Paul Stoddart Q&A

In the two years that Paul Stoddart has been at the helm of the little Minardi team he has become known as one of the most outspoken - and entertaining - team bosses in Formula 1. Stoddart lived up to his reputation when he took part in a teleconference with the Australian press this week. Here are some of the highlights of what he had to say

Paul Stoddart Q&A

"I think it's perhaps wrong to call them pay drivers. I had at one point 21 names on my list of very talented individuals. We made no secrets of the fact that we needed budget to guarantee that we were going to be competing in Australia and every other event next year. We made it clear that no driver would get a seat in the team unless they were able to bring substantial sponsorship to the team. That is a vast difference between somebody who has to bring money to get his drive - I'm talking about guys that are fully talented and worthy of their seat but they are having to bring sponsorship because we have a commercial need."

"I think so. I think really what we are looking at here is the question can the private teams survive, and to be honest I don't know. There are three of us left in F1 now, we have seen two go in the last 12 months. It's not easy. The world as a whole is not perhaps as easy a place to gather sponsorship from as it was in years gone by, but we are fighting as hard as we know how."

"I don't think it is. We have had in certain markets a slight decline in TV figures, but really overall we've got new markets emerging. We've got a Chinese Grand Prix in 2004, we've got a Bahrain Grand Prix in 2004. I think the sport's growing, but only time will tell."

"I don't think the worst is perhaps over yet, but I do think we have made a lot of responsible decisions in the past few months since the end of the season to move F1 forward in a positive way. Much speculation was said about what we should and should not do - talk about weight penalties, talk about all kinds of things - but I think the package of modifications that we put through was the most sensible and it will take F1 forward in a more exciting way for the viewers. Let's face it, we have got to look after the viewers, we have got to look after the people that get up at three o'clock in the morning to watch grands prix in other parts of the world on TV, those that come out in rain, hail or shine to see us, and I think we have tried to address that. Yes, it will be tough, but we will all get through it, I think."

"Yeah, I think really Canada was my low point when Tom [Walkinshaw] circulated a document around saying that the Minardi TV money ought to be divided up amongst all the rest. It's been a tough year, there is no doubt about that, but then I have to tell you - I know I'm repeating myself - but that moment on the podium in Melbourne with Mark [some time after the official podium] was the proudest moment of my life and it really got me through an awful lot of dark times that were to lie ahead."

"Not very mixed from my point."

"No, I think we have to be fair here. I had enormous support. It would be very unfair for me to sort of name and shame, as they say, but we had fantastic support from the vast majority of team bosses and I'm really proud to say that, and the one or two that perhaps supported Tom's position I think at the end of the day I don't believe there is any sour grapes. I think we are down to 10 teams now, we need to make sure it doesn't go below 10, and I think there is a genuine spirit of co-operation amongst all the team owners now to make sure that we take the sport onwards and upwards."

"If you ask Williams and McLaren, they will both tell you that they feel they are well on the way to catching up. I had the privilege of being driven by Michael [Schumacher] in the back of one of our two-seaters last month, and having done seven laps with the best driver the world has ever seen, or ever likely to see, I don't think they have got a chance in hell. But that's my opinion."

" When we scored those two points in Melbourne everybody saw we were all in tears, but basically Ferrari pulled me and Mark in as we were coming back off the podium into their garage to just say, 'Well done and congratulations'. I jokingly invited Michael to our party that night and he said: 'Yeah, I'll come, I'll bring my wife'. And he did, true to his word. He actually had another function he was supposed to go to. He didn't go to it, he came to our party. And so did 660 other people from the pit lane, from every team in the pit lane - it was that popular. And that night we were just sitting at the bar talking and Michael's wife, Corinna, said to me, 'I would love to feel what it's like to be in the car with Michael', and I said, 'Why don't you? We will do it at the end of the year'. And it was the best kept secret in F1, when you consider all the media attention we had throughout the year. Nobody knew right up until the day we did it. And we did a whole day. Michael put his wife, he put Jean Todt and many other Ferrari people through, and the car did over a race distance. And I think I can only summarise it like this: Michael at the end said, 'Thank you'. He gave me a little memento and he said, 'Thank you', written on the side of it, 'for a most fantastic, really reliable and fast, underlined, car'. And I will tell you now that Michael Schumacher "qualified" a two-seater Minardi within 107 per cent - and those of you that understand exactly what that means will know what I'm saying. And that's why no one is going to beat him."

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