DRIVERS: Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren), Kamui KOBAYASHI (Sauber), Michael SCHUMACHER (Mercedes), Adrian SUTIL (Force India), Sakon Yamamoto (HRT)
Q. Kamui, your home race but I don’t think you have raced here for a long, long time. Since you were 17, I think?
Kamui KOBAYASHI: Yes, I think the last race at Suzuka was seven years ago. Quite a long time. I am very excited to drive at Suzuka again.
Q. Last year you did the Friday practice.
KK: It was only testing in wet conditions. This time I think I have more opportunity to know the car and track, so I think I have more opportunity to have a good result here. I think my experience in Suzuka is too poor. I only have experience with Formula One in the wet, but this is… (becomes inaudible).
Q. You made your debut just over a year ago. How have things changed for you and how have you changed in the last year?
KK: I think 2009 was really the turning point for myself. In one year it really changed a lot. I had really a lot of things happening and still here, so I am very happy and it is thanks to many people, the fans and the supporters.
Q. In fact you have already been confirmed to drive for Sauber next year. How do you feel about that?
KK: For me it is a really great thing, to be proud for myself. Normally it is really difficult the start and beginning of this year but finally in last couple of races I scored points quite consistently. The team is happy and we have to make sure we can show all the performance for the rest of the season.
Q. Sakon, are you well today? Are you feeling okay?
Sakon YAMAMOTO: Yes, I feel very good. First of all I would like to mention one thing. At the beginning of this week we got bad news, our colleague he was motor journalist and unfortunately he couldn’t come. He was supposed to come to Suzuka but he couldn’t, so Rest In Peace for him. It is always special for me to be back in Suzuka as I saw Formula One in Suzuka and I started go-kart racing here as well, so it is always special to be back as a Formula One driver. I am really proud to be here and also really looking forward to racing in front of big supporters in Japan.
Q. How do you feel about your future with HRT? For the coming races and next year?
SY: Still we don’t know how I am going to do with HRT next year. But we try to do our best and I am looking forward to working with them again.
Q. Coming back to this circuit. What are the challengers of this particular circuit from your point of view?
SY: Well, my point of view regarding this circuit, sector one is one of the most challenging parts as from turn one to I think turn 10 you don’t have enough time or enough chance to drive straight. You are always going right or left, so it is going to be very challenging. Also that’s one of my favourite parts of this circuit, so in our limited situation it is going to be very tough to drive on that part but we try to do our best.
Q. Adrian, you qualified fourth last year. Admittedly, you didn’t start there but what are the chances of a similar performance this year?
Adrian SUTIL: Hopefully good chances. I think it is a circuit that suits our car a bit better than the last ones. I am looking for a top 10 finish again, score some points. It is very important at the moment to do a consistent job and just bring it home. We need every single point if it is possible. I am looking forward to the race this weekend in general. It is a nice circuit and I have good memories here.
Q. Your future has been mentioned in connection with Renault. What is your take on that?
AS: No comment at the moment really. We will see. Very soon hopefully. I don’t want to wait too long until I make my decision but I will probably make it very soon.
Q. In two weeks time we are going to be in Korea. What sort of preparations have you been able to make for that race? What are you expecting from it?
AS: Well, there is some footage out there of course from the first lap ever done on the circuit. I had a look at that but after this race we have our simulator sessions and then you get used to it a little bit. At least where the corners are and how the circuit is. But it is probably not the best simulation you can have. We all need a little bit of experience out there on the real circuit. Hopefully it will take place. It is still not looking so good when you see the pictures. But in general I am really looking forward to a new circuit, new in the calendar. I think it is a challenge to go somewhere else as well. Korea is a little bit outside of everything but pure racing.
Q. You haven’t been there before? Did you do the F3 races?
AS: No, for me it is the first time in Korea.
Q. Lewis, have you been to Korea before?
Lewis HAMILTON: I have, yes.
Q. What were your memories of racing there?
LH: I remember going there in Formula Three. I think it was a follow-on race from Macau. I cannot really remember the circuit too well but there was a very tight chicane there. I qualified pole. It was my first pole position in I think one of my first races in Formula Three and I remember being taken out by a certain driver but other than that it was a good weekend.
Q. Looking at this circuit, how do you see the challenges of this circuit?
LH: Well, firstly I am very happy to be here. I love being here in Japan. It is great to be back out here. Last year was quite a good race for us and I think generally just coming here it has always been a track that I enjoyed watching whilst I was growing up. Watching Michael race, watching Ayrton (Senna) race down here and (Alain) Prost. It seemed, at least while watching growing up, one of the very tough circuits but very much a driver’s circuit. Coming here for the first time last year was a great experience and looking forward to getting back out there. We did not have enough laps last year. There are never enough laps. It is a very challenging circuit. The first sector is incredible. You just never seem to stop, corner after corner after corner, and it is such a beautiful flow through there and I think the whole track is like that, so I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Q. Martin Whitmarsh made a point that only one McLaren has finished the last four races. Obviously he is looking for more finishes than that and the drivers would like to finish as well. You have got to stay out of trouble, but to what extent what can a driver do about it?
LH: As drivers we are always on the ragged edge. We are always trying to gain position whilst staying safe. Some of us are more aggressive than others in those positions. Some people do a lot less overtaking than others. You just try to keep out of trouble. It is not easy. Racing is racing and there are racing incidents every now and then, so that is to be expected. I think I have had a pretty good string of races in my Formula One career. I have scored a lot of points in only four years, so it is not all so bad.
Q. Michael, a remarkable record here. Six wins and half of your starts from pole position as well. What are your feelings about this circuit?
Michael SCHUMACHER: Well, from a driver’s point of view it is probably the highlight of the year. Mentioning the first sector as before that’s the one. That’s what you look forward to. From a driver’s point of view that is the ultimate challenge and I really look forward to this one. It has been through all the years very exceptional.
Q. What about your preparations for Korea? What have you been able to do?
MS: There is not much that can be done from that point of view in terms of simulator. Yes, we have a simulator but nobody has been able to drive the track so, at least for me, it is not anything that I make use of. I will go, as I did in Singapore, arrive there and see the nature of the track and get used to it as I normally do.
Q. You have been asked this many times, but we are getting towards the end of this comeback year for you. Just summarise how you have seen it so far this year.
MS: Well, it has been a much tougher year than we expected. If you think of the performance that the team was able to do last year, expectations were high. We have not been able to fulfil those expectations. At the same time it has been a long-term project and if I look back at how long it took with Benetton and with Ferrari to build up a team and then finally to take success it has never been possible to do that in the short term. The nature of the fact that the team used to be a big team, such as the top three teams, then was reduced to a much smaller team during last year due to circumstances that everybody knows, we are now a rather small team compared to the top running teams. That, in the situation that we are right now, makes it, naturally, a little bit more difficult. But then we have made decisions and steps to get back to the winning route although naturally it will take time.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Carole Capitaine – L’Equipe) Question for Lewis, Adrian and Michael: considering the past and Singapore as another example, we can say that Mark Webber is a fighter on the track and is very difficult to overtake. Do you believe that after the kind of experience in Singapore that this can give more confidence to Mark on the track and can you explain if it’s easy to find the limit up to where you can attack or defend your position?
LH: That’s about overtaking, yeah? I think Singapore is a very tough circuit because it’s clearly a very high downforce circuit, but – I don’t know if there was some overtaking there, I didn’t get to see the race after I was done – but then you come here which generally requires quite a bit of downforce but you have long straights, probably a little bit more opportunity here to overtake and watching over the years, it looks like quite a spectacular race circuit and there is quite a bit of overtaking especially when it’s wet, and I suppose it’s going to be wet this weekend, so I’m sure we will see some overtaking this weekend.
(MC clarifies the question.)
LH: I apologise, I didn’t fully understand. I don’t think it gives him more authority. Every driver is very, very… we make it as hard as possible to let the other guy behind you overtake. Of course, you want to race sensibly and avoid incidents and I think that’s what we all try to do, but of course, when you’re racing wheel-to-wheel at those high speeds, it’s very easy to have incidents. I don’t think the situation that we had in Singapore makes any difference really. It’s just racing.
MS: Principally, you always follow the same path. In Formula One, overtaking is very difficult. The nature of tracks, such as Singapore, don’t make it any easier. The straights are rather short and it needs special circumstances such as probably Robert (Kubica) had in the race, having fresher tyres, having the car with the most top speed. Only with those kind of circumstances may you get into a position to overtake. But under normal circumstances it’s tough. Probably in Brazil and on some exceptional tracks it is possible and on others it is simply impossible, so that’s the nature of our business. Naturally, if you have an opportunity you will go for it and having two cars close to each other then occasionally certain contact will happen, that’s unavoidable.
Q. (MC) But it doesn’t reflect on any particular person?
MS: No, not at all. I think that’s the general situation and I don’t think in Singapore we saw anything that changes the general trend.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) It’s a question for Michael. Before, you talked about a longer period project for Mercedes and you mentioned Benetton and Ferrari. In those days, you were in your mid-twenties and then in your mid-thirties. Now you are a little bit older. Is there any risk that time will run out before you find the target and is there any risk that you can work and somebody else can reap the fruits of your work, like Nico (Rosberg) for example?
MS: That’s why, right from the beginning, we talked about a three-year situation. I hope that within this time I can collect the fruits of it. Certainly we are on the right path. If I see modifications and mistakes and the learning curve – all what has been done to improve next year makes me very confident and comfortable and again, the target is to reduce what used to take four to five years to reduce it in time, so that I take the benefit from it.
Q. (Bob McKenzie – The Daily Express) Michael, with your experience, if you were having a bet where would your money go on the championship, among the five contenders now?
MS: If you want to lose money, you bet on one of those guys because none can be right and can be correct. If you look at this year, I think it has been a very exceptional year: for the reason to have so many drivers still in the championship and for the fact that there have been so many up and down happenings, retirements and so on, that I don’t think you could have expected, so I wouldn’t bet any money on anybody. I cross fingers for one that I’m good friends with, but that’s about it.
Q. (Bob McKenzie – The Daily Express) Who would that be?
MS: I’m good friends with Sebastian (Vettel), so my fingers are crossed for him.
Q. (Sarah Holt – BBC Sport) Lewis, immediately after the Singapore race, I think you suggested that your title challenge was in a little bit of trouble. Do you still feel, two weeks on, that that’s still the case, and if so, what do you plan to do to make sure it’s not run away from you?
LH: I think at the time I clearly had quite a few tough races with the failure in Hungary, and then we had a win, and then we had two DNFs, so it was just after two tough races. I think it’s very easy to get your emotions mixed up with your thought process, but I think after coming away from it, there are still four races to go and looking back at the history of the sport and looking back particularly at this season and seeing how close it still is, after many people made mistakes and certain situations, it clearly shows that it isn’t impossible to win. I still feel very optimistic. I still know that clearly I have a tough job ahead of me and it’s going to be tough for all of us but I feel that I have as good an opportunity as anyone and so I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure that I finish the races. Generally, when I finish races it’s not so bad, so fingers crossed that that will be the case.
Q. (Jonathan Legard – BBC Sport) Just following up on that point, Lewis, three retirements in your last four races, do you see any need to – not play percentage – but to make sure you score points? As you say, when you finish you do score heavily but you’ve got to finish, haven’t you? Do you see any need to modify your approach?
LH: I’m clearly looking at all of the races that I’ve done and looking at how my approach has been and trying to evaluate and try to take a step back and try to see it as something I can improve on, of course. It’s difficult to pinpoint one particular part. Of course, I could go and drive around and not overtake anyone and just stay in position, that’s easy enough but that’s not me, so that definitely won’t be happening.
Q. (Marco Degli’Innocenti – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis, you’ve already partially answered this question but can I have a clear answer from you: as you have not seen the chequered flag for the last two races, how crucial will this race be for you in the fight for the championship?
LH: I don’t think this race will be particularly more crucial than the next three races. I think they’re all very important to score maximum points. Clearly, if I had finished the last three races or the three races that I’ve missed, I’d be in a much stronger position but that’s life and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t go back and change it; all I can do is try to recover and try to apply myself in the most productive way towards my team and towards myself and towards the racing. My plan, of course, is not to arrive at weekends and see how hard my team works and let them down and let my family down, or let my friends down or let myself down. So I’m doing as much as I can. I hope that this weekend is a stronger weekend. I feel good about it, so we will see.
Q. (Sumie Dan – The Hochi Shimbun) I have a request from the three drivers at the front: I would like to hear some frank opinion as the number of grand prix races has been increasing over the last few races through to this year and next year. How is it for you and your teams?
AS: I think it’s OK. Next year we will have twenty grands prix, so I will look forward to it. It’s very busy, no question, but we have no testing in between. Years back, when there was no testing ban, I think there was even more work to do, and it was more stress and busy but we are still in a good position and of course there is a lot of travelling. But the places we go to are very interesting and therefore I think it’s good that we have twenty races.
LH: Yeah, I agree. From my point of view, I think as a driver I love racing, so I kind of welcome it. However, it is very tiring on the team, time away from the family, but then, I’m pretty much certain that if you go and speak to any of my team members, they would not change a thing. We’re all racers, we’re all here because we love doing what we do. I think one more race, two more races isn’t the let-up.
MS: I very much look forward to it and coming back to the point, twenty races, yes, but if you go back to what it used to be in the past, we used to do racing, testing, racing, testing, racing, testing. We used to do a lot more. It’s only probably the last year or two that we do much less than we used to do, so I guess we, as drivers, naturally prefer more races than all the testing. Occasional testing, yes, I would agree on, but certainly I don’t mind the number of grands prix at all.
Q. (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Michael and Lewis: what do you need to have a winning car in Suzuka, and do you think the Red Bull can be beaten this weekend?
LH: At this circuit – well, I’ve only been here once, so Michael is probably the best one to start, you’ve won here six times, so there’s no one better to answer that.
MS: In a way, it is a high challenge track, and drivers, yes indeed, can give a great input on this kind of track, especially in the first sector, but nevertheless, the car is mega-important because of this first sector. If the response from the front end in particular, with all these longish corners, is weak, you suffer quite a lot and in this respect, looking at the nature of the Red Bull car, I think it’s going to be very strong in my view, but then I know that McLaren is pushing very hard on developments, so we will see whether they can keep up or not. That’s going to be a tough one.
LH: Well, the Red Bulls are very quick at the moment, so it will be very difficult to beat them. They won here last year, they’ve got very good and efficient downforce but as Michael said, we are all pushingâ€¦ at least our team is pushing very hard to always close that, so hopefully it will be strong here as we were in the last race and hopefully even closer.
Q. (Nobuaki Tadaki – Tokyo Sankai Shimbun) Question to the three in the front row: it is reported that the Korean International Circuit has started to lay the final pavement, the day before yesterday and going to finish it tomorrow. It means that only two weeks later Formula One cars will drive on it. What do you think of that, particularly from a safety point of view?
MS: I guess we trust that the guys know exactly what they’re doing, because there’s a lot of experience how to build race tracks and I understand Hermann Tilke is involved in the project. We trust that it can all be achieved. I’m sure that they will put in maximum effort to make it happen.
LH: It doesn’t really worry me from a safety point of view. I think the FIA always do a great job and they and the team clearly won’t let us race if it was unsafe. I feel totally comfortable that everything will be done in order to keep us safe and therefore we can continue to race.
AS: Yes, same, very similar. The pictures probably look more dramatic than it actually is but the FIA will for sure make sure that it’s safe enough to race on, otherwise we won’t be going there, so we trust them.
LH: We want to race.
AS: We definitely want to race.
LH: We will keep pushing.
Q. (Yuuki Ishihara – Tokyo Sankei Sports) Michael, people say you are master of Suzuka. You won six times here in Suzuka, many times more than anybody else. I was wondering if you could share some secrets, do you have any reasons why you have been so good here in Suzuka?
MS: I don’t think it is naturally only Suzuka because if you just go for this statistic I have a couple of other tracks where I have been winning many times. It’s just that I’ve been around so long! That’s why maybe the number is so high, plus working with a very professional and fantastic team and doing my best on top of this. That’s what has given the results.