Participants: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Michael Schumacher (Mercedes)
Q: A question to all of you. What are you most looking forward to during this season? Who is going to start? The World Champion.
Jenson Button: The same as all of us I think, and that is getting out there. It has been a few months since we actually raced for three of us here, so getting out there and racing, that?óÔé¼Ôäós what we all love. Testing is part of the job but racing is the bit what we really enjoy. I am looking forward to getting out there. It is such a competitive season, it looks like. It is possibly one of the most exciting seasons we have seen in Formula One, so just being a part of that is very special.
Q: Lewis, what are you most looking forward to?
Lewis Hamilton: Just getting on the track. Testing was good fun but obviously we did not have as much testing as we have had in the past and the more time in the car the more fun we have. Just looking forward to it all kicking off and to see where everyone else sits.
Felipe Massa: Well, to get back to racing after eight months. It is a long time. I am looking forward to getting back to racing, to starting in a good direction after as Lewis said not many tests. But it is nice to be back racing.
Q: Michael, after an even longer absence what are you looking forward to? And welcome back.
Michael Schumacher: Thank you. The green light or the red light going off.
Q: The green light or rather when the red goes off?
FM: You are very motivated. You are already in the overalls.
Fernando Alonso: The same as everybody. Just starting the competition, the racing. Testing is okay but it is just preparation for the race itself, so looking forward to Sunday.
Q: Who has walked around the circuit? Any of you? Michael, what are your thoughts on the new section of the circuit? It is all probably fairly new to you.
MS: The first part looks quite exciting. The later part a little less exciting, but then you have to drive it and feel it in reality.
Q: Has anyone else been around the circuit to have a look at it? Jenson, been around the circuit?
JB: No, we are going out this afternoon.
LH: The same.
Q: Jenson, a new team. What are the greatest changes and challenges for you?
JB: I think moving teams. I was with my previous team for seven years, so moving teams can be tricky. It is a completely new environment, it is a real challenge and most of us do not really like change, but it has been good. Even after sort of two months I really feel part of the team. We have not even gone racing yet and I feel a big part of the team. I have always worked very hard to make myself fit into a team reasonably well but the team have been great. They are so hungry for a good season. Last year for them was not the best and it has made them hungry for success this year. It has been good and having the simulator there has helped me a lot to get used to the environment of being in this car. I spent a lot of time at the factory, not just with the engineers, just spending time at the factory, so I am part of the furniture there. Testing has gone well as well. It is important to really use every second or every minute you are with the team as it comes around very quickly. We have Friday and Saturday morning before qualifying but it is not a lot of time, so you have got to be ready for when you arrive here in Bahrain.
Q: Having number one and being World Champion on the car. How motivating is that or is it even restrictive?
JB: I can?óÔé¼Ôäót see it as restrictive in any way. You should look at it in a positive way. Stepping into the car and seeing the number one on it is a very special feeling, especially here in Bahrain at the first race. Just before I put on my helmet and I look at the car and see the No 1 it is going to be an emotional moment but as soon as you step into the car and close your visor last season is out the window and you are purely focussed on this year.
Q: You won here last year. Is it a good circuit for you?
JB: I like it. It is a fun circuit to drive and it is a place you can overtake which is great. The new section is pretty slow. There are nine new corners on the circuit and most of them are slow now, so it is tricky and I look forward to getting out there and seeing what we make of it as it is difficult walking around it and trying to understand it. The simulator is useful but still in reality it is nice to get out there and feel it in the car. I hope it does make overtaking better but I am not sure if that is going to be the case. I think it could possibly make the racing more exciting as it is very tricky, so I look forward to getting out on the circuit tomorrow morning.
Q: Lewis, the man next to you is the reigning World Champion. How does that change things for you? Is that extra motivation?
LH: I don?óÔé¼Ôäót think it makes a huge difference. Jenson has been welcomed into the team and he seems to be doing a great job, very productive, enthusiastic and he has really brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team. I can only see it as a positive. On my side, for me, just from coming from not so good a year last year but to finish on quite a high I feel just as determined as ever if not more.
Q: Which of the rule changes has been the most challenging as far as you are concerned?
LH: Probably just being a little bit heavier. Otherwise it has been pretty straight forward. Just trying to understand the tyres a little bit and understand the approach to the long stints being a little bit different to last year on lighter fuel but otherwise it is pretty straight forward. I am sure this weekend will be a challenge for everyone but we are all in the same boat.
Q: You finished second here in 2007, the first time you came here.
LH: That seems like a long time ago. We had a good car back then. The last two years things haven?óÔé¼Ôäót been particularly special but hopefully this weekend will be a new start for us and hopefully a positive for me and Jenson.
Q: Felipe, a big welcome back to you. What is it like to return, to be back in the car and back at a race meeting again?
FM: It is just nice to be back in business. That is my job for many years. I have lost a bit of races and just nice to be back. I feel really happy and a lot of motivation to get back to the job.
Q: You are a former winner here, but also in the past you have had some slow parts to the season. Is that something you are conscious of and determined to change?
FM: I think it is something that we understood in the past that the first race is important to finish, important to score points. Even in the last years we always had some problems in the car to finish the race. That I hope doesn?óÔé¼Ôäót happen. I hope we can finish most of the races in good points as we know at the end of the season it is always important to be there on a good amount of points. Many people say at the beginning of the season what is important is the reliability. Reliability is always important. It is important to finish the race. We did a lot of kilometres in the winter test which helps when you have a good car to start the season.
Q: Michael, what?óÔé¼Ôäós it like to be back at a race meeting when you are a driver and fully involved after an absence of three years?
MS: Well, naturally it is a bit more intense. From the morning to the evening with lots more details than you want and naturally you have to pay attention.
Q: How much are you still team building? People have spoken how you built a team at Ferrari. What is happening at Mercedes now?
MS: I think it is difficult to say right now what is going to be the development. Naturally you have to adapt, you have to evolve developing into the team. It is probably the thing that you will find some potential, you still can improve, to understand how at certain moments the team will work, why it will work, how you can combine the two things. But so far I have to say that the guys are good guys. It is good harmony, particularly due to knowing the boss quite well and he knows me too. It makes things a lot easier, a lot smoother, but otherwise I am sure there is some potential we will have to develop.
Q: You are a two-time winner here. What are your feelings about this circuit?
MS: Making it three.
Q: Fernando is a two-time winner as well, aren?óÔé¼Ôäót you?
FA: Yes, three also.
Q: But Fernando, again new team, new challenges. What are the major challenges? What are the major changes?
FA: As Jenson said I think every time you change team you need to adapt yourself a little bit to the new people, the new philosophy of working, of preparing the season. It has been a great time so far. I have been very comfortable with the team from day one to now, so I think we arrive at the first race with a good preparation and ready for the fight.
Q: Ferrari have been said to be one of the two top teams. Is that the way you see it?
FA: Not really. We are not comparing too much the times in winter or making many predictions for these first races. We have just been concentrating on our programme to try to be as prepared a possible for the first race. I think the four teams – Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari – any of the four teams can be a favourite for this race and for the first part of the championship with, I am sure, some teams also like Sauber and Force India, they will have a very good race as well. I think we will do our best. We are well prepared for this start of the season but we want to be World Champions in November, not in March. We will do our best but the goal is to win the championship and we know this is not easy at all and we need to work very hard for 10 months, so it is only the start.
Questions from the floor
Q: (Thomas Richtr ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ TV Nova) For all the drivers. If it was up to you and not working groups or the FIA, would you choose this year?óÔé¼Ôäós regulation regarding the refuelling ban and heavy cars at the start or last year?óÔé¼Ôäós regulation when it was a sprint from pit stop to pit stop?
FA: I am happy with any decision. It is just a new challenge for all of us. For the engineers, teams, drivers it is change in Formula One, so any change is normally welcome as it offers you the possibility of discovering some new area of our sport. I am happy with the change but I was happy last year. We will see. We need to give some time to the new regulations to see how the races are. If we see more overtaking, if not? Maybe the races are very spectacular or maybe the races are very boring. We need to wait and see a few races to see if the new regulations are working or not.
MS: Last year… yeah, for the simple fact it leaves more scope for strategy. Naturally, as a race driver you want to drive the fastest car and if you have full tanks to half full tanks it naturally makes a big difference.
FM: I think the regulations have to be good for everybody: for the drivers, for the teams but also a lot for the guys who are watching the race. It?óÔé¼Ôäós very difficult to say which ones (regulations) I prefer, the new ones or the ones from last year. We haven?óÔé¼Ôäót yet done a single race, it?óÔé¼Ôäós very early to say which one I prefer, but I think if it?óÔé¼Ôäós good to everybody – for the moment I don?óÔé¼Ôäót think anybody is against the regulations, so if it?óÔé¼Ôäós good for everybody, it should be no problem to change. It?óÔé¼Ôäós also a new challenge for everybody, as Fernando says, so we just need to focus on every new point and try to do the best.
LH: I think it?óÔé¼Ôäós a new challenge in the sport for all of us and the key is that we?óÔé¼Ôäóre moving forward, so I?óÔé¼Ôäóm excited to see how it works and I?óÔé¼Ôäóm sure we will do everything we can, collectively, to put on a good show.
JB: I think everything?óÔé¼Ôäós been said. I think turn one?óÔé¼Ôäós going to be pretty interesting with that much fuel ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ going down to turn one. I think we forget about qualifying as well. Qualifying is different to last year: we will be running on low tanks all the way through, which is great. I think we will have more of an understanding after qualifying than the last couple of seasons with the cars on low fuel. But I think the differences from qualifying to the races will be bigger than we?óÔé¼Ôäóve seen before. Some cars will be very good on light fuel, maybe not so good on 150/160 kilos of fuel, so it?óÔé¼Ôäós going to be interesting to see.
Q: (Jonathan Legard ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ BBC Sport) Michael, do you remember how you felt coming into the sport for the first time, up against champions who you had watched, the likes of Senna and Prost and so on? With your record and reputation, you?óÔé¼Ôäóre very much the man to beat; is it going to be everyone else?óÔé¼Ôäós aim to attack you and challenge you on the track?
MS: Yes. Basically when I arrived, I wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót that full of confidence to be on the same playing field but being with them the first time, I noticed that I could be (competitive) and I do feel pretty much the same now. There?óÔé¼Ôäós no reason why somebody should not feel in the position to fight me because all those guys who will be on the grid on Sunday have good reasons to be there because they?óÔé¼Ôäóre highly talented. I have the greatest respect for each of them; for me, each one is a big competitor that I have to look at.
Q: (Livio Oricchio ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ O Estado de Sao Paulo) Michael, you always said you don?óÔé¼Ôäót like understeer in your cars, and this year, due to the weight of the car, the tyres, the nature of the cars, you have understeer. Do you think that because of that we may not see the best of you?
MS: I think it varies very much from car to car, it?óÔé¼Ôäós a characteristic which is given to a car. Sometimes, you?óÔé¼Ôäóre right, it may be given by the tyres, then it?óÔé¼Ôäós up to you and your team to get the balance that you want, because in the past, don?óÔé¼Ôäót forget a car suited me because I like oversteer, I like a neutral car, the fastest car, whatever that is!
Q: (James Allen ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ Financial Times) Fernando, you?óÔé¼Ôäóve talked about settling in; do you think you?óÔé¼Ôäóre ready to win? And what do you think of Michael coming back?
FA: Yes, I think I?óÔé¼Ôäóm ready to win. Every time you arrive at the first race of the championship you?óÔé¼Ôäóve been preparing yourself all winter for this moment, so I?óÔé¼Ôäóve been waiting very long to be here at Ferrari as well, many years of preparation for this moment, so now I feel ready to fight and hopefully we?óÔé¼Ôäóre in a position to do that. To have Michael here, OK – it was a surprise for sure when he came back but as I said many times, it?óÔé¼Ôäós a very good thing for all of us, for all the drivers, for our sport and that can only help Formula One and because we are part of Formula One, all the drivers, it also helps us, so I am very happy that he?óÔé¼Ôäós here and hopefully we can have good fights.
Q: (Ian Parkes ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ The Press Association) Question to Jenson and Lewis: just been watching the dynamic between you two guys while the other three have been answering questions at the front. You?óÔé¼Ôäóve been having a good laugh and a joke, sharing comments etc. Is that a good indicator of the friendship/relationship you two have already developed over the past few weeks together?
JB: It?óÔé¼Ôäós all for show! Exactly what we were told to do by Steve (press officer Steve Cooper).
LH: I agree. We?óÔé¼Ôäóre focusing on a potential move to acting in the future!
JB: And no one?óÔé¼Ôäós asking us any questions, so?óÔé¼?ª
Q: (Sarah Holt ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ BBC Sport) I have a question for you, Jenson. How do you feel about defending your title this season against Fernando in the Ferrari, Michael back at Mercedes, Lewis in the same equipment as you will have? Do you feel you will need a dominant start again this weekend?
JB: Yes, I think every championship, for any champion, I think it?óÔé¼Ôäós important to be quick out of the blocks. If you look back, normally the guy that really fights for the championship and gets the championship is strong from the word ?óÔé¼?£go?óÔé¼Ôäó, so yes, I think it is important for all of us to be up there at the front here in Bahrain. The competition is very fierce, I must say, but that?óÔé¼Ôäós why it is exciting. For a fan of Formula One, this season should be electric, it really should be. If it?óÔé¼Ôäós not, we?óÔé¼Ôäóre doing something seriously wrong. It?óÔé¼Ôäós obviously great to have Felipe back after his horrific accident last year. Great to have Michael back because it makes me feel young again! Looking at this race, I don?óÔé¼Ôäót think there have been so many competitive drivers in competitive cars for a long time, so it?óÔé¼Ôäós great to see.
Q: (Jacques Deschenaux ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ GP Guide) To all of you, will the new distribution of points with 25 for the first, 18 to the second, change your approach and maybe your strategy for the race?
MS: You still want to score the 25, so that?óÔé¼Ôäós the main strategy. It?óÔé¼Ôäós certainly a little bit fairer, I think, in a way that if you have somebody who wins most of the races, naturally you will most likely say that he is going to be the champion by the end of the year, rather than somebody there just sitting, waiting and taking second and third places and suddenly being World Champion. I don?óÔé¼Ôäót think that makes much sense, as it has been in past years. Actually I think I was the reason why it was implemented, the small gaps, because I was winning so much and nobody could find a way to stop that. I think it?óÔé¼Ôäós absolutely correct, the way it is now.
FM: I think it?óÔé¼Ôäós correct as well. I think the winner, the victory is always more important than anything, so if you win, maybe to have a little bit more points is always better. So I?óÔé¼Ôäóm with Michael.
LH: Well, what they said was right. It?óÔé¼Ôäós another challenge, it?óÔé¼Ôäós a small change to the results. As Felipe said, when you win the race it should be rewarded perhaps a little bit more than the guys who come in second and third. I think it will be interesting to see how it pans out. I?óÔé¼Ôäóve not really thought about it too much to be honest.
JB: I think we need to see how it goes. It?óÔé¼Ôäós the same as before. You still want to go out and win as many races as you can. Obviously when you?óÔé¼Ôäóre fighting for a championship ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ I know how that feels now ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ it?óÔé¼Ôäós about being consistent as well. When you?óÔé¼Ôäóre fighting for a win, it?óÔé¼Ôäós very difficult to hold back and think ?óÔé¼?£I?óÔé¼Ôäóll come in second and pick up the points.?óÔé¼Ôäó We all want to win races and that?óÔé¼Ôäós what we?óÔé¼Ôäóre here to do.
FA: I agree.
Q: (Carlos Miquel ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ Diario AS) Fernando, in the past you have said Michael is the best driver in history. Now, Michael is back, do you believe the same? And a question for Michael: who could be your biggest rival this year?
FA: Yes, if I said that, it?óÔé¼Ôäós because I really think that. If you see the World Championships that Michael has it?óÔé¼Ôäós something that is impossible to repeat and part of the history in our sport, as I said. Looking at the numbers, Grand Prix wins, pole positions, championships etc, I think we all agree that Michael is the best ever, so I?óÔé¼Ôäóm happy that he?óÔé¼Ôäós here and as I said, hopefully winning a championship or winning a Grand Prix with Michael on the track has more value, so we will try.
MS: At my age, I keep forgetting things if they are too long away, so what was the question?
Basically, I think there are the four main teams that you?óÔé¼Ôäóre looking at and in all those cars ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ so you?óÔé¼Ôäóre talking about a potential eight drivers, seven around me that I have to look out for. Four of them are sitting here right now and there are three more that aren?óÔé¼Ôäót here right now. It?óÔé¼Ôäós very tough to mention which is the one, but it doesn?óÔé¼Ôäót matter who it is, because you?óÔé¼Ôäóre focused on the one that it is.
Q: (Joris Fioriti ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ AFP) To all of you apart from Michael Schumacher: you were saying, Fernando, that winning a race ahead of Michael Schumacher would bring more importance. Don?óÔé¼Ôäót you think that if Michael starts to win too much, it?óÔé¼Ôäós going to be very bad for all of you in the end and for the sport too?
FM: Well, for sure we need to work very hard not to let him win too much. Every team wants to win but it?óÔé¼Ôäós the best for the sport to have the best drivers on the track, the best teams fighting on the track and I think that?óÔé¼Ôäós always great for the sport. Anyway, everybody wants to win, everybody wants to keep winning all the time. But it?óÔé¼Ôäós a big competition, so I think it will be very difficult as we saw in the tests, to see a single car winning every race. But anyway, you never know. The race starts now and we need to wait and see.
LH: We have to wait and see, we have to wait and see.
JB: Yeah. I think you?óÔé¼Ôäóve answered it yourself.
FA: I agree!