: Absolutely, yeah. You can feel... yeah, especially when I'm shown blue flags, I can hear you guys!
JB: You get out of the way straightaway. I've seen you Pedro!
PdelaR: I mean karting, karting, karting, indoor karting. I don't know how it will feel with single-seaters, but for sure you can still hear something. Maybe when you get very old you won't but...
JB: You tell me, Pedro!
PdelaR: Anyway, my bottom line is it's a new era, it's an interesting avenue, we should be open-minded and let's wait and see how it looks like, because we've never seen a fully electrical single-seater and I'm really looking forward to that.
JEV: I have no idea. Maybe it will come. To be honest, I haven't heard about it, so I don't know how it is, I don't know how it's going to be. I know I did a kart race last year in Bercy with electric karts. It was quite a fun race. We could hear other noise as well. The funny thing is that we could hear the whole crowd around the stadium. But I have no idea how it would be in F1 or single-seaters.
MS: That's actually a good point. It would be the first time that we could hear the crowd and not the crowd us.
JB: I think you've got to ask the fans more than us. It would be a big difference for the fans. I know there are the obvious reasons for doing it which are very important, but for the fans, they would miss something, with the buzz of the sound of an F1 car, because that's the first thing you notice when you come and watch an F1 car, it's the sound.
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