FIA Japan Grand Prix Press conference
Q: It sounds like you’re taking the blame for that one; perhaps you could add to that and tell us if the car was damaged after that, because you were a little bit slow after that incident for a few laps. LH: I didn’t say I was taking the blame for it – I think when you’re behind someone you have to adjust to the conditions. I couldn’t see him, and maybe he was a little bit too far behind to come up the inside to make the move. I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t hear him, and he touched me. For him, it wasn’t really a risk that he needed to take as he could have passed me down the straight or somewhere else. Then I felt a vibration and I thought ‘shoot, there’s something wrong with my car’ – maybe the rear tyre was going down or there was something wobbling, and I had it through the rest of the race. I was very fortunate – the team said the car seemed to be OK, so just keep it on the track.
Q: How did the race feel – now that it’s finished, did it feel unbelievably long? What were the closing laps like, and what was the re-start like behind the second safety car? LH: It was the longest race of my life – it seemed to go on and on and on. When we were behind the second safety car, I was constantly on the radio to my engineers to tell the Red Bull team to get Mark (Webber) to make a little more of a gap because I couldn’t go any faster because the pace car was in front of me, so I was trying to keep the distance with him and then I’d move over because I couldn’t see Mark and then he’d just appear alongside me, so he kept out-braking himself. I felt something was going to happen, and I guess my instincts told me right. And then we did the re-start and I had Heikki (Kovalainen) behind me and I was a bit nervous that we might collide, but he did a good job. The last few laps, the team was telling me to slow down, that I was a second faster than anyone, and I was saying that I was going as slow as I feel comfortable doing. In the last couple of laps I took it easy because it was so wet and my tyres were getting old, and we were aquaplaning. But I’m thrilled to take it home, and it’s great for the team.
Q: Heikki, the first-ever podium with two Finns on it, and you beat the other one, the illustrious Kimi Räikkönen. What a race that was in the closing stages. Heikki KOVALAINEN: Yeah, tell me about it. What a rollercoaster year it’s been for us, especially myself. This weekend again we made a little bit of a gamble with the car yesterday hoping it would be dry today, and then this morning it was raining probably more than yesterday. So things didn’t look fantastic at the start of the race, but you always keep going – you never know what can happen. Our strategy worked out really well today, and so I think the team deserves one podium at least through this year. Today the pace was good. At the end of the race I had a good fight with Kimi (Räikkönen). I couldn’t see him – my mirrors were steamed up – but I saw my pit board, and every lap he was a second closer to me. So I knew that at some point, he was going to attack. I managed to keep him behind, so it’s fantastic.
Q: What was it like in terms of having that pressure from Kimi in terms of your concentration level, and where did you think you were perhaps slower than him, or where did you have an advantage? HK: At the end he was probably a little bit quicker everywhere – the gap was coming down so fast. All I could do was to stay on the tracks that Lewis’ car was leaving on the track. I was aquaplaning in many places. I really wanted to take the second place, so I was willing to take a risk, so I kept flat-out through those aquaplaning moments and hoped that I don’t lose the car. I managed to keep it on the track, so that was the key.
Q: Kimi, a brilliant drive from you too from the back of the field, sadly – tell us about that decision off the line to be on the Bridgestone wet instead of the extreme wet and having to come in so early in the race? Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN: We made a decision to start on intermediates. It started to rain a little bit actually behind the safety car. That wasn’t really the issue – it was more for me to be able to see anything – on the straight I couldn’t see the car in front even if it was 50 metres in front of me. After the race, I heard there were some rules or they forced everybody to start on full wets but the FIA or the race control forgot to tell our team, and we had to pit again under the safety car. So it cost us a lot but there was nothing we could do at that point. All race I couldn’t do much because I couldn’t really see anything. I tried to get past people in the lowest part of the circuit because you could see more. I actually got past Heikki on the last lap but went a bit too fast, and he got me on the exit again. So the biggest problem for me was to see all of the other cars. It was quite a difficult race but at least we got something out of it.
Q: You did – a podium finish, and you’re still alive in the World Championship. What was the car like in terms of the downforce level you had – it appeared you were pretty quick in a straight line but therefore had not a lot of grip in the corners? On that, you seemed to go off quite a lot but not lose a lot of time when you did go off? KR: I aquaplaned off many times but just kept coming back. The car was set up for the dry, so it wasn’t perfect for the wet. I thought that we had a good car but for sure if you are in front and you can see something, it makes it a lot easier. The whole race I tried to get past people. We lost points from Lewis again but we couldn’t do much after the pit stop where we were forced to change the tyres.
Q: Returning to you Lewis for some final thoughts. There’s been plenty of firsts this year for you – your first win in the wet has to be a very special moment for any racing driver? LH: Definitely, and there were lots of thoughts going through my mind – driving in the wet and leading and doing the last lap and thinking of some of the races that Senna was in, and Prost, sort of made me feel that I’m on my way to achieving something similar to them. But I’m just really thankful for the team – they’ve done a fantastic job and are really pushing hard, and also my family – it’s been a long, hard year and I know you’re all watching, so thank you for all of the support. And also to the fans – especially here this weekend, the Japanese fans have been superb. They’re crazy, just to sit in the rain. They’ve been phenomenal, so thanks to them as well.
Q: Well done, Lewis, congratulations. Give us some idea of the concentration for two hours – it actually went to the time limit. LH: For me, it was one of the most if not the most difficult race I’ve ever had to do, just because the conditions were changing non-stop and you really couldn’t see that much. I had two tear-offs on my visor – I took one off at the pit stop and it didn’t make a difference, and I took the other one off and I noticed that the water was on the inside. You can’t open it while you’re driving and clean it or anything, so I was struggling to see. My mirrors – it was impossible to see through the spray behind me. With all of the safety cars I was getting a bit nervous with all of the drivers getting so close. The safety car was on the limit but we were way too fast for the safety car. Especially the last stint – we were on heavy fuel and we grained the tyres, then I started to get overtaken by a few people, and I asked the team if they were going to have to pit again and if I should just let them past to make it easier and safer for me. There was the crash with Robert… it was such an eventful race, and especially at the end when it started to rain more and I still managed to keep it on – I was having to lift – as Heikki was saying, the aquaplaning was unreal. So I’m just very pleased that I brought it home.
Q: With the re-starts you seemed to be rehearsing it every single lap, especially in the first safety car period? LH: That wasn’t really the case – we just needed to keep the heat in the brakes. I was running quite a hard compound of brakes, so if I did light braking, I would have glazed the brakes. So I was making sure there was a little bit of a gap, maximising the gap that you’re allowed, and use it to my benefit. It was tough because Mark behind me was just too close, and all of a sudden he braked really hard and I don’t know what happened – someone ran into him. I’m just glad that it’s over – I was so relieved when I came across the line. It was just too long.
Q: What are your feelings about the championship now – two races to go and you have a 12-point lead over your team-mate, and you have a 17-point lead over Kimi. LH: Obviously it’s a big boost in terms of confidence in my drive to be World Champion. But we still have two races left, and anything can happen. The key is just to try to keep it on the track. I hope Fernando’s OK – I saw that it was him. I looked on the screen and he looked like he was OK. It’s good for me that I’ve managed to pull that sort of gap. At the Nürburgring I had that similar sort of incident and lost 10 points there, so I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to gain those back. We’re still pretty close, so we’ve got two races, so we need to knuckle down. I won’t be going partying tonight.
Q: Heikki, you seemed to be having a battle with someone all the way through the race: one with Kubica, Massa and then Kimi at the end. HK: Yeah, that’s correct. For me there were battles all the way through the race. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you are attacking, not being attacked. At the end, I saw Massa was getting a bit closer and then they told me that Kimi is behind me and I saw the gap was coming down very fast but I couldn’t see anything in my mirrors, they were completely steamed up. I had no idea where he was, and then going into the last lap, I saw the gap was only 0.7s or something like that and I knew he was going to be somewhere around, but I thought I would just keep on the racing line. It was tricky going off the line because of aquaplaning, so I just tried to follow the track that Lewis was leaving in front of me. I managed to stay ahead of Kimi. He made a move into turn six but I got him back on the exit. I really wanted to take second place rather than just third, so I went for it, as much as I could. It was a long race but I’m happy I brought it home, a very good result for all the team.
Q: What will this mean for you and the team after a long year? HK: Yeah, for me, I always believed it was going to happen one day and I’m working harder and making sure that whenever I get an opportunity to fight for the podiums regularly I’ve got to be able to take it, physically and mentally. Obviously this year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for our team, a disappointing year after the last two years, but the team definitely deserves this podium. I think we’ve really worked hard, all the team, no one has given up. The factory has been pushing to bring new parts for our car, even if we’ve been struggling and that shows that everybody is very committed, like myself. I’m also very committed. We have a lot of potential in our team. I’m sure we can come back to winning ways and hopefully I will stay with them next year, because I believe they’re going to be strong again.
Q: What were your feelings when you saw Webber and Vettel collide? HK: I was a little bit surprised, but honestly, behind the safety car, it was always a little bit tricky as Lewis said. When you go on the straight and you can’t see anything, you slow down a little bit. You’re just worried that someone might hit you. They can’t see anything either. It’s like a chain reaction. When the guy in front slows down, the other guys have less time to react and then I think at some point Liuzzi was in front of me and I was just a little bit worried. I kept a little distance just to make sure that nothing happened. I knew he was going to do another pit stop. It was good for me to get behind Lewis but if Lewis says he had bad visibility, he should have been where I started the race, then he will know something about bad visibility.
Q: Kimi probably knows a fair amount about bad visibility as well, don’t you? KR: Yeah, I didn’t have any visibility really during the race but that’s part of coming from behind.
Q: It must have been really action-packed, coming all the way through from the back. KR: Yeah, but as I said, the most difficult part is to try to see where the people are on the straight. If somebody slows down, there is no way to know. You’re going full throttle, full speed on the straight and hoping nobody is slowing down because, for sure, you would hit him. When you get in low speed corners, it’s much easier when you can see other cars. But it was pretty tricky.
Q: What are your feelings now about the championship? KR: It doesn’t look too good right now but there’s nothing else that we could have done today, really, we did the best that we could. We lost points but there are still two races to go and we’re still trying, we’re still pushing and we’ll see what happens.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, why was Ferrari the only team to chose to start with intermediate tyres, even if you didn’t read this e-mail from the FIA? Considering the conditions was it not too much of a gamble? KR: I don’t know. It could have gone either way. I didn’t have any problems really behind the safety car. The only problem was that I couldn’t see anything but we didn’t know any e-mails or any new rules that came up and they somehow forgot to tell us but it’s quite an unfair situation to end up with, them forcing you to stop when you don’t really want to but that’s now behind us. We needed to stop because there were so many places but I don’t know if it would have made a difference or not.
Q: (Juha Päätalo – Financial Times Germany) Heikki, you were certainly not too optimistic when the race started but what was the moment that you realised that this could be your race today? HK: Well, it wasn’t my race, it was Lewis’s race. It was obviously a very good result for us but if you’re not winning, there’s always room for improvement. l was leading the race at some point in the middle of the race, when the other guys stopped. That, for us, this year, has normally been a good sign. Whenever we see P1 on the pit board, regardless of the situation, it’s always positive for us. I just kept going, going, going and trying to go as fast as I could and then behind the safety car, I knew that the guys in front of me probably had to pit, and I knew that I was definitely going to go on to the end, so at that moment I thought there might be a chance of reaching the podium but I obviously knew that the Ferrari guys would be coming up behind me. I really didn’t think about it too much, I just thought I would try and keep going, trying not to make mistakes, and push as much as I could. Then, going into the last few laps, I knew there was going to be a fight with Kimi. I just didn’t know where he was, I couldn’t really see and I couldn’t defend anywhere. It was difficult to go off the line because of aquaplaning and secondly, I couldn’t see him, my mirrors were steamed up. But obviously going into the last lap I knew I was definitely going to be on the podium.
Q: (Juha Päätalo – Financial Times Germany) Kimi, how were you told to come in and change the tyres and what went through your mind at that moment? KR: The team just told me that I must pit on the fifth lap or whatever it was. They didn’t really know the reason why we were forced to at that point but then I heard after the race that there was some paper or some information given but they forgot to give it to our team.
Q: (Juha Päätalo – Financial Times Germany) What did you think at that moment? KR: Ah, nothing. I knew that I was forced to come in, so there was nothing that I could have done. The team didn’t really know the reason, so we just tried to do the best that we could after that.
Q: (Sal Zanca – AP) Lewis, how were you informed of Fernando’s crash and did you feel there was poetic justice after all the ‘stuff’ that has happened this year? LH: The answer to the second part of that: no. It must have been a couple of laps or maybe actually the lap that he went off. I was just told ‘be careful, debris at turn six, so be careful.’ And they said it was Fernando.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto Motor und Sport) Heikki, yesterday in qualifying the Renault didn’t look too strong. What made the difference today? HK: I think we took a little gamble with our set-up. We thought it would be dry today or we thought there was more chance of it being dry today than wet. After Friday, we were reasonably happy with our competitiveness and we decided to leave the car more or less as it was on Friday, didn’t change any downforce level or anything like that, just hoping to look more for Sunday rather than Saturday. And I think I didn’t really get the best out of the car yesterday anyway. I don’t think the laps were that fantastic. I just didn’t get into the track, get into the conditions quickly enough. I think that potentially, even with this car, we should have been in the top ten. Then today, I think running with extreme tyres it was working quite well for us. Even yesterday I think the feeling was better with the extreme tyres, relative to the intermediate tyres. Maybe that was one of the keys today and also our strategy was very good, we had plenty of fuel on board, the safety car was bringing our stop further and further which, in these conditions was better and better. Two or three laps before my pit stop it was getting a bit drier. We were talking about which tyres we were going to chose, but just then a lap or two before my actual stop it started to rain again, so I was relieved that we could stay on the extreme wets, which seemed to be better for us today.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, did you have any problems with the fuel because you had two quite short fuel stops at the beginning of the race, and another one which was pretty long in time, considering how long Lewis pitted? KR: No, we didn’t.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) To Heikki and Kimi. How did it feel to be on the podium, two Finns at the same time, and the third one trained by a Finnish guy? HK: Yeah, of course for me it was a very good moment. It was my first podium in Formula One. Obviously a lot of work had gone towards that and the next thing is to be sitting in the middle. Of course it’s very good to be there with Kimi as well. Kimi’s obviously been there many times before, so I don’t think it’s a big deal for him to be honest but for myself, it’s a great moment, a great feeling. KR: Ah, it’s like any other podium really. I would rather be in the middle. Third place doesn’t really give me anything.
Q: (Takeharu Kusuda – Lapita) Lewis, you were so quick, like Ayrton in the rain. What is the most important thing in a wet race? LH: You’ve got to keep the car on the track and combine that with trying to be quick as well. It’s really really tricky but the great thing about this track is that there is a lot of grip in the wet, and I think the tyres help as well but it’s a great track to drive in the wet. Especially towards the end, it was very very tricky, nearly aquaplaning but generally it’s just really quite a nice track to drive, more so in the dry but in the wet it was just as much fun. But there were a couple of rivers coming across the track and the key is just to make sure the car is as straight as possible. You either lift or you just make sure you don’t spin. Fernando obviously spun on one those little rivers. But it’s all about just staying calm and cool and not trying to be first or fastest in that corner, just trying to carry the momentum through the whole lap.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, what about the Ferrari set-up? It looked like you were not as competitive in the wet as McLaren. Was it because you were hoping it would be drier, so that yesterday you were working with more of a dry set-up? KR: It was exactly the same as it was in dry conditions, so we didn’t change anything. We were not sure about the weather conditions today. We were expecting that they probably should have been better than yesterday but it wasn’t, so it probably could have been better but I don’t think that that really cost us anything. The car was pretty nice to drive today and yesterday.
Q: (Carl Cunanan – F1 Racing) Lewis, did you have enough fuel to finish the race without a second safety car? LH: Yes.
Q: (Yuki Ishihara – Sankei Sports) I have a question for Lewis. Under the conditions were you always driving the car or was the car driving you sometimes? LH: I hope not! I was very fortunate, I was pretty much in control the whole way. At the end there was a lot of aquaplaning, my tyres were old because I did one stop and I think the track was a little bit drier after my first stop, so I grained the tyres a little bit, so they weren’t as good as everyone else’s who stopped a bit later than me. Other than that, some of the aquaplaning… you’re still in control, you know, you’re still controlling and almost rallying it down the straight. Which is cool. Good fun.
Q: (Niki Takeda – Formula PA) Lewis, mathematically there are still two other guys who can have a go at you but have you really started thinking about the championship or are you trying to not think about it and concentrate on the upcoming races? LH: Well, I think at the back of your mind in the sub-conscious you do think about it a little bit but I think the key for me is just focus on the next race and just make sure my preparations are right and take it as it comes. I hope I finish the next race, do the best job I can. I hope we have the pace to again have the opportunity to win. We’ll see after the next race. I think after the next race then you really really have to start thinking about it but I don’t think it’s something you should think about because you can either worry or… I just really enjoy it. I couldn’t imagine having four wins in my first year. After the first pole and after the first win I was like… come on, get out of here but now it’s just way way beyond anything I imagined.
Q: (Carole Capitaine – L’Equipe) A question for Kimi. How do you explain the last pit stop for Felipe at the end of the race when he was in front of you, was it planned or was it a help for you? KR: You need to ask him.