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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bahrain qualifying press conference - Part I

With Schumacher, Massa and Button It’s an all Ferrari front row for the first race of the season in Bahrain with Michael Schumacher taking his first Pole since Hungary last year and in the process equalling Ayrton Senna’s record of 65 Pole Positions. Felipe Massa starts a fine second in his first race for Ferrari while Jenson Button starts third for Honda. Here’s what the fastest three qualifiers had to say.

Q: Welcome back Michael, your first pole since Hungary ’05.
Michael SCHUMACHER: Yeah, I’ve had to wait a long time to get back up here. Hard work in the meantime, an amazing result. All winter we knew that we seemed to have a good package but then you wait, very strongly for the final confirmation and here and now we have the confirmation for all the hard work. Every engineer, every mechanic has been giving everything to put us back up here and it’s the best way to pay back all our guys. There’s such a great feeling and emotion. It’s been too long ago, too long time ago.

Q: And a bit of a race there with your team mate, 31.5s and then a 31.4s for the pole. MS: Yeah, absolutely. It was very obvious right from the beginning and even before: Ferrari - not without reason - took the decision to take Felipe on board. We knew about his qualities and today he has proven them. It’s a great combination. We’re getting on very well, very focused and I hope the success story will continue after a year’s break.

Q: There was non-stop action from the outside; what was it like from your point of view? Sixth in the first two periods and then pole in the third. MS: Yeah, it has been very exciting, particularly in the first session as we wanted to leave it towards the end, then we had the red flag and we just got in the one lap in which it would have been very easy to make a mistake. From hero to zero wasn’t very much at that moment. The second session was a little bit more straightforward: just be safe and play to stay in the top ten and then we had a good concept and a way to arrange ourselves to go for pole position. The team has worked very well. We have had some struggles over the winter, we couldn’t do the whole programme that we sometimes wanted to do, but nevertheless we came here very focused, very concentrated and very organised.

Q: Felipe, turning to you, not only on the front row but the first time that you’ve ever qualified in the top three as well. Felipe MASSA: Yeah, I’m really happy for that. I would say I’m very happy to be with the Ferrari team and feel comfortable here. It’s amazing how the team works and I knew from the first test I did that it was going to be a much more competitive year for me, to show what I can do and it was definitely a great start. I was really happy to be in the top two in the first race of the season. As for my lap, I’m really happy to be second, but honestly, I have to thank Giancarlo (Fisichella) because he took away my pole position, because I was going to improve my lap time on the last run and I hit traffic, but anyway, great start. Hopefully we can always do this kind of qualifying and I think it’s a great start for me, for everybody in the team.

Q: Jenson, you’ve been looking strong all winter and strong now: P3. Jenson BUTTON: Yeah, it’s quite interesting, the new qualifying system. I’m sure for the spectators and it is for us. It’s always go, you’re always doing something and it turned out reasonably well for us. It’s quite difficult to get clean runs, especially in the last session which I think we all struggled to do a little bit, but I think that our strategy was very good in doing two sets of new tyres and yeah, it’s good to be in the top three and hopefully we can improve on this tomorrow.

Q: What were the conditions actually like in that traffic period at the end, and also given the wind conditions today? JB: It was pretty difficult out there today with the wind. It’s coming from a completely different direction from yesterday. There’s a lot of sand on the circuit, so it’s very difficult to be consistent and when you’re trying to do a fast lap on the edge, it’s tough. But that’s what it’s all about, and it’s great to be third. It’s been a tough winter, very very long but very good for us and I think we will show that tomorrow.

Q: Michael, obviously a different format for the race tomorrow, tyre changing coming back into Formula One. Your thoughts on that? MS: I think it makes racing a little bit more interesting. You drive more on the edge, you push harder, you fight, you overtake, you take a little bit more risk so it’s a good thing.

Q: Michael, a busy hour - or just over - did the strategies work out pretty much as you expected? MS: Obviously nobody could have expected the red flag in the first session and the session to be stopped. Except for that, I guess it was pretty normal. Q: Nothing’s normal at the moment, it’s all pretty much up in the air, isn’t it? MS: I’m pretty sure that the guys on TV who have to commentate on all this and explain it to the fans have had a hard job.

Q: Do you think we are going to see you do two stops for tyres in every race?
MS: We will certainly stop more than we have been doing last year, no doubt! (Laughter)

Q: I meant in qualifying…MS: That depends very much on the strategy you think you need to apply to your own needs, honestly. We chose that strategy.
Q: Of course, the question is how many sets of tyres have you got left now?
MS: Enough!

Q: Your pole position total is now equal to the record. Do you have a comment to make on that? MS: It makes me proud, that’s probably all I should and can say about it.

Q: Felipe was very very close in that qualifying…

MS: Yep, I think that’s the reason why Ferrari took him because we knew he’s performing very very well and he will give fresh air to the team. As I’ve mentioned several times, I never expected him to be anywhere else than where he has shown himself to be. As I’ve said before, he had the possibility to go quicker but for traffic, and it’s always a question of who can do what or whatever. Nevertheless, it’s going to be a tight and nice race between us and pushing each other to good results.

Q: You weren’t allowed to change the car very much, only the front wing and tyre pressures. Would you have liked to have made changes?
MS: Being here, we knew pretty much what to expect and what to do so it certainly helped in this respect to know exactly what to do and not to move around other bits and pieces.

Q: Felipe, well done, it must be a really nice feeling…
FM: It’s a great feeling, fantastic feeling, fantastic opportunity to go to Ferrari and I think the team did a fantastic job in the winter tests to develop the car. We’ve had some issues with the car, but we saw straight away that the car was good and was quick and was performing a lot better than they were used to last year. So for me, it was a great opportunity. I think it is the best way to start the championship, not just starting in second place but also fighting. The pole position thing was really really good for me, and I have to say that I’m really happy and hopefully we can see each other many times.

Q: And so close to Michael as well.
FM: Yeah, it was a great fight, I have to say, and on the last run, I had a little bit of traffic from Giancarlo and anyway it was a great fight and hopefully we can have this fight all the time. Q: What about the track conditions, the wind as well? FM: Well, the track conditions were not easy, there was a really strong wind and it was not so easy to find the right balance so it was very very difficult and in a couple of corners you had understeer, and in other corners you had a lot of oversteer so it was very difficult to drive, but fortunately we didn’t make a mistake and we just made a good lap.

Q: Jenson, obviously happy to be in the top three, but disappointed not to be on the front row? JB: Yeah, I think that’s the same for everyone who isn’t on the front row. We all want to be on the front row and spearheading the grid tomorrow afternoon. But third place was good. I’m reasonably happy with that and it was good, I thought it was very exciting. I’m sure it was the same for all the fans out there watching, because it was non-stop for me. I was in and out of the garage, especially with Räikkönen’s problem in the first session. It made it a very busy session, but it was good fun and it’s nice to be up here in third position and it’s just the normal thing which is the same for everyone: if the traffic is an issue, and it always has been with this sort of system but that’s something we’ve got to sort out ourselves.

Q: But it’s good to have the traffic back again!
JB: Yeah, I think so. It’s great having runs and having to do them at certain times during the hour. I think that does make it extra exciting and we have to be out on the circuit to do the times and I think that’s great, it’s good for the fans and I’m sure it’s going to make for some upsets this season and for some very different grids, I think.

Q: Interesting to see that amongst the three of you, you’re from two teams that tested here before. Do you think that was significant?
JB: It might be. We have the experience on the tyres here and all the other teams don’t. I think these two (Schumacher and Massa) probably had the best experience; they were here for nine days but also the weather was very up and down while we were here and it seems to be very different here for the race. It’s very windy and there was a lot of sand on the circuit which makes it difficult to drive and I think that adds a little bit of excitement to it as well, trying to keep the car in a straight line on the straight. But yes, it’s great that we’ve got a good position here for tomorrow and hopefully we can gain those two positions tomorrow.

Q: Would you like to have changed more in qualifying?
JB: No, not really. I think we had a good balance and in these conditions it’s difficult because in some places, you’ve got quite a bit of understeer, in some places you’ve got quite a bit of oversteer. It matters which direction the wind is. I think we pretty much got the maximum out of the car, it was just getting the maximum out of the circuit, more than anything else.


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