FIA Friday Press Conference – Australia
DRIVER GROUP 1 – Alex ALBON (Williams), Lance STROLL (Aston Martin), Carlos SAINZ (Ferrari), Fernando ALONSO (Alpine), Esteban OCON (Alpine)
Q: Carlos, let's kick things off with you. It's been three years since we last raced in Melbourne. Just tell us about your thoughts on being back, getting underway here.
Carlos Sainz: It's always great to be back here, mainly because I think it's a great, great grand prix in general. The whole city welcomes us a lot, always in Melbourne. And you can see even the difference of what two or three years make with the good moment that Formula 1 is going through, and the amount of people that there is on the streets, just supporting us and cheering us on. Since we landed on Monday, it's been incredible the amount of support and amount of people that are just excited to have us here. A bit of a shame that it's not the number one race, because it gives you that extra vibe to come all the way here, it's a long trip, but still managed to adapt well to the jet lag and now ready to go racing.
Q: And what about the track alterations that are welcoming us this year?
CS: The track looks very different. I think, obviously first of all they re-surfaced. It's something that is going to affect, obviously all the braking points. Before, they were very bumpy. There's two or three corners that are definitely much faster. For me, we just need to wait and see. Obviously, it's meant to make the racing better and it's meant to make overtaking better and this until… we don't run and we don't try how it is to feel… to follow around here and use the four DRS Straights. It's going to be difficult to tell but it looks like, for the racing, could be in the right direction. Particularly me, I'm a big fan of the old Melbourne because I really liked the circuit in the past years but as I haven't tried this one yet, I cannot judge yet.
Q: And a quick word on the pecking order. Do you see it as another battle between Ferrari and Red Bull at the front this weekend?
CS: It depends on how many upgrades the others have brought. But it's pretty clear that in the first races, we had a bit of a gap to the rest of the field and it was a head-to-head battle – and quite an interesting one to be fair – because it's been tight in all of the qualifying sessions, in all of the races. We are within a tenth of each other and it makes for a great fight every time we are out on track. So, we'll see.
Q: Fernando coming to you. You first came to Melbourne to race 21 years ago. Just how good is it to be back?
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, it's good. I mean, a lot of things have changed but as Carlos said, now, I think it’s still one of the best grands prix of the year because the fans are amazing here. And I think everyone embraces the grand prix: the city, hotels, restaurants… you know, everything is about the race this weekend. So that's a good feeling.
Q: And before we talk performance this weekend, can we throw it back to Jeddah and we've got your teammate up on stage with us. Can you just talk us through your battle with Esteban? How much did you enjoy it?
FA: I did! I did enjoy it. I think we had the battle also in Bahrain, in a way, but in Jeddah, we continued that and yeah, I think we will see more of that. Always with hard racing, but racing for the team and for Alpine, and you take that extra margin when you battle with your team-mate. Arguably we lost a little bit of time by doing that but, y’know, it’s the way it is and we're still learning about these cars, and about the possibilities this year, so I think things will be better in the future.
Q: Talking about learning new cars. You got the full Aussie experience yesterday in the supercar?
FA: Yeah, it was fun, fun to drive. Obviously a very different car and a first impression of the new layout as well with those cars. Everything looks so different compared to the single seaters, so I'm still looking forward to discover the track in the F1 but it was good. Obviously, heavier, compared to F1, and brakes are not as good as our brakes. But generally, I think it's a fun series, you know, with 25 cars, I think within one second in qualifying. So that's a good fight.
Q: Esteban, coming to you now. How much did you enjoy that battle with Fernando in Jeddah?
Esteban Ocon: I did. I did enjoy a lot, thank you. Yeah, it was fun to race with Fernando. It's always a privilege anyway to share the track with him, and to be in the same team as him and yeah, I mean, as he said, we are learning with these new cars how to race and how close it is at the moment in the field when you are in a battle. So yeah, it was good fun. It's been a good two races for me, to start the year with, so hopefully we can continue like this.
Q: Sixth in the Drivers’ Championship, between Hamilton and Pérez. Coming into the first race in Bahrain, did you expect that?
EO: No, I mean, we didn't know where we were going to be, exactly but it's very tight at the moment in in the midfield where we are. We qualified really well in Jeddah. We had a really good qualifying performance but in the race, you know, it was not as strong. I think the Alfa and the Haas were very fast in that race. So, we're going to need to keep working, to create a little bit more of a gap to them, because at the moment they are a bit faster. And yeah, it's going be a long one ‘til the end of the year to the race development basically.
Q: Interesting you say they're faster because Alpine is fourth in the constructors’ table at the minute and I was going to say, is that an accurate reflection of the car’s pace?
EO: I don't think so. I think in qualifying in Jeddah, we were definitely the fourth fastest. But in Bahrain it was not the case. And in the race in Jeddah, it was not the case either. I think it's been good on my side of the garage. We obviously didn't put everything together with Fernando also, with the car in Jeddah. So, we should be having a bit more points in the bag. But yeah, as I said, it's going to be all putting it together and getting some more performance in the coming races.
Q: Lance coming to you now. While we're talking car performance, where do you see the pace of Aston Martin at the minute?
Lance Stroll: It's been a tough start for us. You know, not where we want to be but we're pushing trying to improve as much as we can, and see how we go this weekend.
Q: You ran as high as ninth in Jeddah until you were hit by Alex. How much progress have you made with the car?
LS: Well, I mean, yeah, I don't think we were really in a position to fight for points. It was always going to be difficult in Jeddah. But we'll see how we go this weekend.
Q: And just a few words from you on racing again in Melbourne, of course, the scene of your Formula 1 debut.
LS: Yeah, I mean, definitely. It's always great to be back here. You know, I always enjoy coming here. Great memories. And yeah, it's always a very exciting city to come racing. The fans really get into it. The whole city, you know, is buzzing. So, it's definitely nice to be back.
Q: Alex, coming to you now, you start the weekend with a three-place grid penalty for that collision with Lance. Does that change your approach to this weekend?
Alex ALBON: No, it doesn't. Obviously, we're still hungry. We’ve got to fight this weekend. We don't know how overtaking is on this circuit. The way that the track is, obviously it should improve but you never know, you know? If we can get into Q2, that would be great. Any position helps later on Sunday. I think we'll go full attack this weekend – but of course we do understand that the race is more of a priority.
Q: Now, in Jeddah, you qualify just one tenth of a second behind Lewis Hamilton. Does that give you reason to be confident?
AA: Yeah, I mean, if it were a tenth behind Lewis in Australia, then I'll be pretty happy with that. We're more or less there: we're fighting for Q2. And that's something I think… that's a personal goal but of course, a team goal too. We want to be getting into the later stages of qualifying. It’s one of those things where I think at the minute, we need to just be that much more on top of it in terms of our preparation into qualifying, just to maximise what we have but I feel like we can do that as a team. I think we've got… there's great people here but also at the factory and we're pushing hard to get the results that we want.
Q: Off-track, you've been busy. Yesterday, doing some training with St Kilda FC. You got a new talent?
AA: No! I wish I did, but I don't. I was surprised how hard the balls are. I don't know if anyone's hit… they pass in a different way to rugby but my hands hurt.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frédéric Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Esteban. How do you feel to be driving in so many new tracks like Jeddah, Miami or even Las Vegas next year and seeing your home grand prix at threat? And can you do something to preserve and save the French Grand Prix?
EO: Well, I'm, I'm very happy to discover new tracks but yes, to see the French Grand Prix at threat, definitely I will do everything I can, to be vocal on that, to try and keep it on the calendar. Of course, when I started Formula 1, the grand prix was not there. It was rumoured that it was going to come back, and it did, and you know, we've lived so many good moments with the French fans there and yeah, it's extremely special when we go there every year. So, I mean, I don't know, what's the situation exactly but I’m not happy to hear that it's under threat at the moment and I will do everything I can to keep it on the calendar.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Carlos please. Carlos, now that Ferrari has been very competitive on two very different types of track, up there with Red Bull. What has that taught the team about where your car is particularly good, and also where perhaps might need to be a focus for development? Thank you.
CS: Yeah, it's been two samples, and the two samples are definitely encouraging. To see that a fight with Red Bull was, again, within a tenth each other I think it's very likely that until any of us brings
a big upgrade, it's going to stay like that, because the two tracks are certainly not exactly the same in terms of characteristics. The tarmac was very different in Jeddah than in Bahrain, the bumps were different, the type of corner was different and still, we were within a tenth of each other. So, I think it just shows that… I think until any of us brings something major, it's going to stay like that. I have no idea what they're doing here: if they're bringing something or not. We are focusing as a team to try and improve a bit the top speed, to try and be able to find them a bit more face-to-face in the race because they definitely looked very, very strong in Jeddah. For the rest, I think we have a very good balance in the car, we have a good feeling overall and, and we've been reliable too. So, we just need to keep our head down and keep seeing where we can improve this car.
Q: (Michael Lynch – The Age/Sydney Morning Herald) For Carlos. We obviously have a lot of readers who don't follow F1 that closely. All their idea of Ferrari is that it's been an also-ran for the last few years. You're now at the front of the field. Can you explain simply to those sort of people how you've done it? What are the changes? How has Ferrari gone from… not zero but hero?
CS: It's been a few tough years for Ferrari. And these tough years, we've used them to rebuild a bit the team in the internal side of it, to try and make ourselves stronger, become better at what we do and we've used the regulation change of having to start from zero, and a blank piece of paper, like we've done this year, to use this, this improvement in the way we work to put it into practice and suddenly be back at the top. I've always believed that Ferrari had the right people and the right mindset to be where we are right now. But we needed a blank sheet of paper because Red Bull and Mercedes with the previous regulations, they just had a very big advantage on the rest of the field. And we felt like that gap was very difficult to cut back without a reset. And this reset has given us the opportunity and we've used it in a very good way. So now, it's our job to keep ourselves up there. Certainly, as a Ferrari driver, it’s just great to see it, and see the excitement of the tifosi coming back and give them back a bit what we've missed in these last few years, because it was definitely not where we want it to be, but you could already feel it here in Melbourne and in other places that people are getting excited again. And this is good, I think, for the sport and for Ferrari.
Q: (Luke Smith, Autosport). For all five. Following on what Esteban was saying about Las Vegas joining the calendar and putting more classic tracks under threat. I was wanting to get your reaction to the Vegas news. How good is that for F1? Also, if it does come at the cost of classic tracks such as Spa potentially, how much of a shame would that be for F1?
LS: Well, I think it's, in a way, the direction Formula 1 has to take. It's evolving, the sport, it's great for the American market. And I think it's bringing a lot of attraction to Formula 1 having the race in Miami, having the race in Vegas. So, you know, it's great for our sport, in terms of audience, growing the sport, and I think it will be awesome to race in those cities. I'm sure that the weekends will be very exciting, and it will be great energy in Vegas and Miami. But yeah, it's a shame that we're seeing some of that tracks that are great to drive, that we've been going to for a long time, such as Spa, etcetera, I mean, I guess, naturally for Formula 1, it's… these are the right things to do from a business side of things, but definitely will be a shame to see some… maybe some very traditional tracks, that are great to drive, that we've been going to for a long time be under threat and potentially disappear.
FA: Yeah, not much to add, to be honest. It’s the way it is, the way Formula 1 is going. So, we accept. There are some positives, bringing Formula 1 to new countries and discovering these new races. I think Las Vegas, for example, it's going to be very exciting. And Miami, and these kinds of weekends. On the other hand, I think we need to be careful with the number of races, which I think we need to… we should agree on a on a limit, because I think for the teams, it’s quite demanding, how the schedule and the calendar is now, especially that we don't have so many races in Europe anymore. So, I think that's the only concern if we keep adding races.
CS: Yeah, I agree with Fernando, I think there needs to be a limit for the number of races that we keep adding, so in the end some other races are going to pay the price of having to stay out. Obviously big fan of having to go to Miami and Vegas, but at the same time, big loss having to lose classic European races, I think. Hopefully for the future we can find a compromise where maybe races that cannot afford to be in the calendar every year, year-in, year-out, can be in the calendar once every two years, once every three years. You know? And we keep coming back to the places that we've always been. Business is business. Liberty and Formula 1 will look at what they have to do, I guess, for business, but I wouldn't like to stop racing in Europe. I think it's a great place to go racing, it’s where our heritage is and I think we need to keep coming back, even if it's not every single year, but at least keep it on the calendar.
AA: Not much to add to these guys. I feel like Carlos said it pretty well that alternating is a good idea to keep some of the races that we've been racing at going on. I'm sure a lot of us, we've started racing in Europe. That's kind-of our background roots. So, it's great to go back and I think we will enjoy racing over there. So… yeah.
EO: We haven't lost the great Spa, the great Monza and all these circuits at the moment, so yeah, it would be definitely a big shame to lose them, and I think we're all on the same opinion, you know, drivers, teams, and probably Formula 1 as well. So, it's not a topic for now, but happy to go to Vegas and Miami and discover a little bit the States and the new tracks.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Question for the two Spanish drivers. During the last few years, most of the races were in Europe or the Middle East because of the pandemic. So, how are you dealing with the jet lag now? How do you feel considering you have to drive a Formula 1 car in a few hours?
FA: It's good. It was never a problem too much for me. And it's still not. So yeah, I'm okay. Biggest thing of today is to come in now for the press conference, four hours before the free practice, but apart from this new format, everything's okay.
CS: I wouldn't have said it better. Yeah, 8am alarm clock for a 1pm session was not ideal. But I've been getting my sleep well, I don't struggle with jet lag at all. But maybe we need to think about what we will do with this super-early press conference to help the drivers also arrive a bit better rested and give them the chance to… after doing 23 races a year, give them the chance to also get a bit of a rest.
Q: (Angelica Snowden – The Australian) I've got a question for Esteban and Fernando. Your reserve driver is Oscar Piastri. Can you tell us what it's like to have him on your team? And do you think you'll have a full-time seat anytime soon?
EO: Oscar is a great guy. I've been invited to his birthday as well this week. I mean, he's very involved in the team, he's going to have a great testing programme, he’s going to be probably the best prepared driver ever, with the test programme that he's got at Alpine, so, yeah, I'm very sure he's going to have a seat in Formula 1 shortly. I don’t know where in the paddock, but opportunity comes for the ones who deserve it. And Oscar is one of them. He’s won all the major titles and he’s very professional and dedicated. So yeah, I'm sure you will see him around pretty soon.
FA: Yes, similar comments. He's a good guy, obviously very talented, won all the junior categories until now, which obviously shows that he has the talent, and very professional and hardworking on the simulator and on the factory, in all our meetings. So yeah, it was his birthday, I think two days ago. So, he’s still very young. And hopefully he finds a seat soon.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Another question for Carlos, please. Just following up what you said earlier about a big upgrade can make the difference for either Ferrari or Red Bull. How confident is Ferrari that it can match Red Bull, which has a very, very good track record of making a car quicker over the course of a season? Thank you.
CS: I mean, we're confident we can develop our car. We already have obviously pieces running in the wind tunnel, and a car in a wind tunnel that is better than the one that we have right now on track – like all the teams have. But we keep saying that Red Bull and Mercedes are the favourites, because we haven't been in a title fight in the last few years. In the previous years, these teams have out-developed Ferrari, so we are still super cautious, because we know we have a great car and we have put together on track a great car – but these two teams have been in the title fight for the last two or three years, they know how much you need to improve, they know exactly what they need to do. And we maybe, are lacking that bit of experience. I think we have great people, and we are prepared – but we don't know. So, we are still cautious and are expecting a bit to see what happens.
Q: ( Lawrence Edmondson – ESPN) A number of drivers made clear in Saudi Arabia that they'd like to talk about what happened there with the missile attack, and the safety of the race and going forward. Since then, I think it was the Wednesday afterwards, Stefano said that F1 will definitely be back next year, and that it's the sport’s duty to bring about change and shine a light on the country. I just wondered if you all agreed with Stefano’s comments on that?
EO: Yeah, for Saudi Arabia, of course, I mean, there were concerns, obviously. We discussed for a long time, with all the drivers but once we spoke to the authorities and Formula 1, you know, they reassured us that there was no danger for us, and that we were all safe. So, we were definitely happy to race in the future. Of course, if that's the same, very happy to go back to Jeddah and keep racing to the races of the calendar and trust FIA and Formula 1 for our safety.
AA: I think safety comes first. I think Stefano, he said the thing on Wednesday, I'm sure we still need to talk about it a little bit more in detail between ourselves. But apart from that, as Esteban said, I think if the safety is there, then we have no issues at all coming back.
CS: Nothing to add.
Q: (Carlos Miguel – Marca) Fernando, you have in Melbourne a new floor. Are you happy with the rhythm of the evolution of Alpine, and you have in the past good battles with Carlos Sainz. Do you think at the end of this one it could be possible, Alpine stay near Ferrari?
FA: I didn't know that we have a new floor, first of all! So, yeah, I don't think that that's the case, unfortunately. I mean, we don't have a hugely different car compared to Jeddah here. I think hopefully in the next races, but we will try to keep working on the car and on the performance side of it. And then, to match the Ferrari pace, I think it's going to be difficult because obviously, we are eight-tenths, or one second behind at the moment, looking at the first two races in qualifying performance. To close that gap, it will be a little bit too optimistic – but let's see. We need to keep working, and it’s so early days on these cars, that you may find something much bigger than what you thought at the beginning, when you test it on the wind tunnel, and maybe you make a huge step. So that's what we… all teams try to find in these early months of the Championship. We will do our best.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Fernando, following your comments about Oscar, obviously Alpine are very keen to get him into an F1 seat as soon as possible. Do you feel under any pressure at all to decide what you're doing for next year – because that would impact Albion's plans with Oscar moving forward?
FA: No. I think obviously, if I was 25, there would not be this talk. It’s an age thing. People try to find a way for the young talents, but I think this is about performance. And last year, I think I did well. I finished slightly in front of Esteban. Let's see this year, the battle goes! This is about performance, not about age, and I will, as I said, at the beginning of the year, I think I still feel competitive and fast and I feel that I'm enjoying time in Formula 1, so we'll race, I guess, a couple more years. Two or three more years and if it’s with Alpine, it will be good if it’s with another team will be good as well. But you know, I will find out, and I will start these discussions probably in summer, and let’s see.
DRIVER GROUP 2 – Zhou GUANYU (Alfa Romeo), Sergio PÉREZ (Red Bull Racing), George RUSSELL (Mercedes), Mick SCHUMACHER (Haas)
Q: Let's kick things off with all of your thoughts please on being back racing in Melbourne after three years?
George Russell: It's great to be back here obviously is a long way to travel for sure. But it's worth it because seeing all the fans, the excitement they have, the passion they have for Formula 1 is pretty incredible, thinking that most of the races that they watch are probably past midnight for them, yet they still stay up and support all of us. So it's a pleasure to be back.
Sergio Perez: Yeah really nice to consider a lot of Aussies are really happy to have us here. And yeah, super happy to be back. I think the circuit looks very racy with four DRS zones and I really hope we can give them a really nice race, they deserve it.
Zhou Guanyu: Like the others you know, super happy to be here because it's actually my first time visiting the city. I’ve only been in Australia twice, this is the second time, and yeah, the new layout is quite entertaining. Obviously it’s new for me, so it doesn't really make much difference for my reference. But apart from that it's great to have all the fans back, they are so passionate about [F1] and you know, we get stuck outside of our hotel get stuck on the entry coming to the paddock, so it's great to have them and yeah, hopefully we can give them a good show this weekend.
Mick Schumacher: Yeah, first race [here for me]. I think the only time I came here to, let's say, visit the Grand Prix was in 2011. I came with my dad so you know great memories from then. But good to be here as a warm driving myself and do my experiences here to admit.
Q: Mick, it seems you've gone full Australia this week. You've been to the Australia Zoo with Robert Irwin, we've seen you surfing and you've been having a great time.
MS: Yeah, a great time. I mean, I came pretty soon after Jeddah and you know, I spent some time here. Went to Byron Bay, went to Brisbane and obviously the Australia Zoo. And yeah, I had a good time and got sunburned, which, you know, shouldn't happen too often, but unfortunately, it does happen here. I got to meet great people and had a good time.
Q: George, back to you. You've spent 61 laps so far this year in fifth position. Is that an accurate reflection of the car’s pace?
GR: I think so. We're a long way behind Ferrari and Red Bull. I think we were probably further behind them in Jeddah. And we understand why, but obviously, when we had things optimised, or more optimised in Bahrain, we were still half a second, six tenths behind. So we need to obviously close that gap. But there's nothing substantial this weekend that will do that. It's going take time and I think we just have to be disciplined and patient because we are so far behind them. Because you know with the cost cap we can't afford just to throw things at it and trial and error [things] at race weekend. We need to trust the process and bring the upgrades when we have total faith and confidence they will do as we expect, and you know, there'll be a number of races before we start seeing that.
Q: If you optimise the setup this weekend. Do you think you'll be closer to Red Bull and Ferrari than you were in Jeddah?
GR: Yeah, I think so. Closer than we were in Jeddah, but obviously, we were probably a second off the pace in Jeddah. So there's nothing that's going to really put us in the fight with those guys, we have just got to make sure that we maximise our result, which as a team is being a third fastest team, making sure that none of the midfield cars sneak in between us, and just gather those points where we can. And you know, this is going to be the case for a number of races that come now.
Q: What's the mood in the camp? Is frustration creeping in?
GR: No, I think it's more optimism and excitement to be honest, because we do believe there is a solution. And we do believe there's a lot of lap time on the table once we do optimise that. So we're not here scratching our heads, not understanding why we're off the pace. We absolutely know where we're off the pace and we know what we need to work on to improve that. And having that knowledge, having that understanding of what the issues are, and having the belief that we can solve it, is quite an exciting place to be, because it gives us all something to go for. But we do appreciate that our rivals will be continuously improving and even if we improve, there's no reason why they won't be improving, as well. So it's going to take time for sure.
Q: Checo, coming back to you. We saw so much speed from you in Jeddah, of course, with that pole position. Do you come here with more confidence as a result?
SP: Yeah, certainly it was good form in qualifying. It was nice to get that pole, especially in a moment where we thought Ferrari had the [upper] hand on us, you know, we were thinking more about the race. And to be able to beat them in qualifying was really nice. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out, didn't translate into the race – we were a bit unlucky with the safety car there. But yeah, I think definitely a lot of positives. I think we are all still learning from these cars. And as drivers and teams, I just think that the momentum and the progress that we are able to make, it's going to make the difference.
Q: You say you're still learning about the car. But on the evidence so far this year, you've got a very good handle on the RB18. Do you think this car suits you, Checo Pérez, particularly?
SP: Well, I think one of the main differences is that we are all starting from zero, you know. Last year when I came, you’ve got to remember that it was like the third year of the same regulation. So the cars were fairly similar. So when you join a new team, it's quite hard to catch up. But when we are all starting from zero, it certainly makes a difference. But I do believe that everyone is just figuring out how to drive these cars the best, you know. I don't think there's anyone at the moment who is 100% with their cars, and similarly with the teams you know, so there will be a lot of improvements coming from here.
Q: And how do you see the battle at the front this weekend? Do you think it's going to be exclusively Red Bull against Ferrari or can someone else join that?
SP: Well, I feel like probably Jeddah the pace difference was a bit extreme, but Jeddah is a particular place. But if you look at Bahrain, Mercedes was really close to us. In the first laps, they were fighting with Ferrari, in the initial laps. So, I mean, it only takes a couple of tenths to put anyone in the fight at the front. So I wouldn't be surprised if there are more teams joining at the front.
Q: Zhou, back to you. First impressions of the track layout here. What do you think?
ZG: It's pretty cool. It's quite a lot different to what I’ve seen in the past from the on board. You know, it's quite similar to… it’s a little bit of a straight circuit, even though it's a race track, because you know, you see some exit kerbs for example, the last corner, they reduced the exit of you know, this astroturf off the kerb and made them more tiny and then there’s just a bit of a kerb and then it goes into a wall, so also the entry of the corners I think is a tricky one because you have the grass on the left hand side, so we see in the past when people drop one wheel on that it could be a huge crash or shunt. But nevertheless I like quite a lot the track particularly with the four DRS zones. I think there'll be plenty of opportunities in the race to be you know, overtaking, getting past, all that so it could be very entertaining with plenty of opportunities.
Q: What is the goal for you this weekend?
ZG: Not hitting the anti-stall on lap one. I think after the first two weekends I learned how to understand a bit more like that because in Formula 2, you know, you can use any gears you want and the engine never goes into that mode. So here you need to understand exactly when the revs are kicking in and to be doing the right procedure and yeah, we tried to improve together with the Ferrari for me to be understanding and make the progress on that and I'm more confident now after the two weekends but nevertheless is new track for me and some drivers so we just have to you know get into the rhythm and build up the pace.
Q: Mick, Before we move on, how are you feeling? Are there any ill effects from the crash in Jeddah?
MS: No, nothing. I mean directly after the qualifying, I felt alright, the whole time and yeah, just itching to get back out on track and go racing.
Q: Tell us about your expectations for this weekend. I'd love to get your thoughts on the track but also, do you think the car will suit this track?
MS: Well, in the past usually we always had good races here. So you know, hopefully that'll be the case for this year too. We have a good car and I don't know right now if the track will suit us or not, but usually, you know, it's been quite positive on every track we've gone to so far. So yeah, we'll just have to wait and see. And I'm just excited to get to see the track. It's not awfully new to me. Sorry, awfully, yeah, new to me because it is brand new. I think that didn't make sense! But anyways, it's the first time that I’ll drive here. So it's, you know, it's brand new for me as it is, and I don't know how the old track was.
Q: Checo says the four DRS zones are going to make it very racy. Do you agree with it?
MS: I guess so. You know, I think that playing the detection zones will be more important here. I mean, we already saw that it became a thing and I'm sure it will be here too.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) A question for all four of you. We had the announcement last week that Las Vegas will be joining the F1 calendar from next season. Can I get your thoughts on that? And how cool is it for F1 to get a third race in the United States?
GR: It is incredible to see the space Formula 1 is in at the moment and the excitement around the sport. I think it's brilliant for all the teams, for the drivers. And I guess it's put in Formula 1 and the luxury position that we can almost cherry pick the races we want to go to and whether in the future, there'll be sort of rotations of races. I think that's a really great idea. And I think there's some further races that potentially, you know, could be coming on to the calendar, which I think is great. And we’ll be in Las Vegas. It's just I mean, it's going to be mental for everybody there and yeah, just good for the sport. So I'm sure a lot of people in the paddock are happy it's a Saturday night race. They’ll be hitting the town on Sunday morning.
Q: Have you ever been to Las Vegas?
GR: I went to Las Vegas as a 12-year-old to do a go-kart race. So I definitely didn't live the Las Vegas lifestyle. But I went there twice. And to be honest, even as a 12-year-old, the atmosphere in the city was amazing. Just walking down the strip, there was music playing and there was just a really cool vibe there. And I’ve already got a feel for the place. So I'm sure with F1 being there, racing on the strip, it's going to be insane.
Q: Checo, your thoughts?
SP: Vegas, yeah, I'm super happy. Formula 1 it's becoming a bit more American, so definitely a bit closer to Mexico. So I might end up living finally at home. So that's great. I mean, it's great to see how the sport is growing so much in the States, in all America. And yeah, I think Vegas is going to be a fantastic opportunity for the sport and for the fans to see the cars, see F1. I just think it's a great combination: F1 with Vegas, it's fantastic.
Q: Have you ever been?
SP: Oh yeah! Too many times. I mean, certainly the best nights of my life have been in Vegas.
Q: Should we leave it there? Zhou, your thoughts, please?
ZG: Yeah, it's always exciting to go there. Because obviously I never been there in the past and we're not just friends in Vegas. You know, we're racing right in the centre, where everything's happening, also in the night and yeah, I think it’s a very cool place to go and, you know, Formula 1 going into all these coolest places in the world is very nice for the drivers also. And yeah, I guess there will be plenty of people around and the race will finish quite late. And now hopefully in the future one we request for tracks, and then this will come true. So I will request some more tracks back home in China.
Q: Mick, your thoughts?
MS: Yeah, it's great to go to the States. I like the States and I have never been to Vegas. So surely it will be an interesting one. And maybe we'll see if Checo can now show us around some good spots or tours. Yeah, so looking forward to it.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) To all four of you: as the calendar grows with the likes of Las Vegas. Obviously, there's a logical point at which we can’t have more races. Are you concerned that some of the more historic races will drop off and what are your thoughts on losing some of that in favour of events like Las Vegas and Miami?
MS: Yeah, obviously, it would be a shame to lose historic tracks. But I'm sure that as far as speaking for Formula 1, I'm sure they will keep an eye on it and keep the good races in there. But yeah, it's great to go to new places. I mean, Las Vegas is I think something we've all been keen on going to, and especially as well, Miami, so yeah, it will be interesting to see what new tracks come on. And in some ways we also have to make those places become historical in some way.
ZG: Yeah. Well, to be honest, I don't see all these classic tracks will be out of the calendar. I think they always stay on these tracks that have been very historic in the past. And obviously, it's not up to us to decide where to go but like Mike said, you know, when we go to some new places, seeing the new areas, new scenarios around it always brings extra excitements, but of course we as drivers still do like to keep all these historic tracks that have been in Formula 1 for years so it's always good to be going there as well together.
SP: I think, first of all, it's great that Formula 1 is growing so much in another continent. So it's a great opportunity for Formula 1, for the sport, I think we are all going to benefit from it. So it's fantastic. But at the same time it would be good to keep the history within the sport, and we need those historic tracks to always be with us. And we have to make sure that when we go to new venues, to really have some character on the tracks, you know. I felt like some of the new tracks kind of lack a bit of character. So that will be very important.
GR: Yeah, I think times are changing and sport is evolving. Obviously, you do have to keep some of these historic tracks but I think they've got to be worthwhile for everybody. As long as we keep Silverstone. I think as a historic track, that's probably the one that you can say needs to stay on the calendar, not just from motorsport predominantly being based in the UK and all the teams being there. But obviously, if it were to be a rotational calendar, changing the circuits every two years, you can get the best of both worlds so I think we just need to stay open minded.
MS: The German Grand Prix should come back. Yeah that's what we need to keep an eye on like, you know, go back to Germany and do rotations there with Nürburgring, Hockenheim. You know, we have good tracks there.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Checo and George, you've raced here in Melbourne for the season opener before. Obviously we've not done that for the past couple of years but moving forward do you have any preference? Would you rather race in Melbourne or is Bahrain OK as a season opener?
GR: I think Melbourne as a season opener was really cool, because everybody came out here early. And it was a lot of excitement and anticipation, but I think having Melbourne in between races, especially as a standalone is too tough for the teams and everybody. People came out on Saturdays and Sundays to get acclimatised to the conditions, to the time zone change and it's just too much I think. I think it needs to be thought about more. I think there's no reason why we couldn't do it back-to-back with all one of the Middle Eastern races. But yeah, it feels like another double header for all of the teams with the amount of time they spend in this part of the world. And as the season is getting longer and longer, we need to find a better balance.
SP: I fully agree with George. I think it works well at the moment because we are doing the winter testing in Bahrain, so it makes sense to stay there. But it really has to be back-to-back with one of those races because just coming to Australia, for a single race it's quite painful for everyone.
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) The weight of these cars went up, in part because the FIA beefed up the chassis regulations, mainly in response to the Romain and Antoine accidents. Given the scale of Mick’s crash in Jeddah, sideways into a concrete wall, how encouraged are you that the FAA is continuing this push for safety in conjunction with your teams?
MS: Yeah, I mean, to be able to stand there in Jeddah right after the crash and you know to feel fully OK just shows, you know, the safety of these cars. And I mean, I think we have an improvement of 300%, from what I know. So yeah, you know, Formula 1 and the FIA are definitely going the right way.
GR: Yeah, it's pretty incredible to see what the cars can withhold in an incident like that. But equally, you know, this is still motorsport, we're still travelling at, you know, 300 kilometres an hour plus. Those speeds and those forces you face in an incident, you'll never truly have a kind of bulletproof car. But it's great to see that we're continuously striving for more.
SP: It was great to see the improvements we are making. But we just have to keep evolving year by year to keep making the sport as safe as we possibly can.
ZG: Yeah, nothing more to add. I mean, you know, it's nice to see the right direction we're going and of course, was this year’s new chassis, new car, it’s more stiff, more heavy and better for safety. So it's always the correct way to do.
Q: (Roger Byron – Beyond the Racing Line) Mick. Is there a reserve driver in the country at the moment? With Kevin, obviously unwell, at the moment. Do you know if there's a reserve driver for Haas here?
MS: Well, Kevin is is fit to race and fit to drive. So to be honest, I don't know if there is or not. I haven't seen Pietro around. Yeah, I guess that answers the question, right.
Q: (Michael Lynch – The Age/Sydney Morning Herald) Just referring back to what you said about Melbourne being a standalone race and it being such a way of wearing kind of experience for you and your teams. You obviously still want Bahrain to be the opening race, given the testing schedule, so do you think they should move Melbourne to maybe finish the season and be the last race, like Adelaide used to be all those years before most of you were born??
GR: I think if it's geographically correct, then there's no reason why… We're happy for the race to be at any point in the season. We obviously race very far east with Japan and Singapore, China, [which we] obviously don’t have this year, but I'm sure it will be on the calendar or it is on the calendar from next year onwards. I just think there's a better compromise to be had, as it can be done. I know there's a huge amount of limitation involved. But yeah, I think we need to come to Australia, we need to come to this part of the world, but as we said, as a standalone I think it's just too much for everyone.
SP: I think if it makes sense. Yes. I think I fully agree with George on everything he said. We definitely all want to come here. But I think there's things we can improve that and in all fairness to F1, Australia hasn't been in the calendar for the last for the last years, so I'm sure that going forward so they can have a look at it.
ZG: You know, for me, I think, you know, it's not about where to place Australia it’s more like to have a race that if we come to this part of the world, to have a race that IS more close to here rather than you know, going all the way back to Europe for the next race. So that's what makes it for the team very difficult with all the travel and always the freight, you know, going through, out and back.
MS: Yeah, I mean, I agree with the fact that teams have to move back and forwards quite a lot. I mean, we're going basically from Australia now to Europe to then go to Miami, so It's like we travel three continents in the next three races. So yeah, per se, otherwise, I enjoy coming here early and spending time here. But yeah, I understand that for the team, obviously it's kind of difficult.
DRIVER GROUP 3 – Pierre GASLY (AlphaTauri), Daniel RICCIARDO (McLaren), Charles LECLERC (Ferrari) Nicholas LATIFI (Williams), Sebastian VETTEL (Aston Martin)
Q: Let's start with the hometown hero. I think we can call you that Daniel, just describe. Just describe what it's like to be back racing in Melbourne?
Daniel Ricciardo: Oh it's a very nice feeling. That doesn't really do it justice, very nice. It's a special feeling. And, you know, obviously we missed it for a few years, for sure. And even yesterday, I think yesterday was the perfect example. It was a Thursday, the walk in, the fans… I don't know if they thought the race was yesterday but it was it was literally like a Sunday it was it was pretty special, an awesome welcome. So yeah, cool to be back. And also just excited to drive on a new layout. That's always fun and exciting. So yeah, we'll see how it goes. Is it a myth that Vettel is racing this weekend? Because I don't know, maybe he's fooled us. He's pretty punctual as well.
Q: What's your schedule been like? Let's just start talking about that, before we get into the track.
DR: It's been pretty good, actually. I guess one thing over the years that I've tried to learn is how to kind of manage a home race better. Most… All of us up here can relate to a home Grand Prix. So yeah, it can be very intense, very hectic… you'll get one this year. So you're trying to… Obviously you want to do what you can for home, especially because I don't live here full time anymore, so you definitely want to give as much as you can but also still make sure that you're in a good place to perform well on Sunday. I think we've done well this weekend. I had a little event on Tuesday, which was quite short and then it's kind of built up slowly from Wednesday onwards. But yeah, I was out of the paddock at like 5pm yesterday, which was pretty good. Happy.
Q: And what about the track changes? You had a little bit to do with it I think?
DR: Yes. I'm going to claim all of it if the race is wicked and awesome and everyone's talking well about it. But it was already back in 2019, a few of us drivers were involved in the discussions about how we can, you know, make Albert Park a little more racer friendly for Sunday and open up some of the apexes. And it's always been a fun track, there wasn't any… from a drivers point of view it was always enjoyable, but it was not, I would say, a track that provided the most amount of overtaking. And it was trying to really encourage that and see if we could still keep some of the character of the circuit, but yeah, just help out with Sunday. I'm confident it's better. It's just now probably what scale, but I think we'll have a good race. And now with these new cars as well we can follow and run a lot closer. I think we'll be in store for a good one.
Q: Hopefully it'll be a good race for Formula 1. What about McLaren??
DR: I hope so too.
Q: How confident are you?
DR: I always have a good level of, let's say, inner confidence. But yeah, we've had Bahrain, we were obviously not competitive. In a week from that we went to Saudi and we showed more competitiveness. So that was really just a track dependent thing. So hopefully, this circuit, I think it does lead more towards like a Saudi layout, then a Bahrain one and I think that'll help us a little bit at the moment where we currently are so let's try it. Let's try qualifying Q3. That'll be our first of the year, so that that's a target,
Q: Best of luck to you. Charles if we can come to you now. Can we get your thoughts on the changes to the track?
Charles Leclerc: Well, it looks good. It looks much quicker. Probably for our car I would prefer to stay with the old layout. But that's only from a performance point of view. But I think for overtaking, as Daniel said, I think it will definitely be better. Then, how much better, it's still yet to see. But it looks interesting. I mean, Turn 6 and 7 will be quite challenging for us now. Nine and 10 we will arrive at much higher speed. So it should be an exciting track.
Q: You say that perhaps you would have liked to have the old layout for the performance characteristics of your car. But do you see any reason why Ferrari can't be right up there this weekend?
CL: No, the only thing I'm the only reason why I'm saying that is just because Red Bull seems to be very strong in the straight lines and there is quite a lot of straight line speed now or straight lines in general now, so we might struggle a bit more, but it's like this, I'm still pretty sure that if we do the perfect weekend, there's still an opportunity for us to do very, very well. So we'll just focus on our own job. And hopefully we'll have a great weekend.
Q: Charles, you're leading the championship by 12 points, what's your mentality coming into the weekend?
CL: Again, just try and focus on ourself. I think, even though we are leading the championship, we've only done two races. So it's still pretty early to think about the championship. But yeah, just focus on ourselves, try to maximise the package. I think Imola will probably be a better track for our car. So here, it's all about taking as many points as we can, not do any big mistakes and focus on ourselves.
Q: Pierre, coming to you. Let's get your thoughts on the track layout?
Pierre Gasly: Yeah, it looks really cool. I mean, it looks a lot faster than it was, which is always as a driver something really exciting, especially what Charles said, you know, Turn 6/7 is going to be very high speed content, 9 and 10 coming at extremely high speed. So I think driving wise is going to be a pure joy. Racing wise we still need to see how it goes on Sunday. But yeah, especially with these new cars the first two races have been pretty fun from a driver perspective, so hopefully that is going to be the case again this weekend.
Q: Now you've had one DNF and then you were eighth last time out in Jeddah. Are you still learning about this AlphaTauri? How confident are you now in the car?
PG: I must say we were learning every, every single session. You know, I think it's pretty much like any other team, we are trying to develop the car constantly, weekend after weekend. And it's really tight in the midfield. But we haven't reached a point where both Yuki and myself are really, really happy with the car that we have at the moment. So there is quite a lot of work. We trying to do over the next couple of races to try to improve the balance, try to find more performance, because these two tenths that we could find in the midfield could mean we go from P7 to P14 (sic). So yeah, extremely important that we keep focusing on ourselves. But yeah, I'm confident in the team and in ourselves to make this progress over the next few weeks.
Q: The team has a fantastic record here in Melbourne, having scored points in seven of the last nine Australian Grands Prix. What are your goals for the weekend?
PG: I think first of all to change mine because my record here is terrible! I think I've been only twice here, for my first season and then yeah, 2019 wasn't a good one. So no, I think I will change that. It's a track I really like actually. Driving wise it's very challenging. The margin for error is so small. And yeah, it just gives you a nice shot of adrenaline every time you get on track. So yeah, we'll focus on building on from Saudi, we had a good P8 and yeah, we'll try to keep that momentum.
Q: Nicholas, coming to you. Now, you were hoping to make your Formula 1 debut at this venue back in 2020. Of course, that didn't happen. So how excited are you to finally be getting on track here at Albert Park?
Nicholas Latifi: Yeah, it's definitely nice to be back in Melbourne. And, you know, I was just saying before coming in, the last time I was sat in this room we were four drivers getting questioned if we should even be here in the first place with the pandemic just starting. So it's nice to be back knowing we're going to be getting on track later today. And yeah, I'm super excited to get my first taste of the track. Obviously, I don't have the experience of the old layout. But just from having watched all the races in many of the past years it's clear that this layout should hopefully improve the racing. Time will tell, but yeah, it'll be a lot to discover for me today.
Q: Now, Jeddah turned out to be a difficult weekend for you. What lessons did you learn there? And how will that help you this weekend?
NL: Jeddah was clearly a challenge. I mean, we're still as a team, and as well on the personal side, trying to understand the car, it's kind of, let's say performance envelope and the limitations and I mean, it's obvious we're not where we want to be as a team. Not only struggling with overall downforce but also the balance of the car. It's quite tricky at the moment and especially I guess, at a track like Jeddah, which really gives you no margin for error – very, very high speed, very, very high grip, nowhere to run off. It's yeah, obviously it caught me out a few times unfortunately with the unpredictability we're having with a car right now. So it's still, as Pierre said, learning a lot we do every session we do. So just looking to continue that this weekend.
Q: We saw you do some footy yesterday with St. Kilda, FC, you found a new passion?
NL: I definitely wouldn't go as far as to say it's a new passion. Actually, a fun fact: I don't know how old I was but a long, long time ago in school we had an Australian gym exchange teacher and he actually made us do some Aussie rules football for a semester. I had, I was going say throw, but you don't throw the ball, you like punch with your hand and kicked one of those around before but yeah, it was quite fun.
Q: Sebastian, welcome. Good to see you. First up, how are you feeling?
Sebastian Vettel: I'm fine. Thank you, obviously better than two weeks ago.
Q: Can you just describe the experience of seeing someone else race your car? Because the last two races were the first time you've been absent from the entry list since the European Grand Prix back in 2007.
SV: Yeah, it was strange. It was strange to watch. But at the same point, I felt that just, you know… I had races where I was feeling a bit ill and raced, but [this time] it was not possible. So it was definitely the right decision and strange to watch. But on the other hand, also interesting to see how it looks from the outside. And yeah, Nico, I think did really well, obviously with zero preparation, to jump in and do that kind of job. And I was part of all the meetings, briefings, listening to the drivers all the time. So tried to make the most of it, but it was a bit strange.
Q: Well, it gets underway for you this weekend. You've always gone well at this track, you've won three times, what can we expect from you and Aston Martin?
SV: Well, maybe not a win, I think that would be a bit difficult. It's not a secret we are not where we want to be. And it's clear, if you're at the back, then you're never where you want to be. So a lot of work ahead of us. But we will try to learn more this weekend and get a further understanding of the difficulties and struggles that we have with the car. Looking forward to the track. I mean, I love this place. And the season always used to kick off here, so for me in a way it does. So that's good. And they changed the track quite a bit. So maybe they made it better. Maybe they made it worse. I've always liked the track. So look forward to getting in the car.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) It's a question to Charles, please. Just based on what you were saying earlier, even if it can't happen this weekend, what can Ferrari do to its car, the changes you can make to match or even beat Red Bull on that straight line speed?
CL: Well, first of all, I think in the last race, they had a different downforce level than us. So, whenever we'll have this, I think we'll do a step forward. And then, just again, focus on ourselves, try to develop the car. I think we have a few things that are quite interesting. That will come in the next few races. So hopefully this will help us to get to get the upper hand again. But again, it's very, very close. So every little difference, every little update that we bring to the car can make the difference. So yeah, we'll push 100%.
Q: (Silja Rulle - Bild) My question is to Seb. Obviously, you missed two races, how big would you say is the disadvantage you have on getting to know the car getting used to the car getting maybe a feeling for it?
SV: Well, we had a decent test, and we had, you know, more tests than last year in a way. And it's not too long ago, but for sure I missed the race rhythm. You know, it's obviously a disadvantage not to have had those two races and race with these cars. But yeah, I think it will be okay. I've done this before, so should be OK.
Q: (Fred Ferret – l’Equipe) A question to Pierre. How comfortable are you with all the new tracks that you drive now like Jeddah, Miami, or Las Vegas while your own Grand Prix is in danger? And what can you do for that, and quickly for Daniel: how difficult was it to be an Aussie and become an F1 driver?
PG: Well, obviously, being French, I will always support the French Grand Prix and I have a special connection there because the thing is, and Daniel can experience it this weekend, is the motivation, the energy, the atmosphere is something you only feel in your homeland and that your people, your kind of fans can make you feel in this sort of moment. So, I really hope we can see the French Grand Prix over the next few years. Obviously, if it would depend only on myself I'll sign the contract already now, but I'm not sure Stefano will allow me to do that. And yeah, there are other things that they got to discuss first. So obviously, I don't think these days any Grand Prix is kind of safe. Because F1, the popularity is so high, you know, everybody wants us. I think it is great to see the new tracks like Miami, Vegas, all these super entertaining places. And yeah, we'll see how it goes. But hopefully, we can have a very nice addition, a very nice event this season. It's been pretty difficult with COVID. And I still haven't felt like I've managed to experience the full experience of film race yet. So really looking forward to this year. And yeah, fingers crossed it's going stick with us, staying on the calendar for the next few years.
DR: Yeah, I think it's just more moving away from home, you know, and obviously, Australia is far away from, let's say, the hub in Europe. And also at least for my case, I went to Europe without a name yet, you know, no one knew who I was. I hadn't competed in Europe. I'd actually done one race in the UK. But that was it, you know, so I was just an unknown driver from Australia. And there hadn't been many F1 Australian drivers before me. So the pool was small. And so you have to definitely establish yourself quickly. But I think the biggest challenge is, yeah, just living away from home and having that kind of that level of discipline, and maturity at a young age. I think when I left Australia, I wasn't very mature yet. But I grew up very quickly and understood what was ahead of me, and I think you know, that kind of set me on the straight and narrow and just gave me the right kind of mindset to chase it. But you obviously have to deal with missing home and all the rest of it. But in the end it's a choice. It's not necessarily a sacrifice. So, a choice I made and I was happy to stick by it and give it a good crack.
Q: (Don Kennedy – Hawke's Bay Today/New Zealand Herald) Question for Sebastian. Your support for Ukraine is fairly obvious and may I say, I think very appropriate. Do you think there's anything that F1 and maybe the teams could do to support the people of Ukraine at this time?
SV: Well, there's always things we can do. I mean, it is absolutely horrible to see what's going on. And I experience every, I don't know every, I don't know, there's one two days where you don't follow so close because there's other things going on. For example, you travel down here, then you're busy for a day, and then you get back to reading and listen to the news and it's a shock. You know, every time we think it can't be more of a shock, it's more of a shock, and innocent people getting killed, women and children getting killed. It's horrible. So what we can do? I think there's a lot of people, that's the positive, there's a lot of people that are we're very willing to help, a lot of volunteers in the neighbouring countries, but also in other countries across Europe, willing to help, willing to give shelter and I think a lot of the things that are required to help people are basic. Basic things other than shelter – making sure they have got food, they have got blankets, nappies, whatever you can think of. And to supply all these things in the end, you need money. So I think we should set up something and collect money. I mean, F1 turns around a lot of money. We can't help people by going faster or slower around the track but we can help by maybe setting up a way to raise money. And I think that's what we probably should do. So, other than expressing your support, I think support or solidarity is not just mentioning that you feel for people but also acting and helping. It's great to see that, as I said, so many people are willing to take a step and now they're at the border and helping, organising, others offering shelter, and a home, a place to stay. So, you know, when I hear stories first hand of people that are trying to get out of Ukraine, finding a place, the travel they have, or the journey they have ahead of them or had behind them, it's absolutely luck. I think we can't… I'm still in shock. I can't picture how this is happening. And other than trying as the world or the rest of the world trying to do everything we can to stop it, we should do everything we can to help the people in need. So yeah, I think we can try and think of a way to raise money and send it there.
Q: As an addendum Sebastian, Formula 1 has launched an appeal with UNICEF, of course, to raise money for Ukraine. Next question, please.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Sebastian, one of your big preseason traditions has been picking a name for your car for the coming season. Have you decided on that yet?
SV: No. No, I’ll wait for a bit more pace before I think of a name. Maybe we take a little bit more time than usual.
Q: (Roger Byron – Beyond the Racing Line) Daniel, last year it took a little bit of time to come to grips with the car. How does this car suit your driving style? Is it more of a natural pick up?
DR: I think yeah, a little bit. But I think even if the car was the same as last year, it would feel more natural, just, you know, from having a year under my belt with it. And everything feels more familiar. So I'd say it's like, the characteristics of this year's car are still in the same ballpark, if you will, but I do feel more comfortable. And I think that's just with time. So do I feel I am getting every last millisecond out of it yet? Not often enough. So there's definitely still room for improvement and things I want to keep getting better at behind the wheel. But yeah, in terms of like a confidence level it's there. And yeah, I just obviously expect to keep getting better. But I don't obviously want to wait too long. And obviously last year was a bit of a slow start. So yeah, I don't I don't expect that to be the case now.
Q: (Angelica Snowden – The Australian) Question for Daniel and good to get everybody's thoughts. It's been two years since you've been in Australia. Is there a difference in the vibe that you've noticed since you were last here? Are the fans a little bit crazier? Can you talk about that??
DR: Yeah, it’s always been pretty wild here. You know. So there's, there's no denying that. I don't recall ever competing at a quiet home race. I think it's always been pretty good. And the reception has always been… it's always been there. But it felt like it was turned up a notch, or two or three. And that my assessment was yesterday, for now. Obviously, we'll see now the crowds come in more and more over the weekend. But for Thursday, it was… and I'm talking now around the world, it was the busiest Thursday I've experienced walking into a paddock. So that certainly stood out. And yeah, it's awesome. I mean, it's awesome. And you said crazy. It's definitely a good crazy, and there's a lot of support and love and it's not just for me, it's for F1. I think everyone's just stoked to have the race back here. There's a lot of motorsport enthusiasts and you feel that and I guess if any other driver wants to pick it up, I'm sure they'll say the same, but there's a lot of love for it. For sure it's the sport has grown globally over the last few years since we raced here and it's very much present.
CL: I agree. I think Daniel said it all. I mean, we didn't come here for two years. And obviously we've seen all around the world how much F1 has grown, thanks to Netflix and also thanks to how exciting the battle was, especially last year with the championship. And to come back here after two years of not coming here shows that it has also grown here and it's great to see a Thursday so full, and I hope it will keep going and keep increasing for the rest of the weekend.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) As to those who choose to answer, probably Daniel and Sebastian. We are going to Las Vegas and Miami and a bunch of new circuits, having just been to Saudi and that was what it was. Are you comfortable with the way the sport’s moving, and moving away from some of the more traditional events and venues around the world?
SV: please? Well, I think it's always exciting to go to new places, providing they are good places, right places for us to be at. Yeah, I mean, obviously we had an absence of racing in America and then Austin sort of came back on the calendar, which was very exciting and established as a great race. Maybe another great example is Singapore. We'd never been there before and now, you know, it's great to be back this year. And, you know, the first night race, I think there's something special about that track and that place. So it's good to explore new sides. And obviously, you hope that all the new places you go to are an addition. Equally you don't want to lose out, as you said, on the places you've gone to for so long. So it would be horrible to lose Melbourne from the calendar. It would be horrible to you lose some of the tracks, the core tracks in Europe. But then there's only so many weekends in the year and I don't know, maybe altering one year and another year could be an option. But there's plenty of interest. Obviously, there's financial interests in new places that we are going and in the end F1 is a business. But I think, yeah, for us, it's a sport, it's our passion. So we don't see it as a business. I think we see it more as a sport and yeah, places mean something because of the history they have, or the tradition they have. And I think it needs to be sort of a mixture between exploring, but also holding on to places that have history, a big fan base. I think it's unimaginable to lose Italy, for example, off the calendar, for many reasons, even though they probably pay the least. But yeah, I think this is something we need to hold on to.
DR: Yeah. I mean, going to new places, I think there's… call it a double upside, you know, you get to explore if you've never been to that place, a new city, new country, if it is. And then as a driver, you know, trying to let's say, suss out a new circuit, and trying to break it down. And break it down quicker than anyone else. That's something we also enjoy and thrive on. So I love getting to a new track and yeah, trying to just master it quicker than the others. So there is definitely some enjoyment and satisfaction from going to a new venue. Absolutely. So I'm all for it. And then yeah, obviously the flip side is as Seb said, whether it's your Monzas or your Spas, your Silverstones, these are tracks we've competed at our whole life. So there's also a lot of history, but also it's kind of nostalgic and sentimental to race there and continue to compete there. And yeah, I think for those home fans and that crowd, it's very special to them. And there’s probably generations or whatever have been going to those exact races at those exact venues. So, there's definitely some special places that I would obviously want to keep continuing to go to, but equally excited to explore new ones.
DRIVER GROUP 4 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Valtteri BOTTAS (Alfa Romeo), Lando NORRIS (McLaren), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull RACING), Yuki TSUNODA (AlphaTauri)
Q: Can we kick this off, please with all of your thoughts on racing again in Melbourne. How are you enjoying the vibe?
Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, hi, everyone. It's good to be back, back in this old room. I remember my first… Well, it’s been in the same room since I since I came here in 2007 so it's great to be back and to see people. The weather's great today. And yeah, just excited to get on track, especially with all the new changes.
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, also really, really good to be back. Obviously, a lot of things has happened in the world since we were last year, but yes, it's really nice to see the positivity and feel the energy and yeah, it's a beautiful place and lots of support from the locals and good vibes.
Lando Norris: Yes, similar. I mean, just excited to be back. I've only raced here once in a past so it's nice to have another go at it. I guess more exciting news, a lot of orange hats, a lot of papaya fans and McLaren fans and I guess majority of them are for Daniel for some reason, but yeah, there's a lot of them... I guess, you know, the walk-ins, pretty exciting and good to see so many people here, you know, for the race again. So yeah, hopefully it's a good weekend, and we can put on a good show for them.
Max Verstappen: Yes, of course. It's always nice to be here and especially also because it will always have a nice memory for me, you know, starting your first race here in F1. So it's good also to see the excitement from the fans. I guess they really missed Formula 1 as well so yeah, I heard it's fully sold out as well. So it's going to be a good weekend.
Yuki Tsunoda: For me, it's also good to be back at scenes from like, what I came last time, 10 years ago when I had a school trip here. Yeah. 10 years ago! I really liked Aussie beef here so much. And yeah, I mean, it's going to be the first time for me, but I'm really excited to kick off with this new track. I just was doing it on the Formula 1 game. So yeah, I mean, looking forward to it.
Q: Lewis, can we come back to you? So the question is, will you guys be closer to the front this weekend? Just give us your thoughts on pure performance.
LH: I hope so. I'm really excited to get in the car. Naturally, it’s just been buzzing just trying to… like this morning, just super eager to get in the car, try this new track, hoping that it feels better here this weekend. Ultimately, we've not bought any upgrades to the cars - the same car generally as the last race - but with every little race we make small improvements, and I hope it just feels a bit better here. Plus, we had the four DRS zones. I mean, I'm just hoping we can race a harder here.
Q: Valtteri, you were the winner last time Formula 1 raced in Melbourne back in 2019. What would be a good result for you and Alfa Romeo this weekend?
VB: I think this weekend, based on the first two races we had in two very different tracks, we are performing in a similar way compared to the cars ahead, so honestly, I think we should aim to get into top six on Sunday. I think that's a realistic target. But if we do the right things and the right choices with the car, with the setup during the weekend, that is possible. But for that we need to make sure that the reliability is good, because that obviously cost us all the points in the last race. So there's been a lot of work done for that. So I hope things will go smoothly.
Q: Lando, Daniel's just told us that he's hopeful of Q3 this weekend. How is it for you?
LN: I mean, we have to just wait and see. It's Daniel's home race so he has at least like a three or four times advantage here. So that would help him but um, it's a bit in the unknown I guess, it's a new track so we do genuinely have to see what it's going to be like. I'm hoping it's a little bit more in line with how it was in Saudi comparing to Bahrain because Saudi was a much better weekend. But you know, we've not brought any updates or upgrades or anything and we didn't for Saudi, it’s just the difference in track showed how much the car can perform when it's in a better performance window and how much of a struggle it is when it's not in that window. So I'm hoping it's going to be a little bit more like Saudi, especially with the updates to the track, it’s a bit quicker and hopefully that plays a little bit into our favour. But I'm not expecting any magical things or the car to come alive all of a sudden. So it's still going to be a tough weekend but, of course we're hoping for Q3 and there was potential for a double points finish in Saudi, so hopefully we can make amends for that this weekend.
Q: Max coming to you. After the frustrations of Bahrain you kick-started your season in Jeddah with that very impressive win. Do you expect the car to be as good here, as it was in Saudi?
MV: I hope it's better. But let's see. Different track layout this weekend so we will go at it again. We just constantly try to improve the car like everyone else and try to bring new bits to try and make it faster. So I hope it's going to be a good weekend for us. But time will tell, It's a bit difficult to say where we're going to be.
Q: Do you think it'll be a fight between you and Ferrari or do you think someone else can join in at the front this weekend?
MV: Again, every track is different but if you look at the last two races, yes, but I don't know at the moment.
Q: Yuki coming to you. It was a very difficult weekend for you in Jeddah with reliability issues in qualifying and the race. Do you feel you're coming to Melbourne on the backfoot as a result?
YT: Yeah, recently we’re having reliability issues, which… We were feeling quite strong last year so for us, it's kind of surprise. But it's good to have like those issues, like now rather than having (them in) the second half. It's definitely a tough time, especially like, Jeddah was good… good chance, the opportunity to have both cars in the points. But anyway, it is what it is and hopefully we have solved those issues and are able to focus more to the performance side.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Silja Rulle - Bild) Yesterday, Volkswagen confirmed that Audi and Porsche are on their way to Formula 1 in 2026. What are your thoughts on that? It's to all the drivers, please.
LH: I mean I knew about it a long time ago already. So I think it's great that we're going to get new manufacturers within the sport, especially as you see there are a lot of teams that have the potential to be top teams, but are our customer teams and so I think it's going to be great moving forward and so we welcome them in.
VB: I think it's great news. I think it would actually be nice to see more teams in Formula 1 at the moment. There's obviously still only 10. I remember, as a kid watching Formula 1, and the grid was much bigger and I think this makes it even more exciting. So yeah, more than welcome.
LN: Yeah, it's a bit more I guess about us and Red Bull because those are the teams who seem to be involved at the minute. But yeah, I've got nothing to say to be honest. It’s a question for Andreas and the team more than it is for myself but of course, if there's more big manufacturers as a whole, then it's only a good thing for Formula 1.
MV: Yeah, I think it's very exciting and it's very important for Formula 1 as well. Of course, you know, we have 10 great teams, but also to have really big brands behind it is really nice, to see that commitment so I'm looking forward to what the future will bring to the teams.
YT: Yeah, it's good, also exciting, say like, those kinds of big companies will come in in 2026. Yeah, I can kind of wait see those things. Yeah.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) For all five again. We’ve had the announcement that Las Vegas is going to be joining the F1 calendar for next year. Can I get your thoughts on that? And how cool is it to see F1 continuing to expand in the United States?
LH: Yeah, I think it's great that that we… it's amazing that we bridge… the relationship that we have now, three races on one continent; I think that's going to be awesome. I think it'll be good for the business. I think Vegas will be an awesome addition. I have not seen the track layout so I don't really know how that will be but just being there and the spectacle and I imagine it probably will be a night race, another night race maybe. Yeah, we welcome it
Q: Have you been to Vegas?
LH: I have, yeah. But the one I really want to see is South Africa. That's the one I want to hear next, that gets announced.
VB: Yeah good news. Yeah, should be fun weekend and like Lewis said it's good to see three races in the US. Obviously the fan base has been really growing quite a bit and there's more and more support from US fans so I'm sure it's going to be an amazing weekend. But next one for me, I want to say, it's Finland
LN: I guess yeah, very exciting. Another US race, similar I guess, in some ways, to what Miami is going to be like or what Austin is going to be like, so it's going to be crazy, a cool place. I've only been once but I wasn't at the age limit to enjoy Vegas as it should be enjoyed.
MV: You are now?
LN: I am now, so yeah, we need to make sure we sort everything out already and get some good plans in place. But yeah, it's good I guess for Formula 1 to go to a place like this it's good, you know, puts us on show and more and get some of those fans from all around the world involved and it's good to see how much more they're getting into Formula 1 as well. So it's cool for everything and I look forward to the race.
MV: Yeah, I think it's a cool place and also I think the track and the general thing, the race weekend will be pretty crazy with a lot of people attending and I think just, you know, the scenery in general, it's going to be insane. So yeah, it's going be exciting to go there and see how we all hold up. And I'm pretty sure that there will be a lot of hydrated people in the paddock on Saturday.
Q: Have you ever been to Vegas?
Q: So has your teammate by the way. He said some of his best nights have been in Las Vegas.
MV: Yeah, I can imagine.
YT: Yeah, very good, excited to see the track. One of the famous cities in the world. So yeah. Kind of looking forward to it.
Q: (Marijn Abbenhuijs – AD Sportwereld) Max, what are your thoughts on the four DRS zones on this track, since you've been criticising the DRS system?
MV: I’ve been criticising it? That’s right?
Q: (Marijn Abbenhuijs – AD Sportwereld) I thought it was. Are you expecting to have a similar tactical fight with Charles Leclerc this weekend?
MV: Well, I've never said anything negative about it. It's just that, you know, in Bahrain, I think and in Jeddah, of course, there were… you know, it's quite unique where you're fighting already into one corner, of course, with DRS and then the next straight, again, you have again DRS so you play that kind of game, of course, to keep the DRS for the final straight. Then here, yeah naturally on Sunday, I think it's been a bit more difficult to pass so I can understand them (wanting) to have four DRS zones, hopefully, to improve the racing. But I think also, we have to wait and see how the layout is going to help because I think that's the most important. If you still can't pass, I don’t think, at this track with an extra DRS zone, you will be able to pass but probably because of the extra-long straight now, that will help a bit more, and maybe gives you an opportunity into the fast chicane.
Q: (Paul Gover – carsales.com) Can you explain in a little bit more detail why you’re keen on South Africa joining the series. And now that you're away from the Middle East, looking back at the politics of it? Obviously we're on the other side of the world. Can you give us a bit of insight about how you felt about racing in those countries, given the political situation around sport in general, but also sport through Formula 1 going to countries like that?
LH: We're pretty much on every other continent, so why not? And ultimately, my ancestors are from there so that's why it is important for me personally. I think it's important for the sport to go there. If they're in every other continent, why not? And my position remains pretty much the same for these other places that we visit. What was the question really?
Q: (Paul Gover – carsales.com) How do you feel about - with a little bit of distance and having raced there - that we hear a lot here about the human rights record in the countries that you just been to, and whether or not it's appropriate for Formula 1 to go there. And what you… I mean, you've made statements in the past with the helmet and said things. Now that you're away from there in a country like Australia, can you give us a little bit more background on how you felt about racing in the Middle East?
LH: I don't think there's really much more to add than what I've already said, in my stance when I've been in those places. Nothing's changed. I feel exactly the same. I'm sure will.. there'll be discussions, probably in the background, of how we move forward in a positive way and whether or not we should be in some of the places that we go to, but that's not my decision at the end of the day.
Q: (Emily Selleck - New York Post) A question to all the drivers that heading to Vegas next year with the popularity of the sport growing in the US how do you feel about three US races, potentially at the expense of some historic European tracks?
YT: I think it's good. I don't know. I'm not smart to answer. I think it's good to like America, the country, it's big. Others? Yeah, I don't know.
MV: Yeah, I think we have to find a balance of course. I think it's just very important that we make sure that we do visit you proper tracks still, not only street circuits, but I'm sure you know F1 is well aware of that but I can definitely understand that we need a few more races in the US to increase the popularity there as well and of course we are happy to go there. But of course we will also I think find it important to keep a few historic tracks which are really enjoyable to drive on the calendar but there also some tracks which are let's say less exciting, I'm not going to name them but a few out there so you just need to find the right balance
LN: I think Max said it well. You know, as drivers, we do still love the old school tracks and tracks which have been around for years and have good history to them. But it’s still important that we evolve and adapt to the new situations and the bigger following that we have now and so on, and although we’ll have in three races in America, they’re still very different places and very different places to be so… Yeah, I think it’s a good thing, but like Max said, important that we keep a fair share of proper racing tracks that we're used to and have a good history and not all street circuits kind of thing but they're all going to be good racing and they’re all going to have different fan bases and viewers and so on so yeah, so all for the best.
VB: Actually got nothing to add really, pretty same feeling from my side, like happy to go but just need to choose which ones to drop off if we're going to drop raises.
LH: I feel the same as Yuki.
Q: (Angelica Snowden – The Australian) Lewis, you were the first driver in 2020 to say the race should have been cancelled earlier. We've had more safety concerns in Jeddah recently. Do you feel that Formula 1 listens to the concerns of drivers and could they do a better job of that?
LH: Well, I mean, if you remember last time we were here, I did mention something, then we didn't race. I think they did listen then. I think now with Stefano there I think we have someone who has a lot of empathy. He's got a huge job to do but I think there is a better rapport between the drivers and Formula 1 and so yeah, I think we are working together better than ever. I think ultimately, it benefits all of us to continue to work together to build this sport to be as great as it is but can be even bigger. So that's what we’ll do.
Q: (Masahiro Owari – Formula Owari) Max. Last year, you will know fighting Lewis and this year so far you are fighting with Charles? How is the difference between them and how you are feeling now? And do you miss to be able to not fighting with Lewis this year?
MV: You know, every driver is of course different to fight against. But also, you know, I grew up with Charles, we are the same age. We already had our battles in go-karting. But yeah, so far. I mean, this year has been good. Last year has been good. You know, we had really a lot of, I think, enjoyable battles. So I just hope of course that it can continue like this.
Q: (Dylan Bolch – Daily Telegraph Sydney) Lewis, how have you found the new dynamic working with George Russell this year?
LH: It’s great. It's good to be with someone younger, you know, I was just saying earlier on how old Valtteri is. (To Valtteri) You’ve got an old soul. But no, I think George has been great. I think he's been great for the team. It was obviously an amazing journey that Valtteri and I had working together and George was already a part of the team before that. So it's been going really well. We were surfing together the other day and, you know, he's taking to… he's blended really well into the team.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) In the event notes released yesterday, there's been a clampdown on the wearing of jewellery, so I guess bracelets, rings, piercings, things like that. Are you guys aware of that? Has F1 spoken to you about any safety concerns that might be… I don't know how many of you do wear anything like that when you're in the car?
LH: Well, I've got certain piercings that I really just can't take out that not many people know of. No. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. OK, I mean, it's been the rule forever. Since I've been here, it's been the rule, so there's nothing new. I'm just going to come up with more jewellery next week.
MV: Me? I will be too heavy if I wear jewellery. So it's not possible.
LH: I know you have a nipple-piercing man. Come on.
MV: You want to see it again?
Q: (Silja Rulle – Bild) It's a question for Lewis: Jacques Villeneuve wrote in a piece that right now George has a bit of an advantage because last year he had a car which was a bit more difficult to handle whereas you had a very well working car during the last years. Would you say or would you agree that you have a bit of a disadvantage right now with a car that has more problems than last year?
LH: No, not really. I find it amusing some of the things that come out of his mouth but… not George. I remember my first go-kart was fifth hand, driven lots of different cars and found myself relatively adaptable, so should be good.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Max, Charles mentioned earlier that straight line speed is not the strength of the Ferrari yet. You think this is true or was it just for the setup reasons in Jeddah? And also do you think you're missing out a bit on tyre understanding?
MV: I personally think the Ferrari is a rocket on the straight but I don't know, maybe some other people might disagree, I don't know but it also depends on the wing level you take. We definitely have good top speed but I wouldn't say we are quicker. It's just we chose to run load afterwards in Jeddah. But yeah, it makes it quite interesting, now, if you can choose different downforce levels that actually achieve the same lap time, it's good for battles. So, yeah, we'll see this weekend again, I have no clue, of course what other people are going to run compared to us. But yeah, let's just go out there and see how much grip we have first of all.