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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Post race press conference from Bahrain

A close race between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher saw the Renault driver take top honours today in Bahrain while Kimi Raikkonen battled his way from last on the grid to finish third. Here’s what the top three had to say after the first race of the season.

Q: Fernando, it was close all the way, but a great start, you got up to second place on the first lap.
Fernando ALONSO: Yes, the start was good and from there it was a little bit easy to think about the race but about the start maybe was two down on the first lap and then impossible to recover. In the first stint, Michael was too quick, nothing to do. We thought that we had more fuel than the others, especially yesterday in qualifying, up until lap 20 and then from there the car was performing well. We were on a similar pace to Michael and in the second stop, thanks to luck, thanks to the mechanics who did a perfect stop again, I was very close but in front of Michael and from there, I think we had a similar pace again but with me just in front.
Q: It looked to be a bit of a tense time for you going into that second stop when you knew you had to make up time and you were in traffic there. FA: Yeah, a lot of traffic and I think all the guys were OK to let me past but there were no blue flags at all, so the marshals were not in the race at that moment, but I was lucky enough to be in front of Michael and it was good, it was really nice and a really fun race for me.

Q: How did you drive that last stint with Michael behind you?
FA: At the beginning quite slowly, quite conservatively, because I knew that at the beginning maybe the Michelin tyres were a little bit better and at the end maybe the Bridgestone tyres would be better. So I knew that at the end, the last four or five laps, we would have some problems with Michael, for sure, so I was a little bit conservative and I really conserved the tyres to the end, but at the end, I also had quite a nice gap – one second, one second and a half – and all the last stint was quite relaxed.
Q: Michael, for a while Felipe was second on that first lap but by the end it was Fernando in your mirrors. Michael SCHUMACHER: Yes, but quite honestly if you think where we were last year, if you see what has happened over the winter time, if somebody would have told us we would finish second in this race we would have been absolutely happy about it and we are honestly happy. It’s eight points, just two down (from the maximum). Victory is certainly always nicer, no doubt. We got pole position yesterday, unfortunately I lost one lap in qualifying where, for traffic reasons I had to back off and I didn’t get the fuel, and if you look at it now, it’s the one lap that I was missing, in a way. Nevertheless, good result, good work from the team, reliable car, fast car, very promising for the rest of the season and good fighting and good racing.

Q: Brilliant second stint from you, a lot of fuel in the car, a long run there and Fernando behind you the whole way. MS: Yeah. Obviously he was a bit quicker in certain moments. Then I seemed to be able to just open up a little bit and got traffic, close to my pit stop, but nevertheless, you shouldn’t complain. It just goes around one or the other way and it was a good race at the end of the day. I feel a bit sorry for Felipe that he couldn’t take the result of his race but there are many races to go for him.

Q: And how was that phase for you, following Fernando?
MS: You know what it is in Formula One, sitting behind a car, you need to be a lot quicker. When you have equal cars, it’s almost impossible to pass. Once there was a moment with a backmarker, I got a bit closer, I was having a look whether there was an opportunity but then finally it wasn’t close enough to seriously try.

Q: Kimi, from the back of the grid, what a sensational drive from you on a one stop strategy. Talk us through the early phase; you picked up a lot of places very quickly. Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN: Yeah, I think it was a bit disappointing what happened yesterday because the car has been pretty good all weekend and we got a good set-up, especially yesterday morning so starting from the last place, we knew that we had a good chance to score some points, but it really depends on the first few laps and whatever happens during the race but I got quite a few places in the first corner and I was able to follow and overtake people who were lighter, so I got past them during the first stint. We ran quite a bit longer than anyone else so we were able to gain some places and in the end, the Honda came behind me, Jenson, and it was a little bit difficult because I had quite old tyres already which had done many laps, and he was behind me with brand new tyres, so I needed to look out for him and I was able to keep him behind for five laps and then I knew that his new tyres weren’t going to be as good any more so I was able to take it easy and then come home in third place.

Q: But you must feel encouraged by the tremendous speed from you and the car.
KR: Yeah, because we didn’t really know where we were after testing and people said we weren’t very good, but during the last month we really improved our position and when we came here the car was pretty good so it wasn’t surprising, but we didn’t really know where we were. So it was nice to see that we were strong in the race and we could have been very strong in qualifying also.

Q: It looks like it’s going to be a very very close season, Fernando.
FA: Yeah, it will be very interesting. There are four teams fighting for victories at any circuit at the moment: Honda, McLaren, Ferrari and Renault, and I think any of them can win races, and this would make the start of the season, especially, very very interesting.

Q: Fernando, how did you get past Felipe?
FA: Felipe went a little bit long into turn one at the start of the race. I tried to overtake him at turn four, on the next straight but it wasn’t possible, but he braked on the inside line where it was dirty and he missed turn four, so it was there that I overtook him. On the fifth or sixth lap, he overtook me but only for a tenth of a second, because he passed really quickly and dangerously and at that moment I was lucky enough not to touch.

Q: Did you see him coming, sideways or backwards?
FA: Yes, but there was nothing I could do, the speed was too quick and you have no reaction time, basically. I was lucky.

Q: Then it was absolutely vital for you to get out the pits ahead of Michael at that last stop.
FA: Yeah, it was the only opportunity to win the race and I was going for it. I really knew that the car was tougher than Michael’s, especially the first ten laps on the tyres. So it was my moment, I knew that if I was in front of him at the exit of the pits, the race was for me. I really pushed with a good in lap and a perfect pit stop from the mechanics and thanks to this I was in front of him, very close, but in front.

Q: Were you getting a lot of instructions on the radio?
FA: No, I was pushing them more for the blue flags, so they had more radio than me, probably.

Q: How much were you surprised by Michael five laps from the end?
FA: No, we had some people in front, and sometimes they slowed me down, and Michael was close to me, and sometimes it was the opposite. They were nice with me and not so nice with Michael and the gap would open again. I was quite sure that the victory was in my hands.

Q: Were you a bit worried during the opening stages when he was pulling away a bit?
FA: No, not really. We thought that the fuel load was significantly different, and it was not the time to push at that stage.

Q: And what’s the new swagger on the podium?
FA: It’s a secret, I’ll tell you later in the season.

Q: Michael, the end of the pit stop was the crucial point, wasn’t it?
MS: Yep. Probably the pictures show how close I was. I was on the outside, I tried, but there was no opportunity.

Q: And obviously later on as well.
MS: Yeah, once you’re behind, you have to wait for a mistake or a bad situation with a backmarker. It didn’t really occur, so I just sat and waited and watched.

Q: But you’re really happy with what was obviously a very close second place.
MS: Yeah, you know in 19 or 18 races, however many it’s going to be, all points are very important and if you lose or gain two points it’s not really so important at this stage. It would have liked to win but then there is only so much you can do for it and this time it was Fernando. As you see, we have four very competitive teams on the grid and it’s a long year.

Q: Did the opening laps go as planned? MS: Basically, yes, it worked out well.
Q: No more or less than the time you would have hoped to have made up?
MS: No, actually, I was quite happy to see a gap opening up and if you consider that we lost a lap of fuel returned in qualifying due to being just a bit above 110 percent anyway, so it shows where we are and how good we probably can be for the rest of the year.

Q: Kimi, you made up eight places on the first lap; do you remember any of them?
KR: Yes, in the first corner I got quite a few around the outside, and then people were really going too quickly into turn four, and they were sliding around and I got a few places there but the car was good, even though we were much heavier than the guys in front of us. The biggest problem was Villeneuve, he was the most difficult guy to overtake because I was hitting the rev limiter in seventh gear in a straight line so whenever I got close I was not able to pass him. But then finally I got close enough and got him under braking so that was very good. But the car has been good all weekend really so it was a bit disappointing what happened yesterday. But at least we got six points, so we didn’t drop too many points behind the two guys in front of me. There are many races to go and we seem to have good speed and the car is working, so maybe we can see what we can do.

Q: Much pressure from Jenson Button in the closing stages?
KR: Yeah, when he came behind me he was on new tyres and my tyres were a bit old already, so I knew that he could try to overtake me at that point, but I was pushing hard and then after about five laps he started to slow down so I knew then it should be OK barring a mistake, but at that moment when he just had new tyres it was quite close.


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