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Sunday, May 07, 2006

European Grand Prix press conference

With Schumacher, Alonso and Massa
Michael Schumacher took his second straight win today at the European Grand Prix with Fernando Alonso again finishing in second position. Felipe Massa joined the two Champions on the podium for the first time. Here’s what the top three finishers had to say.

Q: Michael, congratulations. Just talk us through those early stages when you were trailing Fernando as you were.
Michael SCHUMACHER: It was no surprise that it was difficult because we were driving pretty competitively and as quick as we could. It’s a bit more difficult behind when you’re driving in the slipstream and the wind conditions today made it a bit tricky in certain areas. But at the end of the day, on the tyre side, the car side, the engine side and fuel and everything was just superb.

Q: You did two superb in-laps, the fastest lap of the race and a great out-lap as well.
MS: Yeah, well the out-lap was not that important – it was just getting out of the pit-lane in front. I always thought we could do it at the first pit-stop, but then I pushed a bit too high at turn six and almost lost it and that was probably the reason that I had to spend more time behind until the last pit-stop, which was interesting because it was varying quite a bit in certain parts of the race where Fernando sometimes seemed a bit slower and then sometimes I seemed to be a bit slower and then I was picking it up again and he had a pit-stop where he was pushing very hard, but we could match his sort of pace.

Q: And perfect strategy. You didn’t seem too happy after qualifying yesterday, but it’s all panned out perfectly as it’s turned out.

MS: We obviously chose to stay out extra lap, which honestly doesn’t give you two tenths. The reason Fernando gained the two tenths was because I didn’t get a perfect lap and he obviously did and that’s where it went. Because I felt we had a good strategy and I felt good about it, and I knew we had a good race pace because on new tyres I knew we could push and it all worked out.

Q: Fernando, a great second place and eight valuable points. Talk us through the race from your point of view.
Fernando ALONSO: It was a quite interesting race. I started from pole position and I was controlling the race with the pace. I knew there was an area for Michael, so we had new tyres at the first pit-stop. It was okay and I came in-front of Michael at the end. In the second pit-stop it was not so good because we stopped maybe three of four laps too early and that was too much. I think sometimes in a race you have traffic, but sometimes nothing helps when you are leading the race and second place is a fantastic result considering we were a little bit down from Ferrari’s performance this weekend. Also, I think the tyres were not perfectly okay for this weekend, so even with everything, to get the eight points means that we have everything okay and we should win again.
Q: Third stint for you, once Michael had got the lead, how hard was that and how hard did you try to push it for a couple of laps?
FA: I tried for two or three laps and we had similar lap times, but from then we just turned the revs down and this engine has to race next week in Barcelona and we need to always get on the podium.

Q: So you had Felipe under control?
FA: More or less yes. Maybe it was a bit close at the end, but clearly it was controlled.

Q: Felipe, a great drive from you. A lot of pressure on Fernando in the closing stages and equally on you from Kimi Räikkönen.
Felipe MASSA: I’m really happy – it was a great result for us and especially with my first podium. The whole car was quite strong, especially at the beginning when I and Michael were both pushing Fernando and then suddenly they got the pace. My car was quite consistent all race and the tyres were working well. Only in the last stint – where I had scrubbed tyres – it was not working so well. It was a great result, it helps the team out for the championship and especially me and Michael for the fight. In the first three races we were not on the pace, so hopefully now there is a chance for us to fight with Renault for the races.

Q: You made a great start too from P3 on the grid. Michael was alongside you in the first corner.
FM: Sure, I had a very good start and I could manage to put my car side-by-side with Michael but he was on the inside so he was able to go ahead. Really, it was a great start and I think the whole thing was perfect with the strategy too. The management of the race was very good.

Q: Michael, a great result, two wins in a row. Next race next week is the Spanish Grand Prix. Fernando usually goes pretty well there.
MS: Yeah. It’s no surprise to expect Renault up at the front, and also they shouldn’t be surprised to see us at the front either. We will battle to win.

Q: Michael, that seemed a pretty perfect race.
MS: Yeah. If you finish first, what can you say? That’s the way it makes everybody happy who wants to see us winning, obviously. It was a great race, great strategy, great performance all the way through.

Q: Did the strategy basically come from Ross?
MS: Obviously Ross is the man who finally decides, but we’re a team and there are several people involved in working out our strategies and preparing everything so it’s a team effort.

Q: It was quite close between yourself and Felipe at the start of the race.
MS: I was just saying to Felipe that I started off and tried to see where he was, somewhere on my left but I couldn’t see him in the mirrors, neither could I see him looking over (the side of the car), so I was trying to get into Fernando’s slipstream thinking that there wasn’t anybody nearby but then suddenly he pulled alongside, so I was a little bit surprised for a moment, but I hope… I guess I didn’t cause any fuss for Felipe.

Q: There was one point, lap 24, when you suddenly lost a couple of seconds. You were saying that the gap between yourself and Fernando seemed to go up and down a fair amount, but you seemed to lose a couple of seconds on one lap.
MS: I had two occasions, honestly. One was when Fernando went into the pits and I pushed, naturally, pretty hard and I got a bad tail wind in one corner which almost took me off the circuit and then during the race, probably lap 24, I went wide in turn 11, I think, which was quite tricky, and I lost quite a bit of ground. But then, at that stage, Fernando was strong in the middle sector of the second stint, I was pretty strong and then we were pretty equal before the pit stops.

Q: And that was the only problem during the race?
MS: Yeah. When you’re up here, you can’t have had too many problems!

Q: Fernando, how much pressure was Michael giving you in the early stages and at the end of the second stint?
FA: It was not too much to be honest. It’s difficult to follow people here and also the gap was 0.6s, 0.8s and it’s difficult to get much closer than that. It was not really an opportunity to overtake, so I was quite relaxed, controlling the engine a little bit and I pushed when I thought it was time to push right before the second stop and on the first pit-stop. I kept the lead in the first one, but in the second one, it was, of course, not possible any more.

Q: So are you disappointed with second?
FA: No, not at all. I think we came here with some questions as to how Ferrari will perform here, McLaren, us, and I think Honda was not too competitive this weekend, to be honest. With their grip problems - they were dealing with that so it was difficult to understand how. I think today we saw the normal picture again that we now need something more to win. At Imola we were ready to fight – I think we were quicker than Ferrari during the race but I think here it was a question of time: when do they overtake us? At the first stop, second stop but it was nearly impossible to keep them behind for sixty laps.

Q: Looking back, would you have changed your tyre choice if you had the opportunity?
FA: No, I think we did the right thing. I think we need to improve a little bit in all areas in the car and I think Barcelona will be a good point, because we have always been quick there in testing. Michelin has been in a dominant position in Barcelona over the last two years, so I’m really looking forward to winning that one.

Q: Felipe, you were very close at the end to Fernando, but you also had Kimi right up behind you as well.
FM: Yeah, the last five laps were not so easy because I was getting closer and closer to Fernando and Kimi was getting closer and closer to me, because I was getting very close to Fernando and I lost performance, for sure. But anyway, I think it was a great result, I’m really happy, first podium and everything worked fantastically for us this weekend. We brought the right tyres, for sure. The car was working perfectly and the race was very good.

Q: And a demon start as well.
FM: Yeah, I had a very good start. I was side by side with Michael into the braking area but he was inside and so he stayed in front but I think my car was very competitive and it was very consistent during the whole race. Sometimes the wind was changing, the situation was a little bit tricky over a couple of corners, and then the wind changed a little bit and it was a little bit tricky in other corners, but anyway, I could handle it to do a good race without mistakes and that’s very important for me and the team.

Q: It’s been a good weekend for Todts!
FM: Definitely. They won both races in GP2 and finishing third for Nicolas is really good and for Jean, it’s definitely a fantastic job. We’re now getting closer to Renault in every race and fighting every race is very important for us. Hopefully now we will get the right direction to fight every race.

Q: (Sal Zanca – AP) Michael, after three races, it didn’t look so good for Ferrari. What has made the difference in the last two races? The car? The driver? The team? The strategy? One thing please!
MS: I thought we looked good already at the first race honestly, so it’s not a surprise. We are good now because with the exception of Malaysia where we probably weren’t that competitive, in the rest of the races we had the package available. We didn’t make use of it all the time like in Australia and now it’s just normal development, where you go through the bits and pieces that are coming, aerodynamic, engine and so on where you make little steps. As I said at the beginning, the important thing from now on is who has the quicker rate of development. We have been good, traditionally, in the past, not very good last year but sometimes everybody needs a break.

Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Michael, at the beginning of the second stint, you lost a little bit of performance in comparison to Alonso, more than two seconds. Did you think that your chances could be over at that time?
MS: Naturally when you have a period where it’s a bit more difficult you start to think but then we always have something in hand to react and it worked out pretty well. I think he was going quickly and I was just struggling a little bit more and made this mistake in turn 11 which almost caused me to go off and I had to be quiet for two or three laps and then I could go again.

Q: (Juha Päätalo – Financial Times Germany) Michael, are these two consecutive victories the final confirmation that you will be able to fight for the championship this year, or did you have that feeling already?
MS: I had no doubt, honestly, that we would be in that position.

Q: (Juha Päätalo – Financial Times Germany) Fernando, how do you see the development pace of Ferrari now? Are you getting worried about the championship?
FA: No, not at all. I think it’s not a surprise that Ferrari is fighting. I expect McLaren will arrive also. Honda are really strong in some races, so nothing changes from the beginning of the championship. There are four teams, sometimes one is quicker, sometimes another one is slower, but all four teams are strong and ready to fight. We also had to be careful about tyres. I think in the next two races Michelin may be stronger than Bridgestone, we will probably see different races, so it’s difficult to say which one will be quicker.

Q: (Fulvio Solms – Corriere dello Sport) Question for Michael and Fernando: do you like this points system which doesn’t help the show, with only two points difference between victory and second position?
MS: I think you will get pretty logical answers: no for me and probably yes from him! FA: The same thing happened last year as well. I was winning seven races and the gap was always not enough.

Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Fernando, are you satisfied with the development programme of your team?
FA: I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know what we can do. I think it’s all about money, about lots of things, how you develop the car more. We’re happy, we were World Champions last year, we are leading both World Championships this year, so the team should be quite good, I think.

Q: (Anthony Rowlinson – Autosport) Fernando, are you worried that having a second race on the engine next week might affect your chances of winning your home race?
FA: No, not really. I think the difference we saw between the first race and the second race of the engine is less than one tenth, probably. We’re talking half a tenth. So I hope that if I have the chance to win in Barcelona, this half a tenth won’t be necessary.


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