Team members: Ove Andersson (Toyota), Patrick Head (Williams), Peter Sauber (Sauber), Paul Stoddart (Minardi) and Geoff Willis (BAR).

Press conference.

Q:
First of all, a question to all of you. We've seen the race weekend schedule for next year and I think it's fair to say that the press room is not impressed: there's nothing for the small teams, no cost cutting, nothing competitive on Fridays. And yet we've had a fantastic championship this year and there's a certain feeling of 'if it ain't broke, why fix it?' Your comments please, what do you feel about the changes being proposed, and why have they been proposed?

Ove Andersson:
There has obviously been a lot of discussion about this but the final result is the weekend proposed as it is being proposed, is voted through the Formula One Commission, so it's not really a pure team decision. There are sponsors included in the decision, race promoters and so on. I feel that the teams are not really the marketing people of Formula One; it's a common solution which I suppose would be the ideal one otherwise promoters would have said something against it.

Q:
Do you share the concerns that I've outlined, Patrick, for example?

Patrick Head:
I agree with Ove. It isn't something in which we've had much of an input. There were a couple of meetings at Indianapolis but I think the agenda was being set elsewhere by people who have maybe more direct interests in what they can sell on Friday or what they can sell on Saturday. In a way, I certainly didn't like the two different testing agreements, but I can readily see why, for the less strongly budgeted teams, being able to test for two hours on the Friday morning was extremely helpful and we, Williams, were in support of Friday being a test day of say four or four and a half hours, and restricted testing, but there were other people with different interests. But just as for this year, we really didn't have any say in the changes from last year to this year but we got out there and the teams have done a very good job of adapting to race preparation in two and a half hours and we'll adapt for next year. But it isn't a decision in which we've participated.

Q:
Geoff, are there technical, tactical and design concerns in the new regulations?

Geoff Willis:
The biggest change next year is clearly the single engine regulation, and there will be a trade-off trying to minimise mileage versus maximising the benefit of having two hours running on the Friday. A couple of things about the regulations still need to be clarified. Certainly they would apply to us. We don't fully understand what the tyre allocation issue is going to be for the third driver on Friday and would we be forced to use the third driver for the rest of the weekend? We are not quite sure what the implications will be for the engine. The two qualifying sessions on Saturday; we are probably going to need a bit more time between them but these are small details. I think, very much like Patrick says, it's different but I'm sure we'll find the correct solution and we'll work around it. I don't think it really offers anything particularly strange from a technical point of view.

Q:
Paul, there may still be grey areas, as Geoff just mentioned.

Paul Stoddart:
Well there is. But going back to your original question, I think it's very sad. Last year we were accused of having a boring championship. This year we've got both championships going to the wire. We've got a situation where Formula One has transformed itself in twelve months and we go and change it all. Last year there was much talk about initiatives to the small teams and as Patrick touched upon and I can testify too, the biggest disadvantage is budgets and clearly that two hours on a Friday morning enormously helped the small teams. It's been taken away. What it has been replaced with doesn't really help the small teams. Yes, the bottom six can run a third car if they chose to do so but there are a few little stings in the tail, like a super licence. For instance, the Japanese driver who was driving with Jordan today probably would not have been able to do so under the new regs. Certainly two of the drivers I've used this year would not have been able to under the new regulations. I think it's defeating the purpose of what we did last year. Last year we gave the little guys a bit of a chance. The Heathrow (agreement) street sweepers or track sweepers as we were called, it proved to be the right choice for many teams and I think it's really, really sad to see it disappear.

Peter Sauber:
Of course, we prefer the Heathrow agreement. We like to change to this testing agreement, but on the other hand, it's very difficult to bring all the ideas together, the ideas about the race weekend were so different and also the interests of the teams and that's normal.

Q:
So having had a very good championship this year, wouldn't it have been better just to leave it as it was?

PSa:
Maybe we can change something because the first idea was to improve the whole weekend, especially for the spectators, on the track and the spectators at home. But now it's similar.

Q:
Another one for you all. It's been a very close championship this year. Is that because of the regulation changes or has it been because of normal development?

OA:
I think that question is very difficult to answer. Generally speaking, I believe that the championship, due to the new qualifying regulations, doing qualifying with the fuel and so on, has mixed up the grid and has been making races very interesting. So probably the rule changes have had a big influence to achieve that.

PH:
I think the main influence has been that there have been three and sometimes four teams running competitively and that wasn't the case. We were able to qualify well in one lap last year but we weren't able to sustain that. The degradation of our tyres was much worse than with the Ferrari and so it promised to deceive really. Now there are three, sometimes four. I think the Renault is probably competitive at every circuit now, certainly the engine no longer seems to be as far behind as it was at the beginning of the season. I think last year the Ferrari was just head and shoulders above the other cars and however you mixed up the regulations you were still going to get a similar outcome.

GW:
Probably we've seen more varied effect of the tyre battle this year. There hasn't been such a consistent benefit one way or the other and it has depended on circuits and on conditions. And also, yes, there are more teams competing at a close to equal level technically so I think that's mixed it up. I personally don't think the qualifying has made any real difference to the outcome of the championship.

PSt:
Certainly there have been more competitive teams in the top four, they are just that, they are the top four and they are out on their own. But look at the midfield. There are five teams vying for fifth place in the championship and I think that's where we have seen a bit more of a benefit from the rules. I think it's tightened the midfield up to a very close fight and in the top teams, tyres, there's no doubt, have played a part. But overall, we've just had a much more interesting championship for many and varied reasons. The results are there to be seen.

PSa:
Maybe the new rules about points for the championship have made some difference, especially for Michael. The qualifying? I don't know, maybe it's more interesting, also for the teams, the strategy is important, maybe not today but at the beginning of the season.

Q:
Ove, the testing agreement of 48 days. Do you understand that to be 48 car days or 48 on which you can test in multiple locations?

OA:
I understand it to be 48 days, not car days.

Q:
So you could be testing three cars in different locations on those days?

OA:
As it stands now, this is how I understand. It could be a misinterpretation from my side, but that's what I thought was the proposal, yes.

Q:
Toyota, this being their home race, how much pressure is on here, what sort of expectations are there?

OA:
Well, of course there is the expectation that we should do well. I don't know if I can say that there is more pressure than usual, because if you are racing and you are involved in racing you always want to do well. But here, maybe, we have the whole board watching what we are doing and it adds a little bit extra pressure, sure. I think my colleague (GW) at the other side of the table has the same problem.

Q:
Patrick, obviously you're in with a shout in the Constructors' championship so do you approach this weekend any differently?

PH:
Not really. We hope the outcome is rather more favourable to us than Indianapolis was, where we made a bit of a mess of it in a number of ways. We've got to score four more points than Ferrari and the easiest way to do that is to finish first and second, so that's certainly our target.

Q:
What does such an experienced team as yours learn from your Indianapolis race?

PH:
We've still got some things to learn, I think. (Laughter).

Q:
Anything in particular?

PH:
Well, obviously both drivers made their own individual errors. Ralf's, when he was in a reasonably good position, was terminal and Juan's certainly affected the outcome of his race. But we then made some other strategic decisions that weren't ideal and obviously, at the moment, the conditions were favourable to Bridgestone's light weather tyre. But that's something that's existed for quite some time and it's something that Michelin have obviously got to get to grips with. I think Raikkonen drove a perfect race, and had it been dry, I'm not sure he would have won, but he probably would have finished ahead of Michael and certainly the wet weather resulted in his second place.

Q:
Geoff, Honda pressure here, and expectations?

GW:
Well, certainly a number of reasons for pressure here. It's our home Grand Prix in a number of ways, certainly the tie-up between Honda and Suzuka circuit and Honda have a big plant here. In terms of importance, certainly we are pushing very hard to get back to fifth place in the championship. Clearly it's just as important to do well here as it was at any other race this year and if we don't succeed in what we're trying to do, getting that fifth place, it won't just be because of failing here it will be because of failing earlier in the year.

Q:
You've had a driver change here as well. What are your thoughts on Jacques' departure and Takuma's sparkling arrival?

GW:
Yes, certainly we had little notice of Jacques' decision. I heard yesterday on the train at about eleven o'clock in the morning after a telephone conversation between Craig Pollock and David Richards. Takuma has settled in very well. I think he's done a very good job today. We went through our programme today without error and a good safe but not too conservative qualifying lap this afternoon. Certainly we've all worked with Takuma. He's been testing for us this year and he knows the ropes, he knows the procedures, he knows the engineers, he knows the mechanics and he knows the circuit very well, so in some ways it's been a gentle way in for him, but despite that, it's been big pressure for him and I think he's done a very good job today.

Q:
How much has he grown up in the last year, would you say?

GW:
It's difficult to make an answer there. He's certainly very easy to get on with, intelligent, perceptive and we've certainly enjoyed working with him and we're looking forward to working with him next year.

Q:
Paul, a couple of questions to you. On the Minardi's bargeboard is printed 'not paid' over one of your sponsors, Stayer. Could you tell us the story behind that?

PSt:
It's a bit of a sad story actually. Many of you know that we had a problem with the main sponsor at the start of the year and lost forty percent of our budget through no fault of our own and one or two others we've had problems with during the year. This particular one, despite repeated warnings and bounced cheques and, God knows, every other problem, I took the decision to put that on there today more or less just to send the message out that really you ought not to sign contracts if you don't intend to honour them.

Q:
Another question is about the potential Italian investors. Have they been to the factory and where are they?

PSt:
Good question! If you know, you might like to tell me. Most teams have silly seasons over drivers. Minardi and sometimes Jordan seem to have silly seasons over investors and ownership. I've made no secret of the fact that if the right deal came along which I felt could take Minardi further than I could, then I would be interested in it. But thus far we've just had a lot of time-wasters and one or two individuals that perhaps were serious but for one reason or another have not chosen to go forwards. So the answer is simply that there are no current negotiations on-going as we speak to do anything other than get on with racing next year.

Q:
Now you've had a couple of back-to-back tests between your current car and the Arrows that you bought. What's the situation with that?

PSt:
Well, we've done two tests now and a few of the results are quite impressive. But I think where it's leading to is that we'll end up a new car that is the best of both worlds. We've certainly learned a few things from the Arrows chassis but we've also learned that a year is a long time in Formula One. I think a lot of people thought that the Arrows chassis would annihilate the Minardi chassis and that simply wasn't the case. Perhaps our guys, on what little budget they've had, have done a better job than what I've given them credit for.

Q:
Peter, what was the feeling within the team after your good result in Indianapolis?

PSa:
We were very, very lucky, I think, with the weather. We improved with the tyres, of course, the Bridgestone tyres are much better in these conditions and for the team it was a big, big step forwards and we were very, very lucky.

Q:
Since then, you've announced that the two drivers will not be staying this year. Earlier this year, you said there was nothing wrong with the drivers. Why get rid of them?

PSa:
No, we are very happy with both our drivers but I have been fighting for three years to get Giancarlo Fisichella to drive for us and now it's OK. And Felipe Massa: We drove one year with Felipe Massa. He was fast, he was a little bit young, not a lot of experience, especially on the technical side, and now he could improve very well with Ferrari, do a lot of mileage, learn a lot on the technical side and now we will drive again with him.

 

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