Friday Press Conference - San Marino

Participating: Jenson Button (BAR), Alexander Wurz (McLaren), Ron Dennis(McLaren), Gil de Ferran (BAR)

Friday Press Conference - San Marino

Q. Alex, first of all, following the problems getting you comfortable in the car, were you comfortable today?

Alexander Wurz: Yeah, I've been very comfortable after the test, coming here and now I'm a race driver, that makes me extra comfortable, so I'm pretty OK.

Q. So you're just not complaining, full stop!

AW: Full stop, no complaints. No really, I'm sitting alright, I can handle the test, I've done more than a hundred laps in testing every day so I'm very comfortable now.

Q. When you are third driver, what is the feeling? Is it frustration or just a matter of getting on and doing the job?

AW: Ooh. No, we have the opportunity this year to run a third car and to be honest it's actually quite a cool thing, because after driving for four years only on Spanish tracks it's a real relief going somewhere else to be honest.

Q. It was interesting to see Pedro de la Rosa's race in Bahrain. There seemed to be a certain freedom of spirit, almost as though there was nothing to lose. What is your feeling when you're going to be racing on Sunday?

AW: Well, I hope I can answer you that question here on Sunday, but at the end of the day I very much enjoyed Pedro's race. It had high entertainment factor on the TV and I've said it many times and so has he, but I think the test driver duo at McLaren is probably better than some of the race driver duos in Formula One. He and I are really pushing hard in every test, and now also every Friday, whoever has the opportunity. He showed his potential in Bahrain and I hope I have the opportunity to show mine over the next few days.

Q. Is it a case that there's no pressure, no team orders, that you have a freedom of spirit, you're not thinking of the championship?

AW: I'm here to drive as quick as I can and full stop, that's it. I'm enjoying it. Opportunities like this don't come up every day for a race driver to race for West McLaren Mercedes which is one of the most successful teams in Formula One, and after many many years of dreaming I've got this opportunity so it's here. It would be wrong not to enjoy it but on the other hand it's... I wouldn't say pressure, but it's something special which you realise when you sit in the car and you're out there.

Q. Jenson, your impressions of the first three races?

Jenson Button: I think I've made myself heard in the past. It's been a very tough start of the season for everyone involved in the team. Our issues have mostly been down to failures at the start of the season. Our pace has been relatively good but you just haven't been able to see it. We've had two very good tests, one in Barcelona, one in Paul Ricard since Bahrain and for me, we've made a good step forward in reliability, the reliability is much better now, and aerodynamically with the car so for me we've made a big step forward and everyone is very positive for the rest of the season.

Q. Is that what you were looking for from those first three races?

JB: Of course, those were the two areas we needed to work in and those are the areas in which I think we've done a very good job since Bahrain.

Q. Obviously the performance today bears that out...

JB: It does. It's only Friday, you can't say too much. We did all our test items and everything went very smoothly for us. The car for me is a much better car to drive, it reacts better to changes and it's more predictable which is a big thing now in Formula One for consistency.

Q. Gil, welcome to Formula One. How did it all come about?

Gil de Ferran: I think this is one of those situations where opportunity meets desire. Certainly when I stopped driving at the end of '03, I didn't want to get out of the sport completely and this type of role was something that I wanted to do. I met Nick years and years ago through Sir Jackie Stewart when he was working at Ford and eventually for Aston Martin and basically we got in touch in December and we've been talking since December. I guess that period gave him an opportunity to get to know me better and I was delighted because certainly this was the best opportunity I could hope for and in a way it feels like a natural progression of my driving career.

Q. So how was the first day on the pit wall?

GdeF: My first day on the pit wall was wonderful thanks to that man behind me (Jenson). It was great and I guess my task right now is basically to listen and to observe. I've been going to all the meetings - engineering meetings, planning meetings, so and so forth - really to try to understand how the team functions and who does what and understand the personalities involved, and today it was great to be there in the heat of battle with my finger on the pulse.

Q. How steep a learning curve is it?

GdeF: Very steep. Actually I started two weeks ago and let me just say that sleep has not been a luxury that I have afforded very much.

Q. And presumably you're back in Britain again?

GdeF: I am back in Britain again, yes, after a ten year stint in the US, I am back to live in the UK. My wife has been looking for schools and a house for our family.

Q. Ron, a good day today, so far?

Ron Dennis: So far. Yes, it's going OK at the moment, but it's premature to be able to predict whether we can carry the momentum through Saturday and Sunday but so far so good.

Q. What improvements have been made since Bahrain?

RD: Not a great many components are new on the car but the set-up and other parameters that you can adjust have been adjusted as it were. A lot of it has just come out of testing. Most of the car/engine improvements are scheduled to come in Spain so whatever our performance here, it will be better in Spain.

Q. So it's something that will carry through for all the races...

RD: Definitely.

Q. Is it a bit of a different approach?

RD: Not really, it's just that we're a bit more conservative about introducing into the race cars new developments. We really want to prove them out, make sure they don't have any impact on reliability. We've enjoyed total reliability so far this year and we want to keep that momentum through the season.

Q. Is there a difference in tactics in the way you run a third driver?

RD: No. Obviously they are there to perform a different task, evaluate the tyres a little more aggressively and maybe the odd alternative set-up, but their role in a Grand Prix weekend is different to that of a test event, but they're an integral part of the team and they've got a role to play which is clearly defined and I think they enjoy playing it.

Q. And when they actually get in a race as well there seems to be that freedom which comes from not thinking of their own championship...

RD: Not at all. They're really, I would say, driving even more for the team than perhaps your own drivers because of course what they can bring to the team is points and they certainly start with a clear understanding that they're not going to be contesting the World Championship, so perhaps they have in the back of their mind that fact, but you could also argue that that makes them take a little more risk and push a bit harder because there's no down side of throwing away a race which may contribute to a World Championship, because that isn't relevant to them, so they have to find a balance. As Alex pointed out, Pedro did a very good job in Bahrain and I'm sure Alex will strive to match it or better it.

Q. What was required to get Alex comfortable in the car?

RD: It was not any of the primary structures of the car, it was just components which actually sit around the driver that needed to be specially made, but they were always programmed into the system. Getting any driver comfortable, irrespective of size is always difficult. If they are a little taller than average, it's just a bit more challenging.

Questions from the Floor

Q. (Steve Cooper ­ F1 Racing) Jenson, at the start of the year you said the 007 was quite erratic to drive, particularly when you were in the slipstream, but today the car seemed really smooth. Have you just unlocked the key in the last few weeks? Can you explain what it felt like in March compared to what it feels like now?

JB: At the start of the year the car was very twitchy and very unpredictable, especially at the end of braking when you were turning and trying to commit into a corner. Now it is very different. You have the confidence to push the car to the limit and it does make all the difference. It is not just a quicker car it also gives the drivers' more confidence, which is a big part of racing.

Q. Is it a long-term thing, or just in the last couple of weeks that it has come good? JB: It was more the last couple of weeks. We improved the car in the first couple of races but it wasn't a big step forward, it was when we put the new aero package on the car in Barcelona when we noticed we had made a good step forward. We had to make a few changes to make it work but we gained a good chunk there and we are positive for a good race here. Hopefully we are back up there fighting where we should be.

Q. Ron Dennis, what is the latest news on Juan Pablo and the chances of him racing in Barcelona?

RD: The bone has actually healed quite well, but because the arm needed immobilising he has had quite a bit of muscle wastage and that has got to come back, the muscle strength has got to come back. He will go through some more scans and is scheduled to go in a simulator before the Spanish Grand Prix and we will determine based on his performance in our simulator whether he is fit to race.

Q. And assuming he is not back, have you sorted out the third driver rule for the rest of the season?

RD: No that is not a decision taken yet.

Q. So does Alex's performance here in Imola more or less depend whether he will be the third driver or Pedro?

RD: Clearly Alex's performance is going to play a role in the decision and it would have been inappropriate to take any decision before we had seen how well he does this weekend. But at the end of the day it is one of those decisions that is going to be a more quality decision with the benefit of the knowledge that is going to come out of this weekend.

Q. Ron, it looks like McLaren has a good pace during the race, but tends to get beaten during qualifying. What is your opinion about that?

RD: We have more of a first corner weakness, but I think so far that is heating the front tyres but this weekend we seemed to be very much on top of it. There are a range of developments that will come onto the car in Spain that should even further address this issue, but our testing has proved that with the package we have we have been able to get the tyres to function faster, so we have to wait and see tomorrow and Sunday. But it doesn't appear to be such an issue here.

Q. (Marc Surer ­ Premier TV) Alex, at the chicane on the top they have asphalt on the run-off area and it is painted white. First, it didn't look like it reduced a lot of time, secondly are you worried if it is wet on the white paint?

AW: Well, the white paint is concrete, which I think is okay, but the problem is there is artificial grass behind the kerb, about one-and-a-half or two metres and that is quite slippery and I think it will be extremely slippery in the wet. But the best is to hit the kerb right in the chicane and not end up there, because that is not the line you should be on.

Q. Alex, today it is four-and-a-half years since you last raced in a Formula One car. How can you practice wheel-to-wheel racing and the start of a Grand Prix when you are a test driver?

AW: Right, what should I answer now? At the end of the day, we practice a lot of starts, so to play with the throttle and clutch I am really comfortable because we do a lot of starts. The rest will come automatically. I am not worried. I did a good job when I started Formula One. I have a lot more experience now, I feel much more ready for the challenge so I don't think there is an issue at all.

Q. (Mike Doodson) Ron, after Bahrain, where you said you would know exactly what happened to Juan Pablo when you looked him in the face, can we ask you if you have looked him in the face?

RD: I haven't seen him yet, so I can't give you any better explanation than the one I gave you. He is back in Europe, he is back in Madrid, and a physiotherapist has seen him and the situation is as before, nothing to add.

Q. (Mike Doodson) We were a little baffled because clearly there was nothing in his contract with you that could prevent him from doing things other than playing tennis, perhaps a little more violent. I wondered if there were personal insurances?

RD: He wasn't actually insured for any injury of that nature.

Q. (Byron Young - Mirror) Ron, how would you evaluate your drivers' chances of winning the World Championship this year?

RD: The points, with the exception of Alonso, are pretty spread. Obviously, it is a very long season and this race is going to probably have various swings in points, I think obviously the competitiveness of the BAR has improved, we think we are quite strong, you can never write off Ferrari, they are much more competitive here, so the points are probably going to be spread slightly differently and it is really the points coming out of this race that will see people being able to predict a bit more the outcome of the World Championship. But even after this event it is provably going to be four or five races before you can make any predictions, and certainly nobody is out of it. You have only got to look at Michael's performance, and he has, what, two points? And anyone that would write Michael Schumacher off for this year's World Championship would be a fool, so I don't think it is late enough in the season to make any predictions.

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