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03 March: Australian Grand Prix - FIA Thursday Press Conference

DRIVERS:
Jenson BUTTON (B A R)
Narain KARTHIKEYAN (Jordan)
Juan Pablo MONTOYA (McLaren)
Michael SCHUMACHER (Ferrari)
Mark WEBBER (Williams)

Q: Narain, welcome. Everything is a little bit new for you. How do you come to your first Grand Prix? Excited? Nervous?
Narain KARTHIKEYAN: Well, Iím obviously excited. Itís my first Grand Prix, Iím the first Indian in Formula One so lots of people are watching and Iím here to do the best I can.

Q: What does it mean to India to have a Grand Prix driver?
NK: India is really happy for it, for sure and thereís a lot of support back home. But people kept saying that Iím here for commercial reasons but what I would like to say is that in British Formula 3 I was a race winner and also in the World series so speed-wise Iím not bad, I think. Itís going to be quite good.

Q: Is it all very new for you?
NK: Yes, itís new and itís very different from what Iím used to but Iím quite excited to be here and hopefully I can do a good job.

Q: Jenson, this time last year we saw what we thought last year was a slightly different Jenson Button, youíd taken steps forward. Have you done the same thing again?
Jenson BUTTON: I donít really know. Iíve just been doing the best possible job Iíve been able to do in testing. I think everythingís run reasonably smoothly as far as winter testing goes, so yeah, Iím happy to be back in Melbourne and looking forward to the first race.

Q: Are there particular areas that you have been concentrating on in preparation for this season?
JB: No, itís the normal areas really. Itís the same every year. I think with experience you might learn a little more what you have to do, but no, itís pretty similar to last year. Obviously we had a good year last year and so weíre just building on that at the moment. As I said, itís been a pretty good winter testing, a few little issues but I think weíve shown how strong we are as a team and got through them and weíre looking pretty good for the first race.

Q: Obviously thereís been a lot of talk about tyre management, how vital is that going to be this season. What are your own feelings about that?
JB: Itís something we worked on a lot over the winter. Iíve been doing a lot of long runs to see what the tyres are doing and yeah, itís going to be a very different race for everyone. Itís not going to be three or four sprints. Itís going to be an endurance race, really.

Q: Do you feel your style of driving is good for that?
JB: Hopefully. We will have to wait and see, but it should work well.

Q: Have you gone through the drivers and said Ďwell, heís not going to be very good on tyres etc.í Have you done that?
JB: Itís very difficult to say. Itís difficult to know what peopleís tyres are like after a race. We donít get that much information so weíve just got to wait and see.

Q: Mark youíve been very much involved in the build-upÖ
Mark WEBBER: Itís my first interview today! (Laughter)

Q: Youíve been very much involved in the 10th anniversary of this Grand Prix and youíve done the Sydney bridge demonstration and yesterday on the streets as well. Whatís it been like, being involved in all of this?
MW: Well, of course it gets bigger every year, starting with Minardi and then the two years of Jaguar and then coming to Williams. Each year the expectations get higher, which is only natural. Thereís no question about it, itís going to be an exciting year. I think the expectations of the fans is two things of course. They are happy to have an Australian racing of course but also they expect high things, because the media of course is excited as well and the media have really no one else to write about which is also dangerous for me but Iím lucky, I donít read too much of it and Iím just here to arrive in Melbourne as late as possible, leave as soon as possible, do the job for the team, and for myself but also for my country and then we leave.

Q: Do you feel that the expectations are too high? Youíre a relatively inexperienced pair, you and Nick. Only Jenson and Takuma have done fewer races of the pairings that have done racesÖ
MW: Yeah, the expectations areÖ I suppose itís excitement coming through from the local press and people that are excited about the event and also hopefully me having a reasonable result here so we can only go out and do our best. All the preparations in the winter are behind us, testing is good but racing is even better and thatís what weíre all here to do and thatís what we need to do right now: find out where we are and get on with it.

Q: How good do you think the Williams is at this stage?
MW: We need to find some more pace, no question about it. You always want more in Formula One. There are some other teams which are slightly better prepared for the first few races of the year. But you canít dream in this game. Youíve got to go out there and work hard and keep delivering so I hope that we can get backÖ we havenít even turned a wheel yet. We donít know, but weíre expecting to be a little bit off but how much? We donít know. Weíre obviously doing everything we can to find more pace every day at Williams.

Q: Michael welcome. Earlier on in the off-season you were talking about the actual driving of a Formula One car. I think that was just before youíd driven on the new tyres. What is it likeÖ
Michael SCHUMACHER: Actually I had done some testing because we had already done late 2004 testing for 2005 and because of this, my comments were that I expected a lot more sliding and excitement and working the steering wheel. Quite frankly the car, the pace is not far away from what it used to be, so weíre back where we started.

Q: So itís not slidingÖ
MS: Ö not sliding, not as extreme as I tested initially, because initially, you imagine you make this big step but then the engineers have worked very hard to try to get performance back and theyíve been quite successful.

Q: A year ago, you had had a very good test at Imola. Have you had a similarly good test this year, to give you an indication of how youíre going to beÖ
MS: We havenít been at Imola.

Q: But itís been snowingÖ
MS: Exactly. No actually, I think those guys that had been at the last test in Valencia probably had all been a little disappointed because conditions were just terrible. We were just talking about it. There was so much wind, it was almost undriveable. The circumstances were not available for a positive test.

Q: But that was really going to be the indicator, was it?
MS: No honestly not because we have done an intense programme all winter long and we have done pretty consistent preparation. Weíre quite happy with what we have Ė you always think you can do better.

Q: Are you feeling youíre at about the same level as this time last year?
MS: No, certainly not. Last year at this time I had my new car and obviously that was a very fast toy. Now we are running the older car which Iím pretty sure a lot of people would love to have, an old car as we have, but I would obviously look forward to the new one and Iím pretty sure thatís going to be faster than what we have now.

Q: So what sort of level do you feel youíre going to be at in these early races?
MS: We will be reasonably competitive, probably not completely up front. Itís difficult to predict, honestly, because we have been testing in cold conditions and then Australia and Melbourne is usually quite good to us. We seem to find extra performance. So we will be running close to the front, whether itís exactly at the front or itís second or third we will find out.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Mike Doodson) Question for Michael, as the GPDA representative. Narain, through no fault of his own, had done no driving from the end of the season that he did in Europe last year, until he sat in the Jordan for the first time, and I think heís done three or possibly four days while the rest of you have been testing at every possible opportunity. Do you feel apprehensive at all that youíre racing against someone who has got so little experience in Formula One?
MW: I think Narain has done a lot of junior categories. Heís done many years in Europe so thatís healthy. What frightens me is if someone comes in very very quickly with really limited running Ė of course, heís had limited running in a Formula One car but I think he knows where his mirrors are and heís sensible about how he goes about his business. Heís a good little driver and he will do his best with what he has.
MS: Obviously I think he himself would have wished to have more running availability, but thatís not the case. Iím pretty sureÖ as I saw him in Barcelona during the test and I looked a little bit at him but he did a good job there. Obviously with the speed of the car he had to watch his mirrors quite a bit and he did so. He respected everything perfectly well so I think heís capable of doing so. Race and test situations are slightly different but I believe heís doing a good job. (Turns to Kathikeyan) Donít you?
NK: I think so, yes! (Laughter)

Q: Juan Pablo: new car, new team, new culture, is it all a bit new for you?
Juan Pablo MONTOYA: No, itís actually pretty good, itís been really good. Itís been a good time for adaptation. I had plenty of time with the test team and everything and I had quite a few tests with the race mechanics so Iím pretty settled in.

Q: It doesnít take long?
JPM: No, the car is pretty good to drive. At the beginning it was a little bit hard to adapt to the car but they really worked around me to get it suited to me so it was good.

Q: Do you feel thereís a different culture to the team?
JPM: The way they do things is different but I think both approaches are pretty good.

Q: Are the engine companies similar?
JPM: As I say, there are different approaches and I am really happy to be honest.

Q: Everyoneís saying the car is going to be one of the front runners, itís going to be well up thereÖ
JPM: We donít say much to be honest. We will have to wait and see. I think weíve done a bit of work in testing and everyone reckons theyíve done the same. Itís a matter of wait and see where we really stand.

Q: Whatís the relationship like with Kimi?
JPM: Itís good. Weíve got quite a few things in common. We both really enjoyed riding bikes and stuff, so itís good.

Q: Is there a rivalry there?
JPM: Not at the moment, to be honest, not at all.

Q: Do you like the car the same way, basically?
JPM: Yeah I like the car. Iím a lot more comfortable in the 20 than I was in the 19 so itís a good thing.

Q: But between you two drivers, do you like it set up the same way?
JPM: Aah, I donít know. I think itís too early to say. Weíve only done two days of testing together and when youíre in different programmes, youíre in different datas.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Q (Chris Lowne - Motorsport News) A question for all the drivers -- apart from the cars, the biggest change this year is qualifying. Are you comfortable with the complexities of the split session and, frankly, is this what F1 should be about. It was not that long ago that you guys came up to a crescendo late on a Saturday afternoon and fought out pole position, but this aggregating it -- are you comfortable with it as drivers?

JPM: I donít care. To be honest I am pretty happy with it itís the same for everybody it will be interesting to see the way the cars are going to be balanced. For us it is not a big thing, to be honest, I think the big thing is for the spectators and how they react to it.

MS: I think first we should experience it before we discuss it. We sit here and we have not even done it. Lets wait and see.

MW: Iím not that worried about the one lap qualifying, but I think the aggregating of the times is a little bit of a shame. I think qualifying, over two days effectively now, well, weíve seen sessions interrupted before by having qualifying of this complexity over three hours and now itís over 12 or 14 hours, so weather can definitely play more of a role, in the lottery if you like, so that could prove frustrating. But that is what they want. Then, it is the same for everyone so we just have to get one with it.

JB: It is going to be quite interesting as everyone says because on Saturday we are going to be running with low fuel on new tyres and then on Sunday morning coming straight from that to running fuel and old tyres and it will be interesting. From the fans point of view, we donít know so it will be interesting to see what the reactions are.

Q: Michael this question is for you. About a week ago, Ron Dennis went on the record and said that back in 2000 he spoke to you about the possibility of you going to McLaren and I wondered if you could tell us if that was the case and how far the discussions went and interestingly why at that point in your career you were thinking of making the change to McLaren, if that was the caseÖ

MS: Indeed, yes, there was an approach from Ron and obviously it didnít work out Ė obviously, as you can see! And I am pretty happy where I have been and it is perfectly natural that we have had lots of discussions over the years. Every so often he comes around and he checks up and so it was in 2000 that he checked up, but it was not only in 2000...

Q: Has he approached you since then?
MS: Yes

Q: If you donít mind me asking, when was thisÖ the most recent approach that he made?
MS: I donít think it is fair to get into that detail, but he did and I think thatís enough of that.

Q (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) Jenson, last year you guys were basically second best. Looking at the three teams in front of you, plus Renault, who do you think will be your biggest competition this year?
JB: Looking at testing, the McLarens and the Renaults look very quick. But what can you tell from testing? It is very difficult and we are not going to know after qualifying on Saturday I think to see who has got the one lap pace and then after the race to see who has got good consistency. We have to wait and see, donít want to say too much.

Q (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) A question for Mark. It was here with Minardi a few years ago that you finished fifth. You are Australian and Paul Stoddart is Australian. How do you feel about Minardi not starting on Sunday?
MW: I donít think my opinion is that important to be honest, in terms of the politics of it all. But of course I will be very disappointed if Paul is not racing here on Sunday. The fans are very much behind the Minardi team and they are basically a family team very passionate and the spirit in that team is incredible so they want to come here to compete of course they canít go of for overall honours but they do their best with what theyíve got. In terms of the politics, I donít really understand it all.

Q: (Ken Cavanagh - Triple M Radio) A question for Michael: Given the Minardi situation, a two-part question Ė one do you think Minardi is a serious threat to you in the race? And two what would you like to see when Jean Todt and Paul Stoddart meet this evening?
MS: Leave it up to them, its not my part to be involved in this. Regarding the first question I know they are good guys and I had a nice occasion with Paul myself when he sort of realised a promise he gave me once to go in his double-seater and I enjoyed that with some friends and my wife and so on. He is very nice. It is very unfortunate to hear these things and you have to make up your own mind on the question.

Q: Given they are not a threat can you see any reason why they should be excluded?
MS: If .. you play soccer?

Q: I used to..
MS: Imagine there is a new rule in soccer and you always play with ten people and there is always one team that is not doing very well, would you accept they play with 11 or more peopleÖ?

Q: If they were effectively playing with their hands tied behind their back already, yeh.
MS: I donít think it is a serious subject to discuss.

Q (James Allen - ITV) Michael is there any concern with you with single lap pace for Ferrari and Bridgestone and how important will your position on the grid be in the new form of racing that we are going to have in 2005?
MS: Qualifying is always important, but whether it has the same importance we shall find out with the new rules. You might approach the weekend and the race differently and put qualifying in a different position. We have to find out a little bit. Our performance in qualifying last year in general was not too bad and we have to find out this year. We had winter testing and we had some difficulties and now we have different temperatures and environment and we had similar things last year so now we have to wait and see.

Q (Michael Leach - The Age) We have people ringing radio stations to ask if you are going to win the world championship this year and how many Grands Prix you are going to win. Has the hype from the local media and the expectation been built up to unrealistic levels and if so what are the realistic levels this year?
MW: Like I said at the start I think there is a lot of excitement and just a general feeling that they want us to do well of course . They had me in Formula One three years before I was in F1 and now theyíll have me world champion before I am ready for that, but I hope we can win races this year no question about it. But as to being an absolute and complete total operation to go and take the world championship from Ferrari Ė itís probably a little unrealistic to be honest. But, you never know. Itís a long season. You can have a strong patch in the season and both cars are running well and things can go your way. No question about it. We will give everything, you can never count Williams out and they have shown they can bounce back. So, we will be wrapping our fish and chips with the newspapers next week -- so its not a big deal.

Q (Alain Pernot Ė LíAuto Journal) To Michael, there was a lot of tyre work for preparations for this season. Was it a disadvantage for Ferrari to be the only top team using Bridgestone tyres compared to Michelin with seven teams?
MS: Whether you should call it a disadvantage I am not sure, but it is was hard work for us.

Q: But the fact that you are up against seven teams on the same rubber, that sounds like a disadvantage doesnít it?
MS: It could be an advantage to have one big company just behind one big team. It has proven pretty good so far.

Q (Matthew Clayton - Sunday Times) Michael, there is a lot of talk about the 10th anniversary in Melbourne this year. Your first race with Ferrari was obviously your first here in Melbourne so can you give just a few thoughts and recollections of those early days when you were not in quite the position you are in now and of Melbourne as a Grand Prix city.
MS: Thatís a good point. I hope it runs better than it started, obviously I look forward to it big time. Melbourne is always a great place for us to come to. My love was not there initially, but it has improved. The environment is so positive, it has improved and it is a beautiful place to come to. You see the places we go and the temperatures we test at -- and the weather we haveÖ Then, you look forward to come down to Melbourne. It is a good city, with good spirit and nice people.

Q: How much have things in the team changed over that decade for you?
MS: Obviously big time. It was my start with a new team. We have built up strong relationships and I can only say we have fantastic harmony and relationships in the team and that is what has developed over all those years.

Q: To Juan Pablo and Michael, does an Australian paper tell the truth about Juan Pablo complaining that Frank Williams did not pay for him to have a fitness coach.. What do you think of the duty to be fit as an F1 driver?
MS: What part of the question is for me?

JPM: As far as I can remember, I did not complain. They asked me if there was a difference and that was the difference. It is not about the money. Just they had somebody there for me the whole time and thatís it.

Q: The impression from this article was that you hadnít a fitness coach...
JPM: I had one (a coach), but this one is full-time. This one is full-time and that is the only difference. I thought I was pretty fit to drive. I won the last race and that was one of the hardest races. I was fit.

Q (Mike Doodson) How much lighter are you now than at the end of last season?
JPM: Three or four kilos and beginning of last season half a kiloÖ

Q: What drives you to be so much fitter?
JB: I think you feel better in yourself if you are fitter, helps you mentally as well. But I donít know where the limit is.

MS: Thatís about it, as Jenson said.

Q (Mark Fogarty Ė Auto Action) Juan, is your relationship with Kimi already very different than the one you had with Ralf?
JPM: I think the one with Ralf at the beginning was a bit aggressive and that was more the way with how the press handled it than with with ourselves. In the end, it was a very good relationship to be honest and the press never thought we did, but we actually did (have a good relationship). I get on very well with Kimi and did before I started driving with McLaren.

Q (Mark Fogarty Ė Auto Action) Can you see that it would be good for the sport if you did not dominate this year and you struggled a little bit?
MS: I think I would disappoint plenty of people.

Q: You would, but a lot more peopleÖ
MS: That depends on your point of view, but you donít know how much support we have. If I look around, we have plenty. I understand your question to some degree, but there is no real sense for us to do anything from our side.

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