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Malaysian GP: Friday Press Conference

NEWS STORY
02/04/2010

First of all, a question to both team principals. How important is this grand prix for you given the area and the location of your teams?
Tony Fernandes: For me it is very special. The first time Lotus is racing in Malaysia which is our home base and we have received a tremendous amount of support over the past week, so a special moment today getting the cars out and getting Fairuz (Fauzy) in the car as well. Both Jarno (Trulli) and Heikki did a superb job in the second session, so overall I can't wipe the grin off my face. A good day.

Otmar Szafnauer: Likewise for us. A grand prix in Asia is important to us and glad to be here. It is a great place. I personally have been here quite a few times and it does allow our owner to watch the cricket one day, watch the Formula One racing the next and back to the cricket; as it is so close he flies between the two.

Tony, just recap the story so far particularly when it comes to the racing itself. It is a long story, but if you would just summarise it.
TF: Well, we obviously started two tests later than everyone. It has steadily improved. We had some issues in the early days with hydraulics etc. but the car has got better and better. We had some tweaks along the way, but nothing major. The key aim has remained the same: to finish the races and try and be the best of the new teams and put minor upgrades on whenever we can. Our major upgrade will come in Barcelona. I think at each stage the drivers are becoming more comfortable with the car. We are getting to know a lot about the car. We have taken some weight off and we are looking forward really to Barcelona. Between now and Barcelona we will just try and see what we can get out of the car. But it has been a good start. Remind everyone we only had six months in building this and as Mike keeps telling me - 8,500 parts. It was a heavy car as we took the conservative option of building a more reliable car and that has paid off I think.

What has the reception been like in Malaysia, particularly this week?
TF: When we first announced it I think most people thought I had gone completely nuts. That has been with me most of my life. When I started Air Asia people thought I was completely nuts as well. I think over the last six months we have made the nation more and more believers and our neighbours. We are getting tremendous support from Singaporeans, Thais, Indonesians and now as I walk around the streets everyone is saying 'good luck, congratulations, we are there for Lotus.' It has been really overwhelming. I knew we would get support but I didn't realise how much it would be and as I always said to Bernie (Ecclestone) and Max (Mosley) at the time when you have more local involvement Formula One will be much bigger. It really will become a global sport. Right now it is predominantly European. Just the response we are getting and you see from the ticket sales that we are hearing that it is going very well and the reception Heikki and Jarno got, I think they were kind of blown away with the positive response they got, so it has been fantastic.

What is the thinking behind the use of the third driver on Friday morning with Fairuz? Will you be doing that at other grands prix or is it just here?
TF: I think we don't think too far ahead. The plan was to give Fairuz a shot and Heikki very kindly stepped down. Really part of this whole experience and I think good for Formula One is to get other nationalities into Formula One. It makes it more relevant. People do not come to the tracks because it is a track, people come to see what is in the track or what is in the stadium. If there is more local involvement, then it becomes more of a natural to come. If you are just watching a bunch of foreign teams the emotion is not there. Part of our whole Lotus experience is to try and develop drivers. We know it is going to be a long experience. We have started already. We have got a boy in Formula BMW and we have got a 10-year-old now who we are sponsoring in karting. Today was to give Fairuz a chance at testing in his home circuit. As for the future we are not sure. We will have to wait and see but all I can confirm was that it was for Malaysia only at this point.

Heikki, your impressions do you have of the team's performance?
Heikki Kovalainen: I think the performance has been better than I was expecting. The first time that I went to visit Mike and so on, just before Christmas, I think there were four people working and Mike was telling me it is all going to be fine and we are going to be finishing races. I did have my doubts. But little by little the team has actually very positively surprised me and I have no doubts now anymore that we wouldn't be successful. I think we have hit all the targets and we have been ahead of the schedules and the team is incredibly professional. The work with the team goes exactly the same it went with McLaren or with Renault or with any top team. The boys, engineers, mechanics and the team management have all been involved before, so the operation runs as professionally as any other team. We just need a bit of time to put some performance into the car and at the moment I am very happy where I am and I think things are going incredibly well.

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