Heinz-Harald Frentzen interview

Heinz-Harald Frentzen ended last season on a high by securing third place in the World Championship for Jordan. This year, his fortunes have been mixed. He was heading for the podium in Melbourne, and ran in a strong second place in the early stages at Silverstone. However, on both occasions he retired with mechanical problems. The gearbox gremlin which saw him stuck in sixth gear at Silverstone had already struck at Imola, so that after four races, his only points finish has been in Brazil. Adam Cooper talks to the German ace about the season so far

Heinz-Harald Frentzen interview

Q: You had a great season in 1999, and obviously your confidence was boosted. Did you feel any different heading into Melbourne this year?

"No, actually it didn't really feel different. But this is my second year with Jordan, so of course it's different because now I know all the members of the team and I know how they work together. You can have a better approach to a second season if you know each other and you have a very good season behind you. So this gave me extra strength and extra confidence in all decisions you have to make on a race weekend."

Q: Last year Jordan was aiming for third place and eventually succeeded, but is it going to be a lot harder to repeat that?

"Basically we have very clear targets. We finished third in the Constructors' Championship last year, and this was obviously a very important result for the team, especially long-term wise. From there we need to look forward to the next step, and one day be able to beat McLaren and Ferrari. But this goes slowly, so our target this year is establishing ourselves again in third place. Our real aim is to improve our car performance and speed. We were reliable last year, and we were fast on many occasions, but we have to reduce the gap between us and the red and silver cars."

Q: We know the Mugen is a good engine, but obviously more and more teams are receiving factory support. Do you think it's going to be harder for the team to compete over the next couple of years?

"That's why it's so important to build up the team step by step, so it helps us to negotiate with Honda or whoever. I can really speak too much about the team's ideas, or me as a driver, but the target is quite clear - organising the package together so that Jordan has a bright future. Jordan can do a great job and win a World Championship one day, but it works step by step, and not by giving ourselves too much credit already by saying: 'this year we can be World Champion.' It's hard to make impossible things possible. We did that last year, and now we're trying to do it again. But as we say, 'strong wood grows slowly!'"

Q: Is the current car as good as last year's, or does it still need some work?

"We made some improvements all around the car. But what has hurt us this year is we've had reliability problems with the gearbox. We still can't use the whole potential of the car because of the gearbox. And this is stopping us basically from showing at least a similar performance to last year. We would have finished second in Melbourne; we scored points in Brazil, and then in Imola we had some difficulties with the gearbox. This is the main difference from last year."

Q: Did that come as a surprise, or did the team have some worries after testing?

"We knew that we were going to go to the limits. That was our target as well; we wanted to make the car faster in all areas, and that's what we have done."

Q: You were clearly the third fastest team in Australia, but since then it's not been so obvious, especially in qualifying. How do you see it?

"You can't go into details. Brazil wasn't the right circumstances in qualifying, and at Imola we couldn't get the best out of the car for some reason. We are basically not using the whole potential of the car on some occasions and in certain circumstances."

Q: Were you happy with the race performance at Silverstone?

"We were on two stops, compared with Rubens who was on one stop, but unfortunately even with the lower fuel level it's very difficult to overtake at Silverstone. We didn't really think that McLaren and Ferrari would go for one stop, but it worked out fine for them. The only problem for me was that I couldn't past them, and I had to go into the pits early. Then I attacked and I tried to put some quick lap times down when I was driving on my own, but even so it was really hard to beat McLaren and
Ferrari."

Q: On the same strategy, how do you think you compare on pace now?

"Basically we are still behind the McLaren and Ferrari. It depends on the circuit how much time that is. I can't tell you exactly, but at Silverstone we were probably 0.8s slower than the McLaren."

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