DRIVERS – Heikki KOVALAINEN (Caterham), Bruno SENNA (Williams), Jean-Eric VERGNE (Toro Rosso), Narain KARTHIKEYAN (HRT), Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN (LOTUS), Nico HÜLKENBERG (Force India).
Gentlemen, your thoughts on India? some of you have been here before, some of you haven’t, so your thoughts on what you’ve experienced so far and what you’ve seen so far and what you think of the country and what you think of the circuit.
First of all Heikki, you’ve been here before, you’ve been training in Abu Dhabi so you’re used to the heat, what do you think of the weekend coming up and the country itself?
Heikki KOVALAINEN: Well, I think, like you said, last year was the first year that we raced here. I think the event itself was really successful. Especially the circuit; I think they’ve done a great job here with the circuit. I think the layout is one of the best in the calendar, there are really some nice corners, the surface is nice and smooth, so it’s always enjoyable to drive here and we can set up the car nice and low and get them gripping quite well. So, I’m looking forward to another good event this year. It seems like the locals are picking up the Formula One more and more, so it’s working quite well here. Hopefully we get a lot of people coming to see us on Sunday.
Bruno SENNA: Of course I agree with Heikki regarding the track; it’s one of my favourites in the calendar as well and coming from last year to this year, the improvement on the facilities and everything is quite impressive. I think everything was a bit rushed last year, so everybody was a bit ‘oh this isn’t ready for the race,’ but at the end of the day it’s always the case when it’s the first year of the circuit. All the rough edges have been sorted out for this year so it’s a much nicer place. Of course the experience of the track is a whole different thing and I think for everyone who’s not used to India it’s a big cultural shock but it’s a culture full of history, full of richness and I think if you learn how to appreciate that sort of stuff, you can learn to appreciate the country.
Jean-Eric, your first time here I think?
Jean-Eric VERGNE: Yes, indeed. To be honest I don’t have much to say about this track except that it looks like a nice one, really smooth. The race from last year looked quite nice and I’m really looking forward to drive on it and it should be a good experience. As Bruno said, off track it’s quite a different country and to be honest I haven’t experienced much: I stayed in the hotel, I was quite far from everything, so didn’t see much, just on the roads, which look quite messy but beside it, yeah, we’ll see how the weekend goes.
Narain, obviously a very busy week so far for you so far, a very busy weekend coming up as the native from the host country.
Narain KARTHIKEYAN: Yeah, we’re coming off a hugely successful race last year, so expectations are high and I hope on Sunday we see a big crowd, a strong one. What I always say, in India there is a lot of passion for Formula One and comparative to our neighbouring countries, like China, the understanding of Formula One is a lot better. It’s going to be a good grand prix, I hope and for us, we have a small update, which is a rarity here for our team. Hopefully it’ll work and we’ll have a few more tenths. I know we need seconds but it is what it is and I’m not complaining, I’m happy to be driving here and will give it my best.
Kimi, your first time in India. What are your thoughts, your impressions?
Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN: Well, I came last night at one o’clock, so I’ve only seen the motorway and the hotel. The hotel, outside it, looks nice. I have no complaints so far. The circuit – I haven’t gone around it. That is tomorrow. I’ll tell you about it.
Are you a fan of Indian food?
KR: Yeah, actually I am, if it’s the same as it is in Europe. I like it, but you know I have no experience yet of the local food.
Nico, I expect you’ve have a busy week?
Nico HULKENBERG: yes, we obviously we’ve had quite a few visits to India over the last two years. We’ve been here since Monday doing work with the local media and being in Delhi. I’ve been a few times here but I enjoy it every time I come. It’s a very different culture and a special experience to come here. It’s very different to all the other Asian places we go to. They’re always very welcoming, very friendly. I enjoy being here. Obviously, the track is new to me, so I’ll have to learn that one tomorrow. I’m generally looking forward to the weekend really. It’s a special weekend for us and hopefully we can entertain the crowds.
Now, a question to all of you about your future. I don’t know if you’ve got things signed or not. Just give us some sort of update as to what’s happening next year? Heikki, would you like to start?
HK: I wouldn’t actually like to start, but now that you’re pushing me… Nothing’s been signed for next for myself yet. Personally, my target and my focus is at each race weekend for our team it’s quite important that we try to regain that 10th position back from Marussia. It’s not going to be easy but I think we have to do whatever it takes to be in a position to do that if a freak race happens again. So, the main focus is on that and regarding the future with the team and with Tony, we haven’t decided yet. I think Tony knows what he gets with me but then he’s evaluating other options I think to see what he wants to do. And I’m waiting. In the meantime, of course, my management is also working. There’s nothing really to report but the main thing I think for myself and really for our team has to be to keep pushing to get that 10th position back, it’s quite crucial.
Bruno – for next year?
BS: Nothing has changed from the last time I was here and you asked me the same question but the focus is still the same: keep pushing and trying to get points for the team and then hopefully be on the grid next year.
JEV: I haven’t thought about it really. So far I have a contract with Red Bull. I think I just have to keep doing the job I’m doing and improve myself every race weekend and I’ll think about this race weekend and Abu Dhabi and then think about next season, but I’m quite confident about staying with Toro Rosso and that’s what I would love.
NK: Again, I have a good relationship with HRT; it’s my second year with them. They’ve built a good factory and everything else. On paper next year they’ll look the best so realistically I’d like to stay here and that’s the plan right now.
Kimi, we’re told we can expect an announcement next week or so, is that the case?
KR: I don’t know. I mean, we have options but nothing is decided but I guess it will be decided at some point.
Nico. There are rumours about concerning your future. Where you’re going to go, when do you think you will know?
NH: I know there is lots of talk about my future but at this point I don’t want to make a comment on the speculation. I’ll just focus on this weekend, which is the most important thing.
Are things settled? Can you say that?
NH: Just no comment.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Shridhar Poddar – Sakal Media House ) Kimi, how has the break from Formula One to rallying helped you, because your second stint has been turning out to be as good as the first one?
KR: It hasn’t really done anything. I was pretty happy to go and do something else for a while, did some racing and I’m enjoying it again. It’s the same places – OK, there are some new circuits and places to come to this year and a new team, but apart from that, Formula One hasn’t changed and it’s exactly the same. For me, nothing’s really changed. People always talk about where I was last time, that I didn’t have the motivation but I thought I drove better than I ever drove in the last year; it was just that we had a pretty bad car at that time. Nothing has really changed for me.
Q: (Vinayak Pandey – Hindustan Times) Narain, you have probably driven on this circuit a lot more than other drivers. The conditions in Delhi were unexpectedly cool and there was a rain shower on Wednesday. Should the temperatures become cooler than they are right now in qualifying and on Sunday, do you see any particular changes in the way the cars will handle or the outcome?
NK: I think the track is already in a lot better condition than last year; it was very dusty, and because of the landscaping that they have done, the dust has settled, there’s no more construction around the circuit so we already have a higher level of grip and the circuit looks quite nice. As you know, I drove the MR Formula 2000 car a month ago; it was already very good. Temperatures won’t matter, they are going to drop a few degrees from today, I think, but it’s OK. The tyres are fine; compared to last year, the hard compound – we have the same allocations but it’s a little bit softer so it should be fine here.
Q: (Chetan Narula – PlanetF1) Kimi, how big a challenge were Pirelli’s tyres for you, because the last time (you were in F1) you had different tyres, and now you have totally different compounds and everything?
KR: I admit that I had some thoughts about the tyres before I did one private test – OK, it wasn’t the race tyres, it was some other even more worse tyres but I thought that they were fine. When you come from rallying, they have much more grip and the tyres were OK for me so after that, I already knew that I would not have any issues, because there was a lot of talk that maybe it was not good, but when I came back, I didn’t really remember how it was two years earlier, so I thought that the tyres were completely fine and I still do so. OK, they wore off a bit faster than in the past in some races but it’s the same for everybody and they’ve been doing a very good job for Formula One so I’m happy with that.
Q: (Chetan Narula – PlanetF1) And you haven’t won this year but despite that, how good a comeback has this been for you?
KR: Yes, I’m happy. If you had told me before the season that I will be in this position with this many points and stuff like that I would have taken it but of course when you do some good races you always want more and more and then you’re disappointed if you’re not. If you do well you want more and more. It could have been better but it could have been much more worse also.
Q: (C. Raghunath – The Hindu) Kimi, do you fancy your chances this year? You’re third in the championship…
KR: Yeah, of course. We’ve had a chance. It’s the difference like in 2007. We had a car that you knew that could win all the races and right now we are not the fastest car so we need more help to really win it but we will keep trying and hopefully we can achieve it. We will try until there’s no chance but it’s a bit different situation. But if we can improve the car in the next three races, you never know, so…
Q: (Vinayak Pandey – Hindustan Times) Kimi, after which race did you feel that the Lotus team didn’t have the same competitiveness as it had at the start of the season?
KR: I think in Spa we had some signs but then we have seen this year that one race you can be very strong and the next not so good, it’s been up and down between the teams. For some reason, after the summer break, some of the teams have been much more consistent. I think we still have a good car. We improved it in the last race again but we are not at the level that we maybe were compared to others at the beginning of the season.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Nico, you said that you mentioned that you got here on Monday. Could you just give us an idea of some of the things you’ve been doing since you got here?
NH: Well, mainly a lot of media interaction. We are an Indian team so there is quite a bit of interest, so we’ve been around, talking to a lot of TV stations, went to some studios, did a sponsorship event with Hackett which is a team partner in clothing. It’s only two days and two days pass pretty quickly.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Did you meet Vijay?
NH: No, we haven’t met Vijay.
Q: (Shreyas Sharma – Mail Today) Narain, since you are closely associated with this track, some changes have been made, although the changes are minor. Do you think it will make the race more interesting, faster?
NK: No, the layout remains the same, just that the kerbs are extended a little bit in turns five and six and then they put some astroturf to keep the dust down because a lot of cars were going off in that particular corner last year. Apart from that, as everyone has said, the layout is fantastic and I’m glad they haven’t changed anything, it’s nice to drive on, it’s pretty flowing and it’s fast.
Q: (Shridhar Poddar – Sakal Media House) To all the drivers, whoever wants to answer: the long straight is something that the DRS was really tailor-made for although we didn’t see too much overtaking last year. How much overtaking do you think there is a scope for over here?
NK: We won’t be doing much overtaking so I think…
HK: We have the same problem as Narain so…
BS: Normally, the overtaking is more due to the tyre difference between the cars than to long straights or DRS. Long straights always help a little bit but if you’re coming from a corner like turn two, which is a long corner where you put a lot of heat into the tyres, into a hairpin, where traction is a bit more compromised so overtaking really is more due to the tyres than anything else in current Formula One. But if you’re in a Toro Rosso then you have about 20kph more top speed than everyone else then you can overtake as well!