Drivers: Jerome d’Ambrosio (Virgin), Jenson Button (McLaren), Paul di Resta (Force India), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Heikki Kovalainen (Team Lotus), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).
Q: Jerome, this is quite a challenging circuit but at least you have some experience of it.
Jerome d’Ambrosio: Yeah, definitely. It is a challenging circuit...
For me it is probably I’d say as nice as Spa, which, being a Belgian comparing it to Spa… For me, it is even a bit better than Spa. It is something exceptional to drive around here. I enjoyed doing so last year, about 15 laps in Friday Free Practice, so should be very good and cannot wait to be in the car.
Q: Just give us some idea of your future with the team. Where are you in terms of discussions for next year?
JD’A: Well, at the moment it is really the same as I said in Spa. There are obviously talks going on and management speaking with the team, speaking for my future about next year in Formula One. Now my job is to focus on the current season. There are still five Grands Prix to go. I think I had my best grand prix so far in Singapore and throughout these races I need to focus on the present and not what will happen next year. I’ll keep busy and working on what I do in the car and I’ll let the management sort out the rest.
Q: But you were pleased with the Singapore race anyway?
JD’A: Definitely, yes.
Q: Paul, similar situation in a funny sort of way, except you haven’t driven the circuit I don’t think?
Paul di Resta: No, it is obviously the first experience being here and seeing this track. It looks very special. Having walked it this morning it is obviously very narrow but very fast. I have done what I can in the simulator to try to prepare myself. I think the main thing is hopefully the weather should be stable and we can continue progressing through the weekend.
Q: Some really good performances in the last few races. Do you believe that they can continue?
PDR: Yeah, I don’t see why not. Certainly the last four Grands Prix have been very good for us as a team. I think Singapore, definitely on pace, we got the result that we [deserved]. Really coming here we need to try and focus on doing the same job. We have a small update here as well. Hopefully, we can continue and just really stay where we are and certainly put a fight up with Renault as they are within sights for the Constructors’ Championship.
Q: Does that make it more difficult not knowing this particular circuit, with it being a technical circuit?
PDR: It is definitely not easier. But it has been like a lot of the tracks this year. I think I have only raced on Spa before we had gone to any grand prix this year, so really just trying to take it step-by-step. I am in the car for both sessions, which is important tomorrow, and really [I will] just try to reference myself as much as possible off Adrian [Sutil] who has done quite a lot here in the past having done Japanese Formula Three here for a year.
Q: So he will help out with settings?
PDR: Yeah, he has shown to be very strong here in the past so you can only really look and hopefully get a feeling quicker than normal.
Q: Heikki, again it is a good circuit for you. You’ve had some good results here both in qualifying and the race. And very pleased with the Singapore performance as well, so what are your hopes for here?
Heikki Kovalainen: Hopefully, we can do another solid race. Obviously, we are defending the 10th position in the championship. For the team that is very important, so that’s our primary goal and, of course myself, trying to stay ahead of the new cars at the back if you like. So far the season has been very positive for me so just carrying on doing that trend.
Q: Is that the most important thing or is the more important thing to get in among the established teams ahead, which you managed to do in Singapore?
HK: Well, ultimately the most important thing is to beat Sebastian Vettel, but you have got to be realistic. For myself the gap to the car ahead of us at most of the circuits is still too big so we need to work on our car to make it quicker. At the moment the best we can do, and the best we can realistically hope for, is to be ahead of them and maintain the 10th in the championship and then look forward to the future. Singapore, unusual race, circumstances worked well for us so we were able to beat one Renault. If that happens again this weekend: why not. But it might not be realistic.
Q: And still bringing the car forward as well technically?
HK: The update that we brought to Singapore I think was working. It was successful, so we closed the gap slightly and at least we didn’t lose out to any other teams, which is encouraging. We are working on next year’s car to improve overall performance so that’s a work in progress and just keep the heads down and keep working.
Q: Jenson, some good news overnight that you had signed a multi-year deal. Can you give any more details?
Jenson Button: You always want more. No, I can’t. But all I can say is that I am very happy. I think this is a great opportunity over the next couple of years to really work closely with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. We are so close to fighting with Red Bull, but yet so far. I think it is good to have the continuity going forward for the next couple of years. It is going to help us take the fight to them next season, I hope. That’s what we are working towards. It’s been a good couple of weeks. I have been enjoying racing and it is nice to finally sign on the dotted line and get a deal in place for the near future.
Q: I got the impression there were maybe one or two other teams in the frame though?
JB: I think it is all speculation.
Q: We saw you do a little shopping earlier on this morning. The motorcycle shop down the road. Did you buy anything?
JB: No, I was checking out some bikes, but it wasn’t for me, it was for someone else. Have you been following me?
Q: We were just talking about you, myself and a colleague, and there you were.
JB: I do do other things except race Formula One cars.
Q: You have got a pretty remarkable record here. I think I surprised you last year when telling you that you’d finished all 10 of your Japanese Grands Prix. And as you finished last year it is now all 11. Is it a circuit that you enjoy and obviously a circuit where you would love to win?
JB: Yeah, I would love to win here. It is a circuit along with Spa and Monaco, they mean a lot to all of us. It is such a challenge driving around here for one lap in qualifying, but putting every single lap together is a real challenge and doing it quicker than anybody else is a real challenge. Yes, it would mean a lot to me to win here at Suzuka. That’s our aim this weekend. Whether we are quick enough or not we will have to wait and see but we are in the hunt and I am looking forward to a fun weekend. Hopefully, we can get up there.
Q: Do you think on occasions over the last few Grands Prix that you have had the quicker car? Do you think you still could have the quicker car but it is dependent on which part of the weekend, what they have brought?
JB: Yeah, I think on occasions we have been on a par with the Red Bull. Sometimes I have felt that maybe we have had a little bit more performance but I don’t think we got the best out of what we had. The last race we weren’t quick enough to win. Sebastian and Red Bull did a great job. Even if you are a few seconds behind it doesn’t mean you had a chance of winning. Here it is a little bit more like Spa. Obviously it is probably higher downforce than around Spa but it is a flowing medium high-speed circuit. Our car worked well in Spa and hopefully it will be the same case here. This circuit is normally reasonably difficult to overtake on but with the goodies that we have, with the Pirelli tyres, with the KERS, the DRS, we should see some really good racing around here.
Q: Kamui, a major race weekend for you. Just describe your feelings as you come into it?
Kamui Kobayashi: Always great to come back to Japan as I am Japanese and so many fans always waiting. I am very proud of Suzuka, as this is one of the really great circuits. It is always really enjoyable to drive here as well. Racing here is always great and really thanks to the many fans as they are always waiting for Formula One.
Q: It is surprising that you haven’t done many races here?
KK: Exactly. I have only had something like three races. This is my third race. Last year was second one.
Q: The first one was when you were 17?
KK: Yeah, I was 17. I drove only one race here then I went to Europe. I am Japanese but in fact so many other guys know more than me.
Q: You have got a lot of modifications on the car this weekend. The fact that it is going to be dry will be a great relief to you?
KK: Yeah, we have reasonable update. For us it will be like last update. We had a couple of small updates but this is biggest step for this year. This circuit, the aerodynamics are quite important, so I think if it works well we can see a good result and this is what we want for this week.
Q: The focus is going to be on you from your compatriots. Does that make it easier or more difficult for racing?
KK: Well it is easier I hope, but if the car is good it is always easier. But Suzuka is quite a tough track. When you only have one lap to get it together it is quite tricky. For the race a small mistakes means you are always missing a lot of lap time. This circuit is not easy, but if the car is good it is not so difficult driving here.
Q: Sebastian, sorry to keep you waiting, World Champion. But in a way you are keeping yourself waiting. What was it like this last week being within one point of another title?
Sebastian Vettel: Well, that is what most of the people talk about and for them it is over, but even if it’s one point, I said it straight after the race and I still say the same thing even if people would like to hear something else. Even if it is one point we need to make sure we get it. If someone feels to do me a favour he can push Jenson down the stairs later on. That would help [laughs]. I don’t think that is the way we should think about it. We are in a very good position. I am looking forward to the race here more so than anything else as this is a special track, very challenging. I think you just need to look at the first sector and life for us doesn’t get much better. It is great to be here. We have had a tremendous run the last two years so we try to do similar to that and hopefully we will have a good weekend.
Q: As you say, you’ve won the last two years from pole position. Is that going to be different this year, as a lot of people have won from pole, something like 75 per cent of the last 10 years.
SV: Yeah, that’s statistics, but I think this year it has been on some circuits more different than it used to be. I think it is the same here. As Jenson mentioned we have got some tools to work with that we didn’t have the last couple of years. DRS, the tyres. I think we will see more than one stop. Last year it was a pretty straightforward, one-stop race. I think there is a high chance to see good racing. Whether it is possible to win from second, third or fifth there is always a chance but the target is to put the car on pole and see what we can do in the race. It is within the race we will find out what is happening. In qualy it is about one lap, but in the race you need to put together more than one lap.
Q: Do you approach this weekend any differently?
SV: I am trying not to. I don’t think there is any reason why I should approach it differently. The target we have going into this weekend is to get the best out of our car, the best out of ourselves. I really like the circuit. Generally, we all love coming here. This year it is special for us to come here, because of the earthquake at the beginning of the year, for the country for the whole of Japan. I think it also makes it a little bit more special to us to show support. We try to do as much as we can. It might just be a little bit to put a smile back on people’s faces. In some regards the people here are very passionate about Formula One. It is only Thursday and the grandstands are sometimes full of people. It is great to see the support we get so we try to put on a good show and hopefully we will have a good race and try to give a little bit back.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Bianca Leppert - Auto Motor und Sport) - Sebastian, can you tell us something about your new helmet design and about the different feeling as last year you won the championship in the last race and now you can be champion before the season will end?
SV: Well, regarding the helmet, you will see it tomorrow. Last year we had a special design for the Japanese Grand Prix and we will have again this year. As I touched on earlier, we have one sign on the top of the helmet, which means ‘kizuna’. It means bond of friendship and it was putting people together when they had the earthquake and weeks after. Just trying to make people stick together and support each other. For the championship, at the moment I am not trying to think about the championship. I want to focus on this race and then soon enough we will find out whether we are in a good position or not. It is quite a lot different to last year. Last year, we knew that we had to deliver to keep the chances alive whereas this year I think we are in a very strong position and we are looking forward to it in a way. But even if it is very close I think it is still very important to be aware that you still need to do that final step whether it is 10 points or one point it doesn’t really matter so we still have to go out and do it.
Q: (Federic Ferret - L'Equipe) - What would it mean to you to win the title in Suzuka, a track that you like and where Michael Schumacher, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna won their title.
SV: Yeah, unfortunately they took the log cabin down at the hotel, so there is no more signing. Fortunately and unfortunately. Some people you don’t want to hear when they sing! We are focused on the race first of all, which is what we enjoy more than anything else and then we will see. I remember the years when Michael was very close, I think in 1998 to win the championship, and then he had an engine blow up. Before that I wasn’t following, but I have seen enough footage and read a lot, especially about Senna and (Alain) Prost. I don’t think I need to touch on it. Everyone knows. It is a special circuit. Not just because it is a challenging circuit, but the history around here. It is one of the grands prix with real tradition and real history. In a way you feel it every lap but also it was very special to me two years ago to win here for the first time so we try to do it again.
Q: (Sarah Holt - BBC Sport) Jenson you’re the last man who has a mathematical chance of stopping Sebastian from winning the title. You’ve also secured your future. I was wondering if you thought you were more content and driving better than even in your championship-winning season.
JB: I thought I drove pretty well through my championship-winning season, especially the first part of the season but I’m definitely a better driver now: the experiences that I’ve been through - good and bad - since then; it’s pretty traumatic when you’re fighting for a championship and you’re struggling for pace, so the experiences I’ve been through and the confidence that I have now and the team that I’m working with - they definitely help my performances. Am I more content? I don’t know. I’ve been pretty content over the last few years, in terms of racing and in terms of private life, so that’s not making a difference.
Q: (Minioki Yoneya - La Vie Creative) Sebastian, you walk around the track on the first day every weekend, every year. How important is it for you and did you find anything new here today?
SV: Nothing new, so the circuit is still as much as I remember. Obviously I use the opportunity not only to look at the circuit but also to get the latest updates, what’s happening in the factory and just to have a chat with the engineers, what’s the approach for the weekend, what’s the plan, what is the target etc, so apart from looking at the circuit, specifically at kerbs, which sometimes change etc, corners, weaknesses. In previous years, as I said, I used the opportunity just to also have a chat. Sometimes we talk about some not really relevant stuff but it’s kind of a tradition and it’s a good way to start the weekend.
Q: (Fulvio Solms - Corriere dello Sport) Seb, are you superstitious; what do you do if I say to you you’re winning the title on Sunday, congratulations?
SV: I think it’s easy. Obviously there’s still a chance for Jenson to win the title and for me not to win the title. As I said, even if it’s only one point - I said it straight after Singapore - we tried all year and we always try to keep our feet on the ground and approach this race by race, and try to do the best. The moment you decide to fly, sooner or later there’s a moment when you will come down as well. You have to, nothing flies for ever. I think it would be wrong to think like that at this stage and as I said, the target going into this weekend is not to get one point, in a way it’s not to win the championship, the target is to do our best. If our best, for some reason, is tenth, then we try to get a tenth but if our best is possibly to win the race then we have to go for it and try to win the race. We want to do it in the right way, so I think if you have the ability, the package overall, to do well around here, you have to enjoy it and you have to make sure that if the chance is there to finish on the podium you finish on the podium. Yes, there would be reason to celebrate, even if we finish tenth, but it wouldn’t be the same so we try to race as usual and we try to get the best out of ourselves.
Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado de Sao Paulo) To all of you, which kind of circuit do you prefer, Suzuka where the run-off areas are so short, where there is the pleasure of risk, as you all say, or Istanbul where you can make mistakes, run wide onto a different asphalt area and come back?
JB: I don’t think it’s the case here that the barriers are close to the circuit. I don’t think it’s an unsafe circuit to race on. I think that you can’t make a mistake because it’s not asphalt in a lot of places, so you touch grass or you’re into the gravel, you can end your day early. It’s very unforgiving in terms of stopping the car. It’s not unforgiving in terms of having a big accident, so the safety is not an issue here but I think we find it exciting knowing that if we do make a mistake then we get punished for it and that’s why a lot of drivers really enjoy racing around here and a lot of new drivers find it quite difficult in their first season when they come here, in terms of pace, or find themselves off the circuit in a gravel trap somewhere.
JD’A: Obviously last year I didn’t want to try to be brave or anything in ten laps in free practice one. But I think what Jenson described is quite right: you don’t feel like you’re in danger - actually I’ve never felt that in Formula One, or in motor racing since I started. I think it’s a safe track. Now Degner One, for example, is a corner where you’re not going to go there and try to nail it within two or three laps, because you know that if you make a mistake you will probably end up in the wall. Well, obviously it is sometimes a different approach but I think all the time you’re in the car you don’t focus on what’s outside the white lines, you just try to stay in the middle and that’s what you focus on. It is making it different, it will probably take a bit more time to feel at ease on the track but you eventually do so.
HK: I personally prefer Suzuka to Istanbul but like Jenson said, it has nothing to do with the run-off area, it’s got to do with the shape of the circuit, shape of the tarmac, how we are actually running. I think it’s a great layout, high speed, change of direction, it’s where a Formula One car is at its best and we wouldn’t race here if it was too risky and if the circuit hadn’t passed the tests. I don’t think we have any more concern (about here) than we do at other places.
Q: (Jens Wolters - ARD Radio) Jenson, Sebastian always mentions the tiny chance that you still have of winning the championship; what do you think about it?
JB: I think it’s great, going into this race, Sebastian thinking that I have a chance of winning the title. He’s probably the only person here… or the only person that’s saying so. It’s all but over. I think for Sebastian, he probably doesn’t want to think about it until after the race because after the race, when the championship’s actually done it’s a big buzz to cross the finish line and win the championship and I’m sure that’s something that he’s looking forward to but he doesn’t want to think about right now, and especially to discuss with us lot here. For me, this is a circuit I’d love to win on, I think we all would. It’s all about the challenge and to come away with a victory here would be very special. I’m sure it would be overshadowed by a certain person winning the championship but it would still be very enjoyable for myself.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Sebastian, you’re not only running for the Championship but you’re also running for statistics; this could be one of the most successful seasons in Formula One, what with pole positions and everything. Is it something that you’re trying to achieve or are you also looking at what Michael did in the past? Is it something that gives you extra motivation?
SV: Not really. Regarding Michael, I think whatever we try to do, he did much more. As I said, we really try to approach every race and really go race by race. I think the moment you start to think about too many other things is the moment that things that are really in your control which are usually the things that you are facing at the present time, are slipping out of your hands. That would be wrong. I think we had occasions - maybe not in the same style but in the past - and lessons to learn, and I think so far we learned our lessons and it would be wrong to allow yourself to forget those and do the same mistakes again, so it wouldn’t be very smart. So we try really to get the best out of ourselves, obviously enjoy the package we have, the car is competitive this year, the team is working fantastically well and we are on a good run. There’s no guarantee that it will be good again in the next race or the race after that will be as competitive as the previous race so we will really have to take every chance we get. As I said earlier, if the chance is there to win and we feel that we can go for it, we have to go for it. If the chance is not there, then we try to finish second. If the chance for second is not there, then we try to finish third, so it’s pretty simple to say, sometimes not so easy to stick to that but as I said, it’s not our first race.
Q: (Koji Taguchi - Grand Prix Special) A question for Kamui and Sebastian : you two guys were teammates when you were younger. When you look back at each other, what has changed from that time to now, in terms of personality, driving style, communication with the team and maybe weekend strategy and understanding engineering? And if there is any situation in the future when you might be teammates again, what would the teammate relationship be like?
SV: I have a lot of good memories. I remember that it was Kamui’s first year in Formula Three, so he came in as a rookie, but you can ask Paul as well. We were all in the same team at the same time and I remember in some corners Kamui was - I don’t know - 10kph or even more quicker than all of us. We didn’t understand. And he was quicker the whole weekend. In other corners, obviously, we were a little bit quicker than him, but it’s always give and take and I don’t think he’s lost his craziness that you sometimes see. I remember the race that we had here and he overtook I don’t know how many cars. It seems that sometimes he sees gaps or he finds a different line on the track that other people don’t find. I think it makes him a very good driver; you never know for the future. Obviously the situation has changed a little bit, there are a lot more cameras around now and we don’t get to see (one another) or chat as much as we did in the past but I think - or I know - he’s still the same kind of guy. I wouldn’t mind racing with him again - as long as I make sure he’s not 10kph quicker in some corners.
KK: For me, at the moment, we’re in different cars, so much different cars, so I cannot say… he was always good in Formula Three, he is always working really hard. He communicates really well with the engineers. I can see that from TV, he has really good communication with the team and I think that was something he’s had for a long time. He was really good at communicating in Formula Three with the team guys. I think that’s everything, that’s why he can make a really good car and he has the fastest car on the track.
Q: (Carlos Miguel - La Gaceta) Now Sebastian Vettel is going to finish an outstanding job; in this situation, which are the three best drivers in Formula One, according to you?
HK: If I excuse myself from the list, so all the guys are behind myself - that’s what you meant, yes? So it’s obviously Sebastian, Jenson and whoever is third in the championship at the moment, Fernando? Lewis? That’s the order this year, that’s what you’ve got to stick with, I think.
SV: What do you want us to say? Obviously we have to have a certain self-belief otherwise we would sit and say - I don’t know - five drivers before we think we might or I might stand a chance, then obviously we are in the wrong job. It has to be like that. If Kamui didn’t believe in himself and thought he could only be fifth best on the grid… If I thought that way, it would be a waste of time. I respect the other drivers a lot and I think that all drivers in Formula One deserve to be there and if you look at every single one, there’s a reason why they are in Formula One. It’s not just because they got lucky and all of a sudden called up to Formula One. Obviously they’ve been very successful in previous years, in junior categories and didn’t end up here without reason. I think you have to be aware of that. Obviously you respect some of them more than others and you feel it on the track as well, when you race against them, how much room they sometimes give you. To give you an example, I enjoy racing against Fernando a lot because you know you can count on him, you know that most of the time he sees you and he knows that you are there. He doesn’t give you a lot of room, for sure, but just enough. It’s the same with Michael or if you race with Jenson, you know that these guys are always very fair, they’re not making your life easy but they are very fair and I think it’s the respect that you have for each other that really matters in those circumstances.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan - The National) Jenson, can you just talk a little bit about your relationship with Japan, what kind of things do you do when you stay here? Do you ride the metro, for instance? And how has your impression changed since the first time you visited the country to now?
JB: I obviously don’t have as many connections to Japan as Kamui does. I came here for the first time in ’96, I was racing karts and it was a real shock to the system, as a 16-year old, coming to Japan, it’s such a different culture. At that point in time, where I was, I didn’t understand anything, the road signs, street names, anything, because everything was in Japanese. It was very difficult as a 16-year old but I really enjoyed coming here because it was something very difficult and I also loved racing here in Suzuka, because I raced here in ’96 and ’97 around the go-kart circuit which is just before 130R. I don’t know if you’ve ever got out there to see it but it’s just like the Grand Prix circuit, it’s phenomenal. For me, it’s the best circuit I’ve driven on in karting. I had some good times then, but obviously a lot has changed from ’96 to now: my experiences of being in Japan and obviously spending five or six years with a Japanese team, working with a lot of Japanese people and now being with a Japanese girlfriend. So I have a lot of very good connections. I spend quite a bit of time here training, relaxing, eating good food. For me, it really does feel like home even though I don’t really speak too much of the language, a few words, the words you need to know. Anyway, I’m going to stop there! Yeah, the Japanese people are very strong. Obviously we’ve seen a couple of big disasters this year in Japan, and we’ve seen how strong the Japanese people are, and how they’ve really pulled together when they are in difficulty, so I think we can all learn something from them, and we should, and try to help out as much as we can and Kamui is doing a lot this weekend, and I’m sure quite a few of the drivers are. We are always going to try our best. Is it enough? I don’t know. My crash helmet is very similar to what I had in Monaco, so it’s all in Japanese, and I will be auctioning it off after the race, which will go to a Japanese charity which will help the people that have been affected by the tsunami and the earthquake.