RACECAR DRIVERS: Sébastien BOURDAIS (Toro Rosso), Giancarlo FISICHELLA (Force India), AND Nelson PIQUET (Renault), participated in the Monaco GP Drivers' conference - alongside Felipe MASSA (Ferrari)
Q: Nelson, your feelings about this circuit. Is it a home circuit for you?Nelson PIQUET: A little bit, yes. Obviously, I know the place quite well. I lived here for eight years until I was eight and then I went to Brazil. I feel quite comfortable here and have a few friends. I know the place quite well. It is different coming here than other grands prix. At other grands prix we know some cities just by going there every year. This one I know a bit more by living and knowing the streets and knowing the good places to eat. Even having friends and being able to call somebody and go to their house. It is just a little bit different for me.
Q: What are the feelings about the race itself and the circuit when you are driving around and there is absolutely no margin for error? How do you approach this race?NP: The first time I drove here I felt quite comfortable. I thought it was going to be tough but I mean I drove Macau in F3 and you know how tough a street circuit can be. Monaco is tough but the average speed is much lower than Macau, so I find it quite good. It is a nice, twisty little circuit. It is not too quick and obviously the quicker the track is, the more difficult it is, especially street circuits. It is not too bumpy. Every year they try to make the surface the best they can. I didn’t drive here last year, so I don’t know how it is but from 2006 the track was pretty good. I feel really good. I like driving here.
Q: The track wasn’t very kind to you in GP2.NP: No, that’s true. The first race I had to stop because of failures. But I still like it. I just need to put things together and hope the result will come.
Q: Do you approach it at all with any caution?NP: Obviously you need to have a little bit of strategy. In the first practice if you damage the car you are probably going to lose the second one, so you need to be a bit careful and know when to risk at the right time. The grip on the track is going to be really poor at the beginning and lap after lap it is going to be quicker and quicker. There is a right moment when to push and having a crash here is normal as you try and find the limits. If you are lucky you don’t, but I think it is natural for the driver to push trying to find the limits. I remember Lewis Hamilton last year having an accident. I think Giancarlo did as well. It is natural and normal trying to find the limits and pushing to the edge.
Q: Sébastien, I guess it is a while since you’ve seen anything like Monaco? Is there anything similar in the United States at all?Sébastien BOURDAIS: Obviously, there are a lot of street courses in the States but none really compare to what we have here. It is a very challenging and interesting one. It has been quite good to me in the past. I have always been very fast here and liked it. It is not France but as close as it can be without being France. I think it is a very special venue for me and obviously I want to do well. Toro Rosso have the new car here and we will see how it shakes up. But hopefully we will have a good weekend.
Q: You can remember it from the F3000 days, can you?SB: Yes, it is difficult to believe that it was six years ago as it feels like it was yesterday. It was a great weekend in 2002 and it would be awesome to have that kind of weekend again. I am not dreaming but definitely the new car seems to be a good step forward and we will see where we are after qualifying.
Q: A lot of people would say it is a big risk bringing a new car to Monaco.SB: The big risk is if you wreck it and you don’t have any spares. That’s the risk, but I think it is not more risky to bring the TR3 than the TR2B. We have spare parts, so we can make one or two mistakes but not too many, so that kind of dictates how the weekend goes for us. If you make one you know that your joker is out and you have got to be careful.
Q: We are nearly a third of the way through the season. How do you feel about your first few races in F1?SB: It has been interesting. I think we had an awesome start to the season in Melbourne, at least the race. Then we were quite clearly lacking pace to be in the top 10. Hopefully this is the second start for us for the season and things can turn around a bit and we can be a bit more competitive.
Q: Giancarlo, this is your 200th grand prix. How does that sound?Giancarlo FISICHELLA: It is a special race for me. First of all because I love Monaco. It is one of my favourite circuits and it is going to be my 200th grand prix. It is a special race and I am looking forward to it. I hope to do well and it would be nice to score some points but it is going to be very difficult.
Q: What chances have you got of scoring points?GF: It is maybe going to be the best chance to score some points and to get into the top 15 in the qualifying session which is our target at the moment. I think the top 15 is possible but scoring points is going to be difficult. We will see. At least on Sunday it is going to be wet and that is another good chance.
Q: What is it going to be like around here without traction control and in the wet without traction control?GF: For sure, it is going to be tough. Difficult. There are a lot of slow speed corners and there are a few corners where we use first or second gear, so the power, when it goes on the torque, is going to be very strong. It is going to be easy to have a lot of wheel spin, so it is going to be important to manage it. So far I have driven quite well with the new rules and I am quite confident for Sunday.
Q: Felipe, your comments on going round here with no traction control and – potentially – in the wet. Where are the danger areas?Felipe MASSA: Everywhere. For sure, maybe here it was already quite difficult with traction control. Without traction control it will be a lottery. Who is driving very carefully will maybe have a chance to win the race, but the problem is that you start learning all the corners in the wet without traction control but then you start to go every lap more and more to see the limit. And sometimes if you pass that limit a little bit you are already in the wall. It was like that with traction control. Without I don’t know how it is going to be but it will be very tough.
Q: Stefano Domenicali suggested that Ferrari are going to prepare for this race in a different way. How has that manifested itself and how have you seen that? And how successful has that been?FM: I think we are talking about set-up. We always in the past two years, maybe even more, had some idea on the set-up and always brought a similar set-up here. I think last year after this race we were working very hard with different strategies on the set-up and how to improve the mechanical grip on the car because downforce is very important but also mechanical grip and traction. It is so important to maybe gain lightly in every corner, so at the end of the lap you can gain a lot. We have worked a bit differently, so hopefully we can have a good result, but it is also true that we could have some rain. The rain here becomes a lottery for everybody, so you cannot predict anything.
Q: What about your own feelings about the circuit. You finished third here and you also raced from 16th on the grid to fifth in 2004. It seems a good circuit for you?FM: I have had some good results here, but it is not one of my favourite circuits. I enjoy much more a real circuit like, for example, Spa or Turkey where we were last time. Even the new circuits, Bahrain and China, I prefer much more than here. A street circuit is not very fun to drive. It looks like sometimes that if you push a little bit you are slow, so you need to drive very technical, you need to be very careful, as if you brake a little bit late sometimes you gain in the braking but you lose in the exit, so it is very different driving here than the other circuits.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Heinz Prüller – ORF) How much can a driver make up for a car problem in Monte Carlo? Niki Lauda used to say it is 80% the car and 20% the driver on other circuits. In Monaco it is exactly the opposite. Do you see it 50-50 or what rate would you give?FM: For sure not. The car is always very important. If you have a bad car it will be difficult to fight here for the front. If you have a lottery race or something very strange, like the weather or accident, you can have a good possibility to score points even with a bad car.GF: Usually it is 80-20. Here as you say it is 70-30.
Q: So a little change?GF: A little change. NP: I think that many of the results that you maybe have been comparing. I think it is more of a lottery here like Felipe said. Obviously the car counts a lot but I think the driver can make a bit of a difference here, especially drivers that have a lot of experience here and have been coming here for a long time. I wouldn’t say 80-20, but maybe 50-50 would be a bit better.SB: Obviously my experience of street courses is a bit different but I think there is a lot to be said – especially here in Monaco where you have to take it step-by-step and build up the confidence during the weekend if you want to get the peak of performance. There is a lot to be said about drivers’ confidence and a car that makes you feel comfortable. It is a combination of pure car speed but a car that corresponds to your feeling and allows you to push with confidence.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Felipe, I would like to understand why you do not like Monaco. And how is your mood now as after Malaysia you have scored more points than anybody else. How do you feel for the rest of the season?FM: There is nothing to explain. I don’t like it, that’s it. As I said I prefer tracks like Turkey, Spa, with quick corners. Real tracks. I don’t like Monaco. I am not having fun driving here but that doesn’t mean I can’t be competitive. I have had some very good races and I want to keep scoring a lot of points and I think we can have a chance to fight again this race. We need to wait for the first sessions to have a small idea how it is going to be in qualifying and the race but I am 100% motivated and, for sure, I want to fight for the victory again.
Q: And about how you have come on in the last two or three grands prix and built up your points?FM: As I said I feel very motivated. I want to keep the momentum which was fantastic in the last three races and we need to keep the same focus. If it is possible to win we need to do everything we can, but if it is not possible we need to finish in a good position and bring home as many points as we can. We know that can be very important at the end of the season.
Q: (Fréderic Ferrett – L’Equipe) Sébastien, what’s your feeling before Monaco? Are you excited by the new car and this non-typical circuit or are you afraid of having an accident and using up some spares?SB: Well, if you start the weekend being afraid of making mistakes, then you shouldn’t be there. You need to have fun here to be quick and you need to feel confident, you need to enjoy yourself in the car, otherwise you push against your nature and that’s the best way to make mistakes. Obviously for me it’s a place I’ve always loved, I always loved street circuits because it’s a very fine feeling and very fine perception to try and get it right, and you pursue that all weekend, and when you put it all together at the right moment, it usually goes quite quick and it’s an awesome feeling. I think there’s nothing more exciting to me than the best qualifying lap you can achieve in Monaco, it’s always extremely tense but also very satisfying if you get it done. We have a new car, I think it’s a big step forwards in terms of performance. All I can hope for is that it materialises on the track and that we have a good weekend. I’m really pumped, obviously it’s the one, along with the French Grand Prix, that means a bit more to me than any other and yeah, I want to do well.
Q: (Randy Phillips – The Gazette) Sébastien, two questions: can you talk about the transition from ChampCar to F1 and also touch on the fact that in a couple of weeks you’re going to go back to very familiar territory in Montreal?SB: Well, the transition’s been quite good. Obviously it’s very different and I am very happy that we had so much time to adapt over the winter. It’s not a start from zero but you have to kind of re-set yourself and try to learn on a different basis. We have had plenty of time, now the first third of the season is nearly over and it feels good. We’ve had some ups and downs but globally it’s been very enjoyable. As you said, now we’re coming to places I really like and know: Monaco, then Canada, then the French Grand Prix, so hopefully it’s going to be a fast period for us. Montreal is very much a track where I’ve been extremely quick in ChampCar. It’s not always been very good to me but hopefully the bad years are behind us. The year before last we finally won and yeah, it’s going to be good to be back over there.
Q: (Randy Phillips – The Gazette) Felipe, how wide open is this championship this year in your mind? Do you see four or five drivers really in the thick of it through the whole season?FM: Well, I think it will be very competitive, for sure. For the moment it looks as if it’s between Ferrari and McLaren and maybe Robert (Kubica) is doing a great job as well. He can be very competitive so I would maybe put these four drivers in the fight, including Heikki maybe, who had some bad luck in the last races but he has a good car and he can be competitive as well. I think it will be between Ferrari, McLaren and maybe Robert.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Question to all four of you: in the very near future, on June 3, we will have a very important meeting in Paris. What will be the best decision the members of the FIA can make for Formula One? SB: No comment. It’s none of my business. GF: Well, already next year there is going to be a good chance with slick tyres, with much less downforce. It’s already a good thing to do, interesting for sure. In my case it would be nice to have a more equal car from the first team to the last one…FM: I think it will be great on slick tyres as well. NP: What we understand it to be, I think it’s none of my business as well, so I’m not going to get involved.
Q: (Andrew Frankl – Forza) Nelson, your father said to Nigel Mansell that his wife is the ugliest in the world and said that Ayrton was gay. Do you think he was right, and would you do similar things or would you agree with me that he was wrong? NP: To be honest, I never saw Nigel’s wife and so I don’t have any comments there. Regarding Senna, I think they had their own little fights and that was his way of trying to make him (Senna) off the pace, nervous. That was part of his strategy. Obviously every driver tries to poke each other in different kinds of ways. Obviously today things are a bit more controlled, and a bit more severe than a few years ago. I don’t think it is the right time where I have any need to do that but I think every driver does it, I think we all do it in a different kind of way, obviously in a much lower profile, but it happens once in a while. I think the right time will come if it’s needed but not yet.
Q: (Heinz Prüller – ORF) Nelson, your father once described driving in Monte Carlo like flying a helicopter in the living room. And David Coulthard said Monte Carlo driving is like having a bicycle in the bathroom. I would like your own observations. NP: It is tough. It is really tight but I think as a race weekend… let’s say the most important part of this weekend is qualifying and it’s still a race. You still need to be quick, you still need to have a very very good lap in qualifying, it’s just a bit less about the race because there’s nearly no overtaking here, so you still need to be very quick in qualifying and it still counts as points. I know it is very tight, I know there’s no run-off area, there’s no space for overtaking. The maximum you can do is go side-by-side with another car but then I think if two cars crash they have to put out a red flag because you wouldn’t be able to go past. To be honest I quite enjoy driving here. I think that comparing it to Macau… because I came here right after Macau, it was a big big difference. I found it much easier than driving (there) because that track in Macau, that’s really different. It’s also interesting but it’s really really tough to drive. You’re averaging speeds of 150-200 kph on the top hill in an F3 car which is much slower than a Formula One car. Fifth gear, fourth gear at street circuits is really much more difficult. When I arrived here, it seemed much more calmed down and much easier to drive. I still think it’s a race weekend. I know that in the race you cannot do much if you start at the back. I don’t dislike it but obviously if I had to choose between racing in Monaco and going to Silverstone or to Spa, I would chose going to Silverstone or Spa.
Q: (Fréderic Ferrett – L’Equipe) Nelson and Sébastien, how important is it for you to have driven here and did you prepare specially for this race? NP: I think the best preparation for this race is… both of us have been here, so it’s just taking it easy from the beginning. You have to build up your confidence on the track, slowly and slowly. The main thing is that when we’re out testing, there’s not much you can do with the car. The best thing to do is to drive and be as comfortable as you can be on the track, but as you cover lap-by-lap it’s going to evolve. It’s going to get quicker, so quickly that if you stop in the garage and do a set-up change and go out and you’re quicker, you don’t know if it’s the track or if it’s the car. The most important thing is to drive-drive and get as comfortable as you can and be confident enough to get a very very good lap in qualifying. It is important to have driven here before, but obviously the last time I drove here was two years ago, so obviously you’re not going to nail it at the beginning, you’re going to take a few laps to get it all back and this and that. And then lap by lap, get it slowly. I don’t think it’s a big track that makes a difference if you have been here before or not. I think it’s more of a track where you need a lot of experience, that if you come here year after year, you know exactly the times when to push, when not to push and it’s just the feeling of being comfortable. Knowing the track only by coming here once or twice I don’t think is a big advantage. I think the biggest advantage is by knowing it for a long time and being able to absorb as much as you can from it by knowing the characteristics and knowing what to do at the right time: if the car’s understeering, if you need to just drive more as the track is going to evolve or if you need to change the car. That’s what I think. SB: Well, not really specific preparation, it’s very difficult, obviously. We had the test in Paul Ricard which is what it is, but that’s the only time we really had maximum downforce on the car, so that’s just a taste of it, but to prepare for it is nearly impossible. As for the track, I came here three times before, it was quite a long time ago, and the track has changed in the meantime. Obviously there are a lot less guardrails at the apices and the visibility is a bit better and they put in some kerbs in some places as well. So I said the track is maybe a bit easier but going from an F3000 car to an F1 car, the track is definitely going to feel a lot different and probably a lot narrower, so we will see what it feels like, but as far as I’m concerned, I know it’s going to be a lot of fun and I will just try to take it one step at a time and not miss one, because usually that’s the synonym of a crash.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Felipe, we talked before with Alonso and he said that looking at last year’s results, McLaren will be favourite for this grand prix. Do you believe that it would be an advantage for you to have Lewis under pressure at this grand prix because he has to recover and quickly? FM: I don’t know. For sure it’s difficult to say. McLaren will certainly be very competitive, as they were in the last races. If you look at the last races, it was pretty close between both Ferraris and both McLarens. I don’t think it changes a lot if you’re under pressure or not. I was under pressure in Bahrain and I won the race. It doesn’t matter. If you have a good car, you always have good possibilities to win races. We need to wait and see on Sunday and also Saturday how the situation is going to be in qualifying and be aware that we can be competitive as well and we need to challenge them.
Q: (Rodrigo Franca – VIP Magazine) Question for all four drivers: during this week, there is a lot of synergy between motor racing and cinema, due to the Cannes Film Festival, a few kilometres from here. I would like you to choose your best movie ever in your opinion and why?FM: I love many movies, but the one I love most is the 24 Hours series. I’m crazy for that. I watch all the series and really love that. GF: I like an Italian film, Febbre da Cavallo. Maybe one of the best films for me is Titanic which is very romantic and is a true story. NP: Difficult to say what is my favourite movie, but I enjoy the 24 Hours series a lot, and yesterday in Cannes I saw The Exchange with Angelina Jolie which I enjoyed a lot, it was probably in the top five films that I’ve seen. It was a really really good film. I saw the preview yesterday. SB: I’ve always found it very very difficult to compare movies, between action movies, comedies and everything. I can never really pick one but I like movies a lot.
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