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FIA post-qualifying press conference - Belgium

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Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Drivers: 1st Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), 1m47.338s; 2nd Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 1m47.678s; 3rd Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren), 1m47.815s.

Q: Lewis, I guess the smile on your face says it all with the pleasure and the perfection of your pole lap.
Lewis Hamilton: Today has been a great day for me. I was so happy with all three laps I did throughout qualifying. It is always satisfying when you can go out, do one lap and come back in and watch everyone else going around trying to get their laps done. Today the team made no mistakes and I made no mistakes. I had four great laps but especially at the end. In my first Q3 lap I had a bit of a lock up at turn one and I had the same for my second Q3 lap but somehow managed to keep it together but the rest of the lap I was very happy with.

Q: And not an easy weekend so far with changing conditions. In Q2 we saw you running with the harder of the Bridgestone tyres compared to your team mate, so a lot of indecision going into qualifying.
LH: Not on our side. I decided to stay with the harder tyre for Q2 and surprisingly the option tyre, the softer tyre, is quite a bit better. I think everyone else was on the option tyre but I was on the prime and I was very, very comfortable with the pace that I had, considering I was on that tyre.

Q: You mentioned the lock up. That is not the first time we have seen you locking up. Is that something we should be talking about?
LH: Not really. It is one of the characteristics of my car and that's why we are quick, maybe, I don't know. But even with those lock ups we still managed to pull it out of the bag. I feel great. The team and the atmosphere in the team feels great, back at the factory but also here and really the solid job that they are doing is coming out in the results that we have, so I am absolutely thrilled to be here.

Q: Felipe, it will be a very tight first corner going into the Belgium Grand Prix.
Felipe Massa: To be honest, I did a great lap, I did almost a perfect lap but it was not enough. Sometimes you do a great lap and you are still missing something. On the qualifying these guys showed definitely a better performance than us and we need to understand why. I think yesterday we had a great car. I did a great job in qualifying but it was not enough.

Q: You are implying that going into qualifying you felt that the Ferrari was right there with the McLaren, although we don't know what the fuel loads were at this stage.
FM: Yeah, for sure we don't know their fuel loads. But I think they were quicker in all three qualifying sessions, so that is a sign they are pretty strong here. But the race is long and starting on the front row is always very important, so let's try to have a good race tomorrow.

Q: How does the car feel through Spa's fast open corners?
FM: It feels okay. The balance is good. For sure in terms of car balance we have a good car. We just need to pick up a little bit more speed to improve that couple of tenths to be in front of them. But it was not possible today, hopefully tomorrow we will see a different picture but it will depend on the track and the conditions, so we need to do everything we can tomorrow to have a strong pace.

Q: Heikki, P3 confirmed the speed McLaren have this weekend. Talk us through qualifying from your point of view.
Heikki Kovalainen: Well, it has been a pretty good weekend all the way through. We have not had any big problems with the car and we have been modifying it little by little trying to increase the pace at the same time. The three sessions in qualifying were fairly straightforward for me, no big problems, but not quite enough to be higher up on the grid. But anyway we have the race tomorrow and we will see if we can be a little bit better.

Q: How did your lap feel in the cockpit?
HK: It felt okay, no big problems. Obviously, we lost a little bit in the middle sector, I don't know exactly where in terms of corners but somewhere in the middle of the lap I think I lost a little bit. But that's life. Sometimes that's the way it goes.

Q: Lewis, this could not be more different coming here from Valencia. And your physical condition comparing two weeks ago to how you look to be driving now.
LH: Absolutely, I think coming from Valencia we knew we had some work to do. I have come here feeling better than ever and more and more comfortable in the car. The preparation has been fantastic. As you can see I am stoked and I am struggling not to smile. Tomorrow is going to be a challenging day for all of us but with the pace and the package we have we are going to be hard to beat.


Q: Lewis, to what extent do you feel you've been on top all weekend? Has everything been going perfectly? I know we saw you having a change of brake set-up yesterday.
LH: Yeah, otherwise it's been going pretty smoothly. We've not had any problems, the car's reliable. I think yesterday we just made sensible choices and good steps forward with the limiting running that we had and also this morning. But I felt pretty sure, coming here compared to last year, that the car that I have, the set-up that I've worked on with my engineers would be suitable for here, so I've felt pretty much on it all weekend.

Q: How much is a driver unsettled by the weather conditions here, by the showers coming and going, and the damp circuit?
LH: It's no problem for me. There's times when you have to go out and do what you do. For example, if we had the conditions that we had in P3 in qualifying then we would have been forced to go out and then obviously you are taking a certain risk. But there was no need this morning, it was undecided whether you went out on wet tyres or on slicks - there was a bit of a mix - and I just didn't want to go out and waste my time. This is going to be a very hard circuit in the wet if it does rain and without traction control, it would be a real challenge, especially with all the slippery white lines but I guess we will just have to do the best job that we can if it does.

Q: When you do a lap on this circuit, a long one with a fantastic range of corners, tell us about the satisfaction of doing that?
LH: I would say this is different to Monaco, Monaco being my favourite track. If you get a perfect lap at Monaco, that also feels incredible. When you just breeze past the barriers, it feels amazing, but here, being probably the most incredible circuit for me on the Grand Prix calendar, when you put a lap together, when it's clean, smooth, flowing, and you hit every apex that you plan on doing and you really extract everything out of the tyres, everything out of the car, it really feels incredible. It is very difficult to do so. You have to make sure that you have the right car and the right set-up and it's easy to push too much in one corner and struggle on the way out of another. I can't explain to you just how great it is.

Q: Felipe, obviously good yesterday, did things go off a bit today or did you feel you were still on top of it this morning and this afternoon?
FM: No. Difficult to explain, for sure. We saw that the McLaren pace in qualifying was pretty strong, but anyway, I did a great job, a great lap. I couldn't manage to get everything out of the car like Lewis just mentioned. I did a perfect lap but it was not enough. We missed a little bit of speed which would have put us in front of them. For sure, we need to look at the strategy first to have a clear picture but if you look at all three qualifying sessions they were pretty strong, so I guess they have a very strong pace here at this track. But you never know, the race is long, I think we can have a very good race pace to fight with these guys. It was very difficult to be in front of both McLarens but at least I was in front of one and we will see tomorrow how it's going to be.

Q: And the start here, is it certainly better to be on the inside or are you not worried about being on the outside?
FM: For sure, the pole position line is always better. We will see how it's going to be. We also need to see how the race is going to be in terms of weather. For sure, if it's damp and you have a dry line on the right hand side that can be a disaster for us but we need to wait and see. If it's a consistent track we can even do a good start I think.

Q: Do you see the championship becoming a bit of a duel between yourself and Lewis?
FM: Well, for the moment, in the last race we were fighting very close to each other, so… I hope so.

Q: Heikki, fastest in Q2 with a fantastic lap, what are your feelings about being third on the grid?
HK: Of course it's the wrong direction from Q2 to Q3. I would rather go from third to being on pole but couldn't find any more today. It was the maximum that I could achieve today and tomorrow I will try to do better, try to improve the position.

Q: Was the car perfect today?
HK: It's never perfect but it's pretty good. All weekend we haven't had any big problems and we have been just fine-tuning the set-up little by little and no big issues with the car. To be honest, it's working really well and I think the whole team has managed to improve the car during the last few weeks, so this is very encouraging for the rest of the championship.

Q: Tell us how the track has evolved over the last couple of days because the rain washes away the grip, it comes back and then it goes away again.
HK: To be honest it wasn't too bad, even to start with on Friday. It was in much better condition than any other circuits, particularly, I think, because people drive around here quite a lot in different kinds of cars and the rain hasn't taken that much of the grip away because the grip really hasn't been so different at any point. It's just when the water arrives, it makes it slippery and like Lewis said, the painting and all the white lines are very, very slippery, so that's the tricky bit. Yesterday, Kimi lost the car touching the white line a little bit, and a few other drivers as well, so it's very difficult when the circuit gets wet but in the dry the grip level has been fairly consistent.


Q: (Mark Danby - Auto Magazine) Lewis, you mentioned before about the white lines in wet conditions. Is there any particular part of the track which concerns you more than other areas if it was to be wet tomorrow?
LH: I think if I was concerned, which I'm not, it would probably be with the higher speed corners: Eau Rouge. If you clip the outside and the inside of the kerb it could be quite unpleasant but also the outside kerb of turn ten through Pouhon. It's such high speed and you're relying on the grip level you have and if you just touch that white line, I'm sure it's going to send you flying, so it's very, very important that we try to avoid those.

Q: (Ingo R?rsch - Sport Bild) Lewis, how important is it for the rest of the season that the team has been decided for 2009, so there aren't any rumours who could be in the team next year, so you can concentrate on just driving?
LH: I don't think it was a particular problem because we knew the situation and what would be the team's plan. I think it's great for Heikki to know that he's here, he's got a comfortable place here next year and we can continue to work together. For me it's pleasing because Heikki and I get on so well and we do such a great job in testing and everything that we participate in with the team and that's really the reason why we are so strong this year. It's not down to one individual, it's down to all of us really, putting in a hundred percent, so Heikki's brought a lot to the team, and I'm looking forward to continue working with him for hopefully a lot longer than just next year.

Q: (Juha P??talo - Financial Times Deutschland) Heikki, you said in the unilaterals that you lost a little bit of time in the middle of sector, but actually in your last attempt you were slower in the first sector than on the first attempt. Was there a certain problem there?
HK: Yeah, there was a little problem in turn one and perhaps I lost a little bit of time there. I just locked up all the wheels for a moment. I got a bit out of shape but that happens sometimes when you're trying to push a bit more.

Q: (Fr?deric Ferret - L'Equipe) Lewis, in Budapest, Felipe made a great start and you were on pole. Is it something that worries you for tomorrow? And can you work on your start as a driver, and have you practised some starts since Budapest?
LH: Yeah, he's obviously been very quick in the last couple of races, his starts have been going better and better. In Hungary I think we had a very good start. I don't know in the last race that we had the best but we were on the dirtier side. I don't know whether we're on the clean side here, I don't particularly think there is a real clean side. The team has been working very hard… there's not really much more that I can do. If the grip's there, if the settings are right, then I will be able to extract the most from it but 1) if you don't have the grip you struggle, and 2) there are some areas that we can improve on but I think we will be strong tomorrow.

Q: (Thomas Richtr - TV Nova) Heikki, you actually start from a very interesting position considering the circumstances. Will your aim be to beat these two gentlemen or to keep Kimi at bay?
HK: Both, to be honest. Trying to keep Kimi behind and overtake both of these two. That would be the ideal plan.

Q: (James Allen - ITV) Heikki, I'm not much of a student of body language but in the unilaterals and here now, you looked pretty disappointed. Obviously with a car advantage throughout the session, not locking out the front row, how big a problem is that for you and McLaren?
HK: I don't think it's a big problem, it was the maximum that we could achieve today. The race is tomorrow and we are in a good position, so I don't think there's anything to worry about.

Q: (Michael Schmidt - Auto Moto und Sport) Lewis, there's quite a short run into the first corner. Does it make the start easier or more difficult versus a circuit where you have half a kilometre before the first corner?
LH: I think for the start it perhaps makes it a little bit easier. I think the longer the straight from the startline the more effect a good start will have. But I think it's tricky here. There's turn one and then you've got the longest straight in the world after turn one, so it's going to be an interesting start tomorrow but I plan on staying ahead.

Q: (Juha P??talo - Financial Times Deutschland) Felipe, you are chasing Lewis in the championship, so how crucial is it to get a good start and maybe get in front of him, and are we going to see another Hungary?
FM: Well, the start doesn't work before, it works when you do the start and then you think what you have to do, so I think the most important thing is the initial part of the start, because in the initial part you see the possibilities you have to go side-by-side or whatever and under braking you always try to brake late and see how it's going to be. Then you can also have another possibility on the back straight which is a very long straight but it all depends on how you manage your start at the beginning, so we will see tomorrow. For sure we will fight each other but we also want to finish the race, which is the important key, so let's try to do our best in whatever conditions.


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