FIA Friday press conference - Bahrain
DRIVER GROUP 1: Zhou GUANYU (Alfa Romeo), Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), Mick SCHUMACHER (Haas) Lando NORRIS (McLaren), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing)
Q: Let’s start with the reigning world champion. Max, testing went well, just how confident are you coming into the new season?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, I do think testing did go well. It’s still a bit unclear where we are exactly. Of course on the final day we had an upgrade on the car and that seemed to give us a bit more lap time. Of course I was happy with that, but it’s not the race weekend yet and we will find out in qualifying where we are.
Q: Just what are your goals for the weekend ahead?
MV: Of course, try to be ahead. We’ll find out. I don’t know at the moment.
Q: Let’s go to our rookie now. Zhou, welcome. How do you feel coming into your first race weekend in Formula 1?
Zhou Guanyu: To be honest it feels quite fresh. Of course it’s the first time, FP1 seems to be not that new for me anymore after the experience I had last season, but overall, all this format, everything is completely new for me but to be honest it was definitely nice to be testing here in T2 here in Bahrain just to get familiar with everything. I am feeling quite ready for the first race weekend but of course there is plenty of stuff for me to digest inside myself to be more ready but I think that just takes a bit of time but overall I am quite happy with how everything went last weekend and the feeling of putting everything together for this weekend.
Q: Charles, is this the best pre-season you have had at Ferrari?
Charles Leclerc: Well, the ones where we have had the least problems for sure, but the smoothest one, for sure too. But then again I don’t want to say it’s our best because then people will straight away come to the conclusion that we are ahead of everyone and it’s not the case. I think we are a bit behind Red Bull. But in terms of smoothness and amount of laps, it definitely is. It has been a very smooth test with a lot of laps, everything that we wanted to test we did, so it’s great.
Q: Mick, how confident do you feel coming into your second season in Formula 1?
Mick Sschumacher: Yeah, I think we can say I feel comfortable, I feel confident. Obviously testing went alright, maybe not great but alright. I think we are on the verge of being better than last and that’s what we are aiming for and hopefully we will be able to show that on track here.
Q: Lando, it seemed to be a slightly frustrating test for McLaren last week. What did you learn and how confident are you guys coming into the race?
Lando Norris: We learned a decent amount. Definitely not as much as we wanted to coming into the first race of the year but still in a decent place. I think what makes it tough and what makes it almost worse than previous years is it is looking probably a bit tighter in the midfield than what it has potentially been over the past couple of years. So, therefore you want to be able to have all the information possible and be on top of everything, which we are not 100% on top of coming into this race. We will do our best and we definitely have a few things to work on and few things to make sure they work in the first place and we’ll go from there. Some things I am confident with and other things maybe not so much.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Just regarding the ongoing g threat of COVID-19, in some countries, including the UK it is your choice whether you go into work or not, even if you tests positive. Do you think there will come a point where if a driver has an asymptomatic positive or low symptoms that a driver should be allowed to race, bearing mind two of you tested positive in the last week and it could have a big impact on the title fight?
CL: It’s a tricky question. As things are at the moment obviously it’s impossible to do that because in some places we cannot race having COVID. Then, for sure, if there are some places where we will be able to race with COVID then things might change. But yeah, the way things are at the moment I definitely wouldn’t do that.
MS: I think it’s a quite difficult question to answer really. Personally, I think it shouldn’t be the case just because COVID is still apparent and people still have very hard symptoms with it, although maybe Omicron is a bit easier to deal with, and there are still people that are at risk, so I don’t want to be the person who puts those people at risk because I want to race. I think we have to think globally and we have to try to get it under control and by doing that I think we should minimise the contact with people who are positive.
MV: I mean that naturally as a driver you always want to race and you would say ‘yes, we should be allowed to race’ but I think you should also ask a medical expert about it, what is allowed and what isn’t and then work together with the FIA to see what’s possible and what is allowed in the future, but at the moment it’s a bit difficult to tell.
LN: Nothing further.
ZG: Well, yeah, they covered pretty much everything. You just have to be really on top of yourself and staying always with mask, to do our job right. The others are up to… It’s not my position to discuss or say anything.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) Question to all the drivers, please. Tomorrow, the FIA World Motorsport Council meets for the first time this year. One of the items up for discussion is the report into the events in Abu Dhabi. What are your expectations? Would you like to see the full report, the full outcome of the investigation?
MV: I don’t think we need a full report. Of course, always, every year it’s good to discuss what happened in the year before and what you can do better as that’s what teams do as well, right? You always analyse everything you do. We will find out and if things can be written down in an easier way or in a way to understand it better, the wording, then for sure, but let’s see.
LN: I don’t mind seeing them or not. As long as there is a good result and a positive result going forward, then I will be happy.
CL: I think it is really important to have that transparency and for us to be able to see it. Whether I will read it, I don’t think so, it will be probably too long, but it is important to at least have the big lines and know what is the conclusion of it, in order to grow from it and to maybe manage those situations better in the future.
MS: I think that probably… that’s in the past. It’s good to know the results and analysis but essentially we have to look to the future and obviously try to not repeat something like it.
ZG: Nothing to add. I wasn’t in that race and that’s it.
Q: (Masahiro Owari – Formula Owari) Max, Honda officially left Formula 1 at the end of last year and this year is there any difference in your relationship with Honda?
MV: They might be a little less visible but at the end of the day not a lot has changed luckily, so I am just looking forward to starting the season where we left off, but of course trying to become better. They are still with us so that’s good.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Yesterday, Red Bull showed us a first glimpse of Red Bull Powertrains. What’s your first impression of the project and of the facilities so far and secondly, continuing on Honda a bit, what’s your impression of the 2022 engine, which is still produced by Honda?
MV: Yeah, the facility looks really good and of course I know about the plans and stuff, and what’s coming, so it all looks very promising. And the engine for this year, yeah we made a nice step forward but we have to wait and see what the other teams did as well. From our side I think we did the best we could but it’s never good enough, right? So you have to try to keep improving and trying to find more performance. So that’s what we will try to do from our side.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) A question for Lando. How confident are you in the brake modifications that have been brought this weekend and how high is the risk a race of extreme containment of the brake temperatures or even worse, where you can’t get to the end?
LN: We’ll see in a few hours’ time. The team done an excellent job in trying to get as many parts here as possible, things to fix those issues and those problems. But to a certain extent we don’t know how well they are going to work. We literally have to put the parts on the car and go out and drive with them for the first time to understand just how good they are, whether it’s enough or too much. Obviously preferably on the side of too much and we come back and make modifications from there. There could be a chance of either. It could be a perfect race where there are no issues and of course that’s an ideal world and there could be a race where we still have to manage many things. Personally and for the whole team we don’t really know yet and we will have to see when we go out on track.
Q: (Andrew Dunn – Daily Mirror) Question for Max. You are world champion but considering the controversy of how it was won, do you still go into this season thinking you’ve got a point to prove?
MV: No, I proved that with the most wins and most pole and most laps led. People forget that. They only look at Abu Dhabi apparently but we have more races than Abu Dhabi in a season.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Max, Mercedes through pre-season they have been talking down their form quite a bit, Given what you have looked at over the past week or so with the Red Bull engineers, where do you expect them to be? Do you think they were sandbagging through pre-season testing?
MV: I think they will be dead last. According to their comments they have an awful and they’ve had that already since 2017 in pre-season testing. We will find out. I don’t know, but for sure they will be competitive.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Max, you mentioned most wins and most pole last season. Do you think you can step it up another level this year from your performances last year?
MV: If you look at last season, even during that season I think yeah, we could have had more wins and more poles even but you need a really competitive car to be able to do that, so it’s going to be really difficult to do something like that again. Of course you always try to do better so I hope if we have a very competitive car again that we can reach something similar.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Obviously Sebastian Vettel is out with COVID at the moment. I was just wondering if we should start putting in dropping a score if you have COVID or something like that. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, is it something you might be interested in moving forward?
MV: That’s also part of racing in a way. Unfortunately. I think the most important that he feels well, right? Who cares about this race at the end of the day. It’s about that he feels well.
MS: I don’t understand the question properly I guess. Drop out of points, reduction of points if you miss a race? Oh OK, so you can decide if you want to lose a race or not. No, we had that in the past in junior categories and honestly it wasn’t great. As everybody else said, no, I guess. It can stay as it is.
CL: I wouldn’t want this.
ZG: No, definitely not dropping scores.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD Sportwereld) F1 loves to present this year as the start of the new era. Does it already feel like a new era and if you leave the new car out of the picture, what will be the biggest change you expect this season?
CL: Yeah, well, it feels quite a bit different compared to last year. Whether it feels like a new era, I don’t know. We will have to see how much closer we can race. I saw some benefits already from testing but we will have to see in a proper race how much we can race closer. But the weight, for me, of the car changes massively and it is something that I really feel, especially on a track like this with the slow-speed corners. You really need to change your driving style. So the cars are very different and hopefully better for the racing, but this will have to wait.
MS: I guess you see the cars are new so it feels like a new era but I guess in terms of driving and stuff, as Charles just said, there is still stuff we will learn across this year. I think hopefully if we get to fight closer that will obviously be great and hopefully the teams will stay closer or as close as they were in testing now.
MV: I think it’s mainly tyres and weight but luckily the cars also quite quick and it will definitely be a bit different from track to track, in terms of how competitive we are going to be compared to last year. On the other hand there is also not a big shock. It is still a Formula 1 car with a lot of downforce and it is still nice to drive.
LN: Max said it will, tyres and weight and everything is the biggest change. Apart from that it feels like a fresh start, there are so many new things around, things you have to work with. In terms of racing, probably we’re going to be racing against Mick a bit more this year. I’m sure that will be a good thing for him. Haas are looking strong, so we are probably racing a few more cars, which is just going to make it more entertaining and tougher for everyone else.
Q: Zhou we will come to you in a second, but Mick, do you think you will be racing people like Lando this year?
MS: We will see.
Q: You’re not going to commit! Zhou, it’s definitely a new era for you?
ZG: Yeah, exactly. For me everything is pretty new but of course with the new era you do feel the change of the weight and the way you have to adapt a little bit your driving style compared to what I have driven in the past with the different Formula 1 cars and of course many teams are suffering with this bouncing issue, since everybody felt it. It’s quite surprising for us to feel it. It was getting better and better and we are finding the right solution for it, but there is plenty of stuff you have to be adapting to and like Lando says, all the teams after testing our speed is very similar. Of course there are a few teams that are a little bit quicker than the rest but it feels like the mid-[ack is a little bit closer than it was last year for sure.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) For all drivers. After these days of testing, can you explain what’s the biggest challenge or issue you face with the new car? And can you tell me how many race weekends you need to get 100 per cent comfortable.
ZG: Well, for me it was of course the mileage limitation in Barcelona was affecting us as a team, a lot but then we had a big step-up in Bahrain so it much better with upgrades, all of that involved with the car. In terms of feeling, as I mentioned before, the bouncing was something I never experienced in the past and very new for all of us. I think the challenge for all of us as a team is going to be trying to reduce that, in terms of going more towards the ultimate performance of the car. That’s the biggest challenge of the year.
Q: And how many race weekends until you’re fully at ease with the car?
ZG: Hopefully already at ease – but yeah, we have to say, it’s quite a bit of difference whether you have DRS on or off, and if one is behind a slipstream or not, but I’m sure I’m sure we’ll figure it out. I won’t say how many races but yeah.
LN: Biggest challenges I think, still some of the unknowns with the racing, Like Zhou said, what the slipstream is going to be like, how the DRS it going to work in the slipstream. Size, the lack of visibility in the cars this year comparing to last year and so on. So racing, and knowing where the front wing is an everything. It’s going to be slightly different. Probably the race on Sunday is going to be the first time we really get to experience all of those things… but also with this car and how it works, the characteristics of it. There’s many different tracks where it’s going to feel very different, so until we get to Monaco, or Singapore, the street circuits, we’re not going to be able to learn anything or know what to expect too much, until we get there. In terms of being on top of the car, it’s hard to say just yet and it could be a few races, it could be many more races. Because things are going to be changing. There’s many new things which are going to come in future races. Things you can’t necessarily prepare for in Bahrain, in Barcelona, so early on.
MV: Lando explained that very well.
MS: Every team seems to have their little issues here and there. I think it’s a matter of probably a few races in that we’ll need to really sort these out – but I guess there are some fundamental problems right now, which are obviously bouncing, which I expect to be part of this season across. I guess there is still something to be worked on and I’m sure that teams are working on it quite hard for next year. Generally, I guess that I wouldn’t know how many races we’ll need for the other problems, but definitely bouncing will stay.
CL: yeah, definitely bouncing will be the biggest challenge, especially for the race. It depends a lot on the conditions also, from where the wind is coming from, we might have some, and the race is quite long, so yeah, it’s going to be pretty bumpy. Then, how many races we need to adapt to those cars. With Ferrari, we’ve had a bit of a different approach this year, staying with the same car from the first test to the second test, which helped us to know the package very well, so hopefully it will give us a bit of an advantage at the beginning. And then for us drivers, I think we’ll all be quite quick to adapt to those new cars.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Another question to all five. Now you’re living it, how are you finding the weekend timetable change, with doing all of your media stuff before FP1, bearing in mind, at races that are not night races, like the European ones, it might mean a few early starts for you all. Thanks
CL: It’s the first race of the season, so I’ve been pretty busy yesterday, so it didn’t change much for me now.
MS: I guess as you just said, it will probably make some days earlier and unfortunately the Thursday will be anyways packed with media. It is interesting. I guess it does help at times but yeah, we’ll find out across the season, if it’s any better or not.
Q: Max, does it feel slightly odd being in this press conference just moments before you get in the car for FP1?
MV: No… but I was still on the track yesterday, so for me, nothing changes. So maybe we can ban coming to the track on the Thursday, and the team also doesn’t give me anything to do, because at the end of the day I’m still doing exactly the same – but you have to wake up actually earlier on a Friday morning. If it’s not going to change, can we please go back to the old schedule – because at least I can sleep in a bit more?
LN: I completely agree with Max.
ZG: For me, it’s a fresh start, so wake up early is not a big problem. I’ve experienced that in the past few years, we always were the first one on track, so that’s fine. Of course, it’s much more busy now, compared to my schedule in the past – but I’m OK with all of that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) To all the drivers, have you met the new race director Niels Wittich, and also, what do you think of the concept of alternating or rotating the race directors. Could that make for better or worse consistencies?
MV: I haven’t met him here in the paddock yet but I’m sure we will anyway during the drivers’ briefing. Let’s see. Let’s find out how it’s going to be. I’m positive that it’s going to be fine. I mean, they all have a lot of experience in racing, so as long as we are clear before we enter the race weekends, it shouldn’t be a problem.
LN: I met him yesterday briefly and of course we’ll meet him again in the drivers’ briefing later. Don’t know. Not too sure how it’s going to work just yet. Of course, if there’s consistency, that’s the main thing we want as drivers, then it doesn’t really matter how many how many people there are. As long as there is consistency through the season, I’ll be happy.
CL: Lando said it all. I haven’t met him yet but yeah, consistency is key and I’m pretty sure they are, they have organised themselves fully to work in that way. I’m not too concerned about this.
MS: I’m not sure, I think I have met him in my junior years, so I guess I have been working with him before but yeah, I guess, as everybody has said, it’s just about consistency and that every weekend is the same, basically, on the rules side.
ZG: I haven’t met him yet but he did sign my superlicence during the week! So that’s as close as I get to him so far, so yeah, I’m sure, apart from that, everything else will be OK.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Another one to Max. Multiple World Champions like Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, they expect you to feel less pressure, being a World Champion. You seem quite relaxed, to be honest, but how is it for you? Is the mindset any different to one year ago?
MV: The motivation is the same, or even more again, because you want to keep winning and you want to… you just want to be upfront, right? Especially after last year. But yeah, you do… as a little kid you always dream of, of course, trying to be a Formula 1 driver and hopefully one day you win a championship. But that’s achieved, that kind of pressure of wanting and needing to do that is gone… but you still want to win races and stuff. So, that’s what I’m here for.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport.com) Question is for Max. Max, at the end of last year, particularly in Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, you were perceived by some to be a bit more on the aggressive side of things when fighting with Lewis. Do you think that Lewis, over the winter, may have considered those fights with you and may come back this year also a bit more on the aggressive side? Just not to back down all the time?
MV: I don’t know. I mean, I guess you shouldn’t ask me that question.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Another question for Max. Is there a way that you motivated yourself over the winter, you being a World Champion, you coming in as a World Champion, it’s important to not let complacency set in. Did you do anything to increase your motivation so that complacency didn’t happen.
MV: I grew up like that, like that can’t happen. Because of… you know, when you are little, you do become lazy at some point. I mean, you still have to learn how to be a professional. So, my Dad made sure that didn’t happen.
DRIVER GROUP 2: Valtteri BOTTAS (Alfa Romeo), Carlos SAINZ (Ferrari), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas), Daniel RICCIARDO (McLaren), Sergio PÉREZ (Red Bull)
Q: Daniel, first up, how are you feeling?
Daniel Ricciardo: I’m good, thank you. Yeah. Quite a few people have said welcome back, but I think the guy to my right (KM) is more of a welcome back. There’s two welcome backs here. Definitely knocked me about for a bit but the last few days have got significantly better each day. Feeling myself again. Which is good.
Q: Aside from your health, how much did missing last week’s test just affect you in terms of your understanding of the car?
DR: I guess time will tell, but I was still following what I could and trying to keep up with it. I mean yeah, for sure I missed some seat time but, y’know, I felt we left the Barcelona test in a good place and I personally felt comfortable after that test. I felt like we got a lot of laps done, so yes, not ideal missing the Bahrain test, but I still carry a good feeling in the car from Barcelona, and see where that takes me today and the rest of the weekend.
Q: Kevin. Welcome back! It’s great to have you in the press conference. After a year out, how are you approaching this first race weekend with Haas?
Kevin Magnussen: I don’t know. I mean, I’m just excited, surprised. I didn’t expect to be starting this season, of course, and I got the call, a little more than a week ago, before that I was on holiday in Miami, with my friends, not expecting to do anything like this. So, just so thankful. No matter how you get to Formula 1, it’s such a massive opportunity, and, in this way, it just feels crazy. I just can’t wait to get started.
Q: You got your first mileage in the car last weekend. How long will it be until you feel you’re fully up to speed?
KM: We’ll see. In the test it felt fine. It didn’t feel like I’d been out for 15 months; it felt like I’d been out just in a normal off-season. The car’s a little different, so it didn’t feel exactly the same, but I didn’t feel like… it’s not like I’ve not been driving race cars for a whole year. It’s just I haven’t been driving Formula 1 cars. My neck especially was not up to it, but that will come back very quickly, and just, as I said, I can’t wait to get started.
Q: Sergio, a good test at the weekend. How good is the RB18?
SP: I think we have a good base car, which is always important but we also know that it’s so important how much you can improve throughout the season on these new regulations, so I think that will be the key. But, I have to say, it was so impressive to see the amount of work the team has done over the winter, back in the factory at Milton Keynes. We just put the new package on the car and straight away it works. We didn’t have to do any install or anything like that and it worked. So that’s definitely very positive and it just shows the amount of work the team has done, so yeah, big credit to everyone back home in Milton Keynes, and hopefully we can start the season with the right foot.
Q: This is year two for you with Red Bull Racing. How much more confident do you feel, knowing the team better, as you do?
SP: I feel a lot more comfortable, just knowing the team, understanding the Red Bull philosophy in regard to the car, I think, although these cars are very different, it gives you a very good platform, and I’ve got a very good baseline, towards the end of last season, things went a lot better, so I look forward to start our new year with good results.
Q: Valtteri, year two for Checo at Red Bull, year one for you at Alfa Romeo. How are things going?
Valtteri Bottas: Things are going good. There’s still work to do, for sure. We’re now taking the first proper step with a team, working together, which is the first race weekend and testing we did have some troubles and I would say the reliability concerns we’ve had through the testing have been the number one topic and priority for this first race. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed it and now it’s time to see where we are, at this point of the season, and then hopefully from there hopefully the only way is up. That’s the target.
Q: Well, the only way is up – just how much potential do you feel this car has?
VB: I feel it has potential. When it is working fine and running smoothly and we got to go a bit deeper into the setup work, it started to feel good, I really started to enjoy the car, both in high fuel and with a little bit less fuel, so the potential is there, no doubt, we’ve just got to make sure we keep on unlocking it throughout the season.
Q: Carlos, a few reliability niggles for Alfa Romeo. By contrast, this has been a very smooth pre-season for Ferrari. Just how confident are you?
Carlos Sainz: Yeah, relatively confident knowing that testing has been really smooth for us. We managed to do six total days with barely any issues, and we managed to learn everything we could from the car. There’s still already things that we need to work on, that we spotted on data and on driver feedback that we wanted to develop further forward into the season and yeah, I think it gives us a good base coming into the first race.
Q: What are your goals for this first race weekend?
CS: Normally at the first race you want to keep it clean, and you want to make sure you have the full quali and full race experience in order to build on it for the rest of the year. It’s going to be a 23-race season and it’s important in the first race to avoid anything crazy and learn from the car as much as you can. At the same time, if there’s any opportunity to go for it, I will obviously go for it – but let’s see.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Claire Cottingham – RaceFans.com) Daniel, Covid can have some lasting effects and make you quite breathless afterwards. Firstly, are you OK with that, heading into the first race of the year. And also, what do you feel you missed out on. Obviously, I know seat time, but are you feeling prepared still coming into this weekend.
DR: Yeah, I feel OK. It’s the first time I got Covid and it’s nothing new now to the rest of the world, I think most people have had it and you do hear of varying effects and, whether they’re long lasting or not. Obviously time will tell. I was here, all day yesterday, obviously doing the media day and we had pretty much a full schedule and I felt OK at the end of the day, and energy was fine, so that’s like the first small test, which would seem OK. I don’t foresee any hurdles but of course, we’ll see what happens. But I do feel prepared. And even though I missed the Bahrain test, I caught up on a tonne of rest, so I’m… yeah… where’s a negative, there’s a positive, and we come in pretty fresh now. Fortunate I’ve been doing his sport quite a few years, we have a couple of hours today to get up to speed and I expect to do that.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Daniel again, how confident are you and the team about the changes that have been made this weekend and to what extent is the FP1 plan distorted from the norm, given that I guess that’s the priority item: working out how much trouble you are or are not in with those brakes.
DR: yeah, we have to see how it goes. I know pretty much every day at the test there was modifications happening, and trying to improve it. I know Day Three there was a good set of progress made, and I kept in touch as well with Lando and he was giving me the feedback as well. And then, since then yeah, we have some modifications to trial today. So, I think we’re in a, let’s say, confident place but will there still be some management? Let’s see. Probably get into some more long runs, I guess, later today and probably trial that this evening.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) To all drivers: tomorrow the FIA World Motorsport Council will meet under the new president and one of the items up for discussion is the inquiry investigation into the events of Abu Dhabi last year. Do you believe that the full report should be released or are you not particularly interested? Are you happy with a couple of bullet points?
CS: Yeah, I’m obviously interested in seeing what comes out of it and what we have learned as a sport and what changes are going to be applied to make sure that such things aren’t repeated again but at the same time, I think it’s time to… as soon as it comes out and as soon as it’s analysed and read by everyone, it’s time to move on. We are in March 2022 and we are still talking about December 2021 and I think as a sport it’s also time to… whatever comes out of that meeting, learn from it, apply the lessons learned and move on and never talk about it too much again because if not we’re just going to spend too much time in the past.
VB: I think Carlos said pretty much everything. It’s time to move on but I’m definitely keen to see the full report and all the details and make sure the learnings have been made. That is the main thing.
SP: I agree a thousand per cent with these two. I think it would be important to learn from it but also it would be very important to move on.
KM: Nothing to add.
DR: Can you repeat the question? I’m just kidding. I agree.
Q: (Carlos Miquel – Marca) Carlos, Checo and Daniel; between us, in your opinion, who will finish ahead in the championship? Between Sainz, Checo and Daniel?
DR: Whoever scores more points! I can’t predict where we’ll be at the end of the year. I’d love to obviously say myself, you know that myself and McLaren really get on top of these new cars and we gel and we win a ton of races and win the championship. I think today I do think that Red Bull and Ferrari are probably the favourites coming into race one here in Bahrain but will that be the trend for the whole season? I’m not really sure. Let’s say that over the next 48 hours probably these guys were the favourites but over the course of the season I’d like to think myself and McLaren can put our name in that mix. I tried to give you quite a bit but I thought…
SP: I think the race is on Sunday. We have 22 races so there is no point to start racing each other right now so we just have to wait and see, be patient and we will have a bit of an idea after Sunday but it’s going to be such a long year, development will be the key to it so I think we are not too far away so let’s be patient and see.
CS: I think we are not too far away from each other and development is going to be king this year and it’s going to be more how it finishes more than how it starts now. I don’t know, we’ve waited three months to know where everyone is going to be. We’re going to wait 24 more hours now to see who’s going to be in front in qualifying and in the race, so let’s just wait a bit more.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) To all five: Checo, picking up on some comments, your quote yesterday about Covid and about whether drivers should discuss whether being allowed to race with Covid as we sort of learn to live with the virus. I just want to hear from all five of you what your thoughts and particularly Daniel after your experience with it, in the past week or so?
DR: Yeah. It’s a good question. Yeah, I’d like to kind of think that if you feel like healthy, strong, fit and I don’t know if it’s whether you need to like pass a little fitness or some kind of test to show that you’re in condition to race then maybe that’s enough moving forward but yeah, to be honest it’s the first time I’ve answered a… first time I’ve really thought about it.
Q: Could you have driven a Formula 1 car last week?
DR: Yeah, that’s the thing, so I was definitely in a pretty tough place so I would have struggled. Yep, I would have struggled. I was pretty knocked out from it and that’s the thing, so I think it’s really obviously case by case and if you feel like you can do it then yeah, maybe show some kind of little fitness test and prove it but I would have struggled a week ago.
KM: Whether I would be able to race with Covid? I don’t know, I’ve never had it, so no idea.
SP: Covid has evolved so much, you know, that I think the best judge would be ourselves, to know, like Daniel says, probably he wouldn’t be able to race but maybe there are other people or other drivers who get Covid and feels OK. You see what some countries, as well, you know, it feels like the world is fully open but Formula 1 is very restrictive with the Covid things, so I think we should leave it up to the driver to decide, you know. I think we have all raced once or less feeling really bad healthwise and we are the judge as to say OK, we can race the way we are at the moment, or we can simply not so yeah, if the driver feels comfortable to race like that, I wouldn’t think it’s a problem, you know. The world seems to have moved up from it.
VB: I also feel like it should be a call for the driver. I would vote for yes, should be allowed but only in a way that it can be made sure that there’s no risk of spreading it further so I think that maybe then for someone who has Covid there should definitely be extra protocols to make sure that other team members get affected, because obviously with every person the symptoms can be different, for some less risky, for some more risky so I think that’s the question mark.
CS: Yeah, picking up from where Valtteri left, I think it’s… if there is a sport that I think that you can race without… or compete without spreading the virus too much or at least zero I think it is Formula 1 I think you could do all the meetings back in your hotel room, arrive 15 minutes before the session with your suit and your helmet on, jump in the car and go. Personally, I feel like if I get Covid and you’re in the middle of a championship fight or a very important thing I would struggle to accept missing a race and if I’m feeling well and I’m feeling perfectly fit, if I am feeling bad I would be the first one to raise my hand and say I cannot race and the third driver needs to jump in. But I think it’s an interesting case that we should investigate because I think that our sport gives us that opportunity to maybe be a bit more protected and less spread and yeah, I think it should be up to the driver to decide.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Kevin, welcome back. During your year away from F1, what were your thoughts with regard to Haas at that particular time? I know you were doing some side commentary for some radio and TV and things but were you keeping an eye on them, what they were doing, and were you aware of their performances and how they were getting on? And as a secondary question, when Guenther called you to replace Nikita, how much were you aware of the Russian/Ukraine situation at that time?
KM: Well, first, I was following Formula 1 last year and it wasn’t good to see Haas in the state that they were but I understood it was already the case when I was there in 2020 that they had shifted focus to this new car and so it kind of made sense that they were in the state that they were. It was almost like a decision, it wasn’t a decision that they made so obviously that’s good for the situation I’m in, I’m in this car that they’ve been focusing on so much now and hopefully that will go well. On the other question, of course I was aware of the situation in Ukraine. I saw on the news that Nikita had lost his drive and you know, I thought that made sense from a political point of view. Of course I would love not to be back in this seat because of the situation in Ukraine, I would love it to be whatever odd the situation, there wasn’t a tragic one that this one is but that’s the opportunity I was given and of course no matter what, I’m a racing driver and I love the opportunity that I’ve been given and I’m going to make the best of it, despite the tragic reason for it.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Another Covid question for all you: you’re all sitting there, wearing masks but obviously the FIA protocols have changed and no masks in the paddock, no compulsory testing, you flew here on planes surrounded by people who didn’t even test to come to Bahrain. Has it gone a bit too far, are you more nervous this year than you were in the last couple of years that you might catch it or key people in the team might catch it? And secondly, how much of the protocols changed within your own teams, because some teams I think have very much relaxed the test regime, the internal testing regime?
CS: I did feel, for a bit, like we were moving on a bit and then suddenly, obviously, Daniel positive case and Sebastian’s yesterday raised the alarms again and all of a sudden you need to kind of react, wake up again and go back to two years ago because you see that Covid is still around us and is still a possibility. It’s like it’s never really leaving us. You start to feel like you’re getting out of the thing and then suddenly there’s always a positive case near to you and the alarms ringing and it’s a pain, I’m not going to lie, it’s for me two years in a row like this, it’s becoming tiring and it’s becoming like it’s never ending but at the same time, what can you do? You put on your mask and you keep going with your life and try not to get it like in the last few days, so whatever. I just hope we can keep moving on as Checo was mentioning before and little by little with the whole paddock vaccinated we can little by little as Checo was mentioning we can keep moving on.
VB: I think it’s good to see that we are starting to live with it, in a way, but obviously it’s still around and I think in the end it’s a lot about common sense and at least me, I’ve been advised by the team that always when you’re in close contact with people wear a mask, there’s no harm in doing that. Only concern for me, like today, arriving at the paddock there was quite a lot of fans who were taking selfies and none of them were wearing masks and they get pretty close and then I feel uncomfortable so for sure I take my distance but it’s a lot of common sense. In the end, we need to live with it but still be sensible in a way.
SP: Yeah, I think take us back to my point, we are exposed to… I mean Formula 1 has moved up in this regard. The whole world has moved on. But the drivers are still limited and if we get it then we are not able to work but at the same time we are exposed to people, we are exposed to a lot of media, a lot of fans so I think the world has moved on and I think as Formula 1 we should discuss how we can also move on. I think Carlos mentioned a very good point that our sport it can allow the driver if he’s feeling comfortable to perform at this work. You see that some countries have stopped testing, they’ve stopped everything probably, at the other extreme but as a sport, yeah, we just have figure it out how we can make it useful for everyone because at the moment, you cannot see the gaps around us.
KM: Personally I’m not too worried about getting Covid from a health perspective. What I’m worried about is getting it and missing a race, that’s really my biggest worry about it. And as has been said, if we could do the race with it and just be isolated and not expose the team, I would be happy with that. I can understand if people… you know people have families and maybe somebody in their family is not good from a health perspective and wouldn’t want to have it, I can understand if you couldn’t really put that on your surroundings but you could be isolated as a Formula 1 driver and get through a race weekend alone, remotely.
DR: I think most has been said. Of course in my head I want to move on and open everything up and do that and for sure at times you think that yeah, it’s kind of past but then obviously I was reminded a week ago that it can still come and bite you so yeah, with that said, I would still obviously love us to progress through it and yeah, make some changes over time if it seems like the right time to… I don’t know if it’s remove masks but just kind of free it up a little but then yeah, again it’s up to your own kind of discretion if you want to wear a mask and take caution and then do that. Yeah, like on a place, I think I’ll continue to wear a mask for even ten years after Covid, probably just a new normal now.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) Daniel and Valtteri: have you met the new race director and what do you guys think about rotating the race directors as opposed to having one permanent one for the year?
DR: I haven’t face-to-face yet met but via video yes. I think, let’s say I’m happy with the approach of the rotation and the additional support so again we have to see how the year pans out and after12 months we can assess if it was a good move but sitting here today, I’m happy with the direction they’re going. VB: Also haven’t met him yet and yeah, happy with alternating the race directors. I think there’s no issue as long as they obviously communicate well and both are always in the loop with whatever happens so let’s see how it goes in the first three events. No issues from my side.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Daniel, last week Oscar Piastri was named as a potential replacement should you not have been able to race. What are your thoughts on Oscar being available to McLaren if needed and the prospect of him getting your seat and in other words potentially making his F1 debut?
DR: Yes, so your beard’s getting more majestic each time I see you! You’ve really got a good thing going there Matt! So yeah, as much as obviously, myself, I would hate to miss an event, if a replacement was Oscar, I think that would be… you know, I would welcome very much welcome him as a replacement. Yeah, he’s obviously had a phenomenal last three seasons, winning every championship he competed in. Obviously this season he’s probably not competing or at least, not that I know of for now but if he gets an opportunity then at least it’s one that everyone would say is a deserved one.
DRIVER GROUP 3: George RUSSELL (Mercedes), Pierre GASLY (AlphaTauri), Lance STROLL (Aston Martin), Nicholas LATIFI (Williams), Fernando ALONSO (Alpine)
Q: Fernando, when you came back to Formula 1 last year, you said the goal was always 2022. Do you think you are going to have the car to win races this year?
Fernando Alonso: I don’t know. I think no one knows. At the moment I think testing has been up and down for everyone. I think we had good days, especially the last two here in Bahrain. We made a lot of progress on the car and we are happy with how we approach race one. Tomorrow in qualifying I guess we will discover what is the performance of everybody and then move on. The season is going to be long – 22 races – a lot of development on the cars, so it is not how you start tomorrow, it is how you make progress in the first two or three months of the season. Yeah, we are working flat out and the team is very optimistic about this.
Q: Are you enjoying the new cars to drive?
FA: I think they are definitely different. As we spoke about last week as well, the cars are heavier and every driver will tell you a faster car or a lighter car will feel a little bit better to drive. It’s the way it is and how racing should be. But on the other hand these cars are very safe and sustainability has been also a big topic in the last few years in Formula 1, so it’s the world is going and we are happy to embrace that as well.
Q: Nicholas, how would you sum up winter testing for Williams?
Nicholas Latifi: I think the testing had its ups and downs. I think Barcelona was definitely a bit smoother obviously. Having to miss day two of the Bahrain test was not ideal and it did set us back a little bit, but we weren’t the only team that had quite big issues. It was clear up and down the paddock, across both test, that lots of teams were having to set out an a.m. or p.m. session for various reasons. I think definitely here in Bahrain some of the, let’s say, limitations were highlighted a bit more. Like I was saying coming into the test that was always to be expected. The car always feels much better testing in very cool temperatures in Barcelona than when you come here. I think we are still going to have a lot of work to do, but as Fernando said, and as I have been saying, it’s not about how you start in race one, it’s going to be a long season of 23 (sic) races and that development and how we react as a team to what we see once we finally find out what the pecking order is, I think that’s going to be key - how we react. I am excited to start the season now.
Q: Where do you think you sit in the pecking order right now?
NL: To be honest, it’s very difficult to say, especially with the testing that we did miss. We were one of the teams that wasn’t able to do the softer compound runs and the cooler track conditions and what not. Too early to tell but I think we are probably not exactly where we want to be right now, but as I say, it’s going to be a long season.
Q: Lance, in the absence of Sebastian Vettel this weekend is there a greater weight of responsibility on your shoulders?
Lance Stroll: Yeah, it’s definitely not ideal for the team. But we carry on doing what we do, yeah, I mean, at this stage it’s all just about learning and improving the car as much as possible and I’ll be doing that as best I can with the team.
Q: How pleased are you with how winter testing went and the learning you talk about?
LS: Yeah, I think Bahrain was good. We got a lot of laps and we got some low fuel runs on the softer tyres, the softer compounds, we got some of those runs done. We got some high fuel, long-run simulations done and we definitely got a good understanding about the strengths and weaknesses of our car areas we have to work on and improve on. But it’s definitely a big learning curve with these new regulations. Going forward it’s all about understanding how to get more out of the car and developing the car as much as possible every race.
Q: Pierre, you had an incredible season last year, do you think you have the car to maintain that momentum this year?
Pierre Gasly: Well, I do hope we’ve got that car. It’s been a great year last year and it’s been great to see the team evolving over the last few years. I joined Toro Rosso in 2017 and I have seen every year how the team steeped up their game and everything became more professional and I’m really happy with the level they are performing at now. It’s a new year, a new regulation, a new car. It’s a lot of unknowns but we are ready. We are ready to give it everything and hopefully we can do as well or even better than last year.
Q: You say you are ready. Do you feel winter testing went very smoothly?
PG: It never goes as smooth as you’d like but for sure you always come into a new season hoping for the car to be very amazing and then you discover along the way you obviously have work to do but I think it’s the same thing for everyone. We know what we want to achieve. We know what we have got to work on. No idea at the moment where we stand in the rankings compared to other guys but it’s part of the game on Saturday. Everyone is going to go full beans and we will see where are and work from there.
Q: George, you are a Mercedes race driver this weekend. How different does this feel to anything that’s come before?
George Russell: I think when you get to qualifying and you sit in the car everything feels the same, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a silver car, a black car, a blue car, your objective as a driver is always the same and these external factors almost disappear. Obviously it’s a real privilege and a special feeling to be part of such an incredible team but we’re here to make the car go as fast as possible. I’m here to try to make myself go as fast as possible. I feel ready. I feel in a good spot. I’m feeling relaxed and I’m just looking forward to driving this afternoon.
Q: What are your goals for the weekend?
GR: My goal is to try to make the car go faster. We know we are not quite where we want to be. I think it’s clearly visible when you see it on the television that we are bouncing around a lot, especially compared to our main rivals, and that’s what we need to get on top of. The team have been working day and night since the tests to try to resolve some of these issues to bring some more performance. I believe there is potential in our car somewhere. Whether we are going to be able to reach that potential this weekend or whether it is going to be a few races down the line I’m not too sure but fortunately the races don’t come thick and fast at the start of the season, as the probably do from race six onwards.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Which lap time difference, how many tenths would be not too much for you to feel not too far from the top teams this year?
FA: I don’t know, I mean, nobody knows at the moment where are all the teams in terms of performance you are only happy when you are fighting for pole position and as we have said many times you know we are entered in this new era of Formula 1 where all the teams have more or less the same possibilities, the budget cap, so it’s up to us to build the fastest car and maybe we cannot achieve that in this very first year, there are a lot of things going on in the team just to make sure that we are a contender for the future and it’s what Alpine wants as well, so you know, we will work day and night until we reach that.
Q: (Clare Cottingham – Racefans.net) George, Lewis mentioned during testing that you were slotting into the team incredibly well and you have worked with Mercedes for a long time, but I was wondering what kind of challenges you are facing coming into the team as a full-time driver? And also, how comfortable do you feel being quite vocal? You were very vocal at Williams about what you wanted and what you didn’t want and I just wondered if you feel comfortable enough at Mercedes to do the same?
GR: I feel really comfortable within the team to be honest. I think it’s helped being part of the junior programme for so long, seeing how the team operates, knowing all of the team members, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve joined a new team, it feels like I’ve returned from a couple of years at Williams, as I spent two or three years previously, and I think what’s great so far working with Lewis is that we have really got the same feedback, we are commenting on the same limitations, we are pushing in the same direction and I think we both recognise that the competition isn’t with each other, our competition is with Red Bull, with Ferrari, with McLaren and we need to work together to get on top of the issued we face. We are definitely being vocal about it because we are seeing different issues compared to what you would normally expect, mainly with this bouncing issue we are facing. You obviously see it in the data but what we feel under our bottom is probably the best sense of what you’ve got on the car. We are really working as hard as we can to improve that.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Fernando, you talked a bit about in the first answers about what this new generation of car is like to drive. From watching trackside and from TV images it looks like in slow corners in particular, if you can get it right, if the balance is there, it doesn’t look too bad but it’s like if you just go fractionally over the limit there is a lock-up or really bad understeer. Is that what it feels like in the car and is that where you feel the biggest difference, in slow speed?
FA: Yeah, probably the slow speed are the corners that these cars they struggle a little bit more because of the weight and also how the aerodynamics work this year but I think here in Bahrain we saw also last year that the winter was difficult for everyone. It’s a track that exposes all the weaknesses in the slow-speed corners and the heat and things like that. In Barcelona it was not that bad, the last sector for example, a few weeks ago, so we have to wait and see, to judge exactly what are the limitations on these cars. But yeah, the weight of the car is the biggest thing we felt driving.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) All five, would you like the full report into the events of Abu Dhabi to be published after tomorrow’s World Motor Sports Council meeting or do you think it should be just forgotten?
GR: I think it’s very important to be published as soon as possible. Obviously the events that unfolded in Abu Dhabi were not to the standards that all of us expect, all of us Formula 1 fans, drivers, teams. Clarity is needed and it’s important that the issue that faces… it was in the past and we obviously do need to move on but it can’t just be swept under the carpet, so we need to see the outcome.
PG: Yeah, I echo George’s comment. We need transparency and we need clarity, to know what we expect for the future. What’s done is done. Whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing, it is important for us drivers to know, going forward, how these situations are going to be treated and yeah, to know what to expect, so the sooner we can get this information the better.
LS: Yeah, I think there needs to be absolute consistency, clarity on the rules. What happened was unacceptable and yeah, we need to have consistency everywhere we go.
NL: To be honest, nothing more to add from what the three previous guys have said. I echo their sentiment and agree.
FA: No, I don’t think we need to read anything. It’s done, it’s over already and there are many race direction decision we can understand and we cannot understand sometimes and always we move on and this time is no different.
Q: (Carlos Miguel – Marca) Fernando, do you believe that the result of the championship was different, Hamilton won, now we don’t speak about Abu Dhabi ever again?
FA: I don’t know. I honestly don’t care. And I think, as I said, you know, it was it what it was, right or wrong and in that moment the race direction felt right and over the season you know in 21 races there are always decision we could agree or maybe we don’t agree and we never had to study anything in detail, so we have different rules this year for safety car and for lapped cars and things like that. We move on and let’s see this year, track limits are different, so there is the normal evolution in the sport.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) A question to George about Drive to Survive. I don’t know if you have seen the episode covering your move to Mercedes but there is a scene where Toto tells you that you will going up against Lewis and joining the team. That was filmed at Zandvoort I believe and you were informed pre-Spa about the move. How did it feel staging those kind of scenes for Netflix. I know it’s a TV show but does it feel a bit weird when you are doing that and being told something you already knew?
GR: I think it’s… you know Netflix is so important for all of us in Formula 1. We have seen the change the sport has had for the better over these years, the increased fan interaction, new people coming into the sport. People have been very vocal about it being dramatized a little bit but at the end of the day you always want to show the best light of your sport and your story as in any documentary that there is. Netflix is unique and as long as it’s having a positive impact on Formula 1 I think there’s no real issue.
Q: How do you rate your acting?
GR: I don’t think I will be going to Hollywood anytime soon.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) You’re all sitting there wearing masks but the FIA protocols have changed there are no masks oin the paddock, there is no compulsory testing, we didn’t need a PCR to get into Bahrain, we won’t need one to get into Saudi Arabia. Do you think it’s gone a bit too far, it’s a bit too relaxed? Are you more nervous than in the last two years that you will get it and that you will miss a race, as you are the guys who are going to suffer the most.
FA: No, I’m not concerned. Yeah, there were a couple of positives in these last two weeks but I think the world is moving on as well and we respect the countries’ restrictions when we go racing there and every team has its own internal policy as well. We take care of ourselves and hopefully we don’t see many cases during the year.
NL: From my side I don’t think I’m any more or less worried than I have been in previous years. I guess like Fernando said, the world is moving on and just learning to live with COVID. It’s more just a kind of normal illness but I guess for us in particular the penalty is still the same as testing positive two years ago, which is missing a race or potentially two races depending on when you get it. In that sense, from my side at least, I’m still obviously being careful when I can. Obviously the difference this year compared to the previous years in terms of the general feeling around the world, yeah, for sure it feels more relaxed. Testing is less and less. It’s still something we have to be aware of. LS: We are seeing the world move forward. We’re adapting to the world we live in now and I still think it’s important to be responsible when you around elderly people, grandparents, all these things I think are separate, that’s everyone’s responsibility to be around elderly people but as Formula 1, as a sport, as a world we have to move on and live our lives. We’re starting to see that all over the world now.
PG: I agree with everything that has been said. I think we obviously have to be responsible but I’m really happy to see that things are moving forwards for the better and looking forward to see all your beautiful faces soon. GR: Not a lot more to add, I think. I trust in F1 and the FIA’s decision. I think we all know a huge amount more about the virus and washing hands, being outdoors is a bit easier than for everybody to not contract the virus and so I think you have just got to be responsible. But equally, time is moving and if governments feel that it is safe to do so then they’re the experts.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) George, you mentioned earlier that Mercedes is not where it wants to be right now. Do you therefore share Lewis’ comment from the Bahrain test that the team is not going to be winning races any time soon? How much information can you share with as to what fixes the team has in place for the bouncing problem?
GR: I think fighting for victories and winning on merit are two different things. We saw last year Lewis and Mercedes won the race but they qualified four tenths of a second behind Red Bull and Max. They were far behind the Red Bull but they did things right on the day and they came away with a victory, so on merit I totally stand by what Lewis said. I think we aren’t where we would want to be. We are continuously trying things but we don’t have a silver bullet at the moment that we thing is absolutely going to clear our problems but equally we don’t know but the thing we might try this afternoon might just be the thing that needs to be done to solve the issue or this might another three, four, five months of work to truly understand this and it’s always difficult during practice sessions, so you can’t try a million things at once, you have to do it analytically. Fingers crossed we get it right sooner rather than later but even so I think we will be in the mix and there’s no reason why, if we do everything right, get the strategy right, make a good start, that we couldn’t hold off a faster car.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) For Lance and Pierre. We know the two of you have had COVID in the past, Pierre we know yours was out of season. There have been a few comments as to whether or not it should be down to the driver to decide whether to compete or not if they have CIOVID because we are sort of in a different situation here. As two people who have had it and have experience of that it is like. Do you think you would have been able to race a Formula 1 car? Do you think that should be your decision or is the risk of spreading it to other people in the team or in the paddock too great?
LS: I’ve had it twice. She likes me. Yeah, you know what, I think we know so much about the virus now, I think there are ways of being very cautious and responsible, you know, whilst having COVID and still competing. I think there are ways of being, isolating yourself, putting your helmet on in your room and minimising completely contact with everyone. There are ways to do that. I do think I could compete with it. Yes, I was just a little cold when I had it and you know I think the main thing is really like I said earlier I think it’s watching out and being responsible around elderly people and I think that that is everyone’s responsibility when they go visit their grandparents or older people. Get tested, wear your mask, be very safe and be responsible. But I think there comes a point where we can’t stop the rest of our lives and we have to continue living and you know find a balance where we have some normality in our world.
PG: Yes, I think physically clearly there was no problem. I got tested after having done like an 18km run and I never felt as good as it did at the time and I was kind of in shock when I got the news and after that I was still feeling fine. Different to Lance, I haven’t had any symptoms at all and obviously physically it would not have been any problem. You have to be responsible. At the end of the day scientists and doctors if they believe that there would not be any problem then I think we should go ahead because what you don’t want, as a driver I don’t want my championship to be impacted by this virus. I think it has been hard enough over the past two years. When you see Seb’s situation, missing the first race of the season, it might affect his final position at the end of the year and you don’t want the championship to be decided on whether he missed a race or not if he was tested positive. Yeah, it’s a tricky one but as Lance said, now we have learned so much more about that virus, how to be more careful and cautious about it and I am sure there will be ways to still race as long as everybody is safe and everybody is comfortable with it.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Fernando, you briefly mentioned track limits there and it was something you were vocal on last year. With the white lines now defining the edge of the track what are your thoughts on that change and what do you think that will mean for the racing come Sunday?
FA: No impact, I think. It’s the white line for everybody. It’s like in football. There is an area that you cannot touch the ball with the hand, that is how you referee and it is the same for everyone. We just need a referee that applies the rule.
DRIVER GROUP 4: Yuki TSUNODA (AlphaTauri), Esteban OCON (Alpine), Nico HÜLKENBERG (Aston Martin), Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Alex ALBON (Williams)
Q: Nico, can we start with you please. Welcome back to Formula 1. Just tell us about the last 48 hours. How do you feel, what are your goals for the weekend?
Nico Hulkenberg: It’s just the last 24. Got a call out of bed pretty much out of bed yesterday morning, got the news, packed up, got going and, I think, y’know, it’s a bit of an interesting situation again, so yeah, I’m just going to take it lap-by-lap, session by session. Y’know I haven’t been in the car the last five or six days, so it’ll probably take a while to get some of the rust off me, and we’ll just take it easy and I’ll take my time to get used to it again.
Q: What are going to be the biggest challenges for you?
NH: I think really to get the feeling again, to get a good harmony with the car, to find the limit, physically for sure. The driving fitness is not there. Of the many challenges, it’s going to be the overload of information today, so yeah, for me, it’s just about getting in the car, getting up to speed with it, and get a good feel.
Q: You last raced in Formula 1 back at the Nürburgring in 2020, can you just tell us what you’ve been racing, what you’ve been driving since then?
NH: Just simulator stuff. The Aston sim, that’s the only thing I drove. Real racing, real live racing… zero.
Q: Lewis, it wasn’t the smoothest test period. How’s the mood in the camp coming into this first race.
Lewis Hamilton: As a team, it was relatively smooth. It wasn’t smooth for me, or plenty of us drivers, it wasn’t necessarily smooth out there but it’s… yeah, it was obviously a surprise for us as a sport to see the changes to the car and the effects of the changes. We’re discovering bit-by-bit the limitations of our car and know that we have a lot of work to do.
Q: How much progress do you think that you might have made since last weekend?
LH: I don’t expect that we’ve made a huge amount of progress. The car naturally was fresher. As you come into a test you have a new engine, you have new components but it is still the car from last week. We have have learnt a lot from the week of testing here and I hope that we have taken some sort of step forward in terms of… through that understanding in terms of where we position the car – but we’ll find out.
Q: Esteban, what can you tell us about the ultimate performance of the Alpine.
Esteban Ocon: It’s difficult to give an order exactly what we see, what we’ve seen in testing. What I know is that we had a very good Bahrain test, we had three days trouble-free, completing the programme. I know that we have a few little things here and there to test in the car today, so hopefully that’s going to boost our performance a little bit as well. But yeah, I think we’ll know more about positioning and who’s where today, when everybody’s going to be more on the same plan.
Q: Esteban, just on a personal note, you scored your first podium here in Bahrain, how excited are you to be racing at this race track?
EO: Yeah, I like this track a lot that’s for sure. It was on a different version of it back in 2020 but I have great memories from racing here, if it’s in F1, if it’s in junior categories back them, yeah, it’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot of overtaking, there is high degradation, so the overtaking should be nice. There are a lot unknowns of course, if with these cars the race is going to be closer so looking forward to seeing finally what these cars have got.
Q: Alex, new team for you this year, how are you settling in?
Alex Albon: Good. Obviously the team have made me feel very welcome and we’ve hit the ground running I feel like. Obviously I’ve had a year out, so a lot to think about, a lot on my mind and you know the team are clearly on the rise and they’re pushing on. They had a great year last year and whilst joining the team I have been able to at least put some of my input and just try to help the team move forward.
Q: Yuki, a strong debut for you in Formula 1 at this track last year. What can we expect from you and AlphaTauri this time?
Yuki Tsunoda: Of course aim for the points. We don’t know the exact position we are in now, so just focus on what we have to do. Of course it [would be] good to score points but we will see. We’ll just focus on what we have to do to develop the car and also even we end up in a bad way or a good way it will good to have a baseline for the future to develop the car as much as possible. I have good memories of last year, like you said, scoring points first time in a race, so I will push as much as possible and we will see what will happen.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) It’s a question to Lewis. Seb is missing this weekend with COVID, Daniel had COVID last week. There have been a few comments from a few drivers, suggesting that as we learn to live with the virus it should be down to the driver if they contract it whether they feel fit to race. As you have had it before, you had to miss a grand prix as well, I just wondered what do you think of it and when you had it were you physically in a condition where you thought you could race if you had the opportunity?
LH: There was no way I could have raced when I had it. I was very, very sick. And even when I came back, just on the tail end of it, I barely made it through the race. I just actually messaged Seb because it is sad not to see him here. I hope that he is OK. I know Daniel was heavily affected by it. It is strange that… Obviously the world is getting more and more used to having it and you less and less of it on the news. Actually I never see any of it on the news anymore, but it is still around us and I think we will still need to take precautions, continue to wear masks and continue to stay safe and keep others safe. If we all stop wearing our masks and everyone in the garage gets it, everyone is going to be sick and it will affect people differently. Some people don’t even know they have it and some people get really ill. So, it’s better just not to take the risk for now and also I think just as a sport and how we appear in terms of the message we are sending people out there I think it’s important that we continue to keep our masks.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Nico, A question for you. You said that you had not races in the past couple of years but you did make those three comebacks in 2020 with Racing Point,. How much did that experience of being thrown in at the deep end at short notice prepare you for this weekend.? Do you feel more confident coming into it as a result?
NH: I kind of know what to expect. I know how it is to walk into the garage and get in the car, I have that experience and for sure that will help me but obviously the time away has been quite some days and then the other thing is obviously these cars are completely new. The last time I came back, that was my benefit, I knew what that generation of cars was like and what I was going to get more or less but this is obviously a totally a white piece of paper that I’m just about to find out. I’ll hit the ground running so I just need to feel it, drive it and obviously learn as fast as possible but certainly not an easy situation.
Q: Nico, how much are you looking forward to driving the car?
NH: Yeah, very much of course, seeing what it’s like, feeling the Gs again. For sure, the body’s going to be sore too but just to back in a Formula 1 car and they’re the fastest cars in the world is exciting of course.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) Is it important that the FIA releases the full report into the investigation in the events in Abu Dhabi or has so much time gone that it’s no longer important?
LH: I think it’s important that, as a sport, that we’re transparent. I had a good meeting with Mohammed last night who agreed that that’s the direction that we should take as a sport and so (I’m) looking forward to seeing it come out and for people to know that this sport is transparent and we are learning from what’s happened in the past and will make improvements moving forward.
EO: Yeah, I think it’s quite important that we all understand how it’s going to go forward. Obviously I’m happy to see that it’s already very clear, on track limits, what’s going to be the limit which is going to be the white line. Of course we’re going to have an extra meeting tonight to discuss about all that but so far I think there are positive things coming along.
NH: I agree with Lewis and Esteban. I think it will be interesting to see what’s in it and what was going on and transparency is good, yeah.
AA: I don’t really have anything else to add, same as what these guys have said. Transparency is good.
YT: Yeah, same.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, given how last season ended, do you think that you’ve got greater fuel, greater motivation to perhaps the right the wrongs of how and what happened in Abu Dhabi and in a way, do you think you’re out to get revenge this year?
LH: Ah, no to both of those. That’s not my psyche, that’s not our approach this season. I’m just approaching the season, trying to be the best that I can be. I want to see if there’s a way I can come… somehow raise my game, drive at least how I was at the end of last season and just that collaboration with the team, it’s just going to be lots and lots of hurdles along the way, but I love that and yeah, I don’t have that viewpoint, just trying to be the best driver I can be this year. I think there’s still more that I can do both in and out of the car. I still have a lot of work to do on the diversity front here as a sport, so I will continue to fight for that too.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Lewis, obviously you were quite downbeat during the test in Bahrain. I was just wondering if your mindset has changed now that we’re coming into a race weekend and if it hasn’t, how much a challenge could that be coming into qualifying and the race, feeling quite uncomfortable with the car?
LH: Nothing’s changed at the moment. I think we’ve learned a lot, obviously, through the test as everyone will have and I really… I’m hoping that my guys have come with some sort of solution going into this weekend and when I get in the car today, it feels better but I know there’s not a huge change in such a short space of time so we will still most likely have some of the problems that we had last week. Mentally, I think it’s just about trying to make sure you’re extracting everything in every other area and all I can do is control how I’m performing in the car and so yeah, just trying to be positive, know that we’ll work together at a team. It is the best team and I’m very grateful for the group of people that I have behind me, confident that we can make our way through it somehow.
Q: (Martin Samuel – Daily Mail) Is it important, following on from what Phil said, that you shed that dissatisfaction with what happened at the end of the season, so that if anything goes against you this season in decisions or whatever, it doesn’t become bigger in your mind than the situation actually is?
LH: Is it important I do what?
Q: (Martin Samuel – Daily Mail) Sort of shed your dissatisfaction with how last season ended, so that race decisions that are made this year don’t become bigger in your head than they actually are?
LH: I don’t really… I don’t hold any grudge, I don’t have any baggage that I’m carrying into this season. I think it is important to let go of whatever. All I can do is control what’s… try to shape what’s up ahead of me. I know I can’t change the past, but will work as hard as I can with the FIA, with the teams in the sport to make sure that things are done better moving forwards and as I said, we welcome the changes that they have proposed. We hope that it works better for everyone. I think what’s important is clarity, that the rules are applied fairly for everyone and consistently, that’s all we ask for as drivers.
Q: (Giles Richards – The Guardian) Lewis, this is season 16 for you and you’re coming into with a car that obviously needs some work. I just wonder if you can look back over your career and see how your approach to starting the season has changed since back in 2007, how you’re different now to where you were then?
LH: Yeah, I think a lot different. I think every year you’re evolving not only as a human but also as a driver and I think your preparation, trying to find that balance outside of work, as inside of work is always adjusting. I think I would say (I’m) just much better at managing my time today and given that I have been here so long, there’s obviously the knowledge that you have that you carry with you. Also, I’ve been with this team for ten years so there’s a great rapport within the team. I know what we can and can’t do. If I’m honest, there’s nothing that I don’t believe we can overcome, so yeah, we’ve got some challenges, it’s not great, but we’ll work through it.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Lewis, you’ve mentioned how Formula 1 in the past has been duty-bound to keep raising awareness on human rights. Yesterday afternoon I spent with Ahmed Ramadan, the son of Mohamed Ramadan who is still on death row and with Najah Yusuf. Ahmed showed me a personal drawing that he’s done for you. He did another for you last year that he’s sending to you and I saw first-hand how moving it was for him, how much he admires you and how much hope he has for you, so I’m wondering if you have seen the drawing yet and also what message of hope can you give to people like Ahmed?
LH: I haven’t seen the drawing yet but each year I receive letters from those that are suffering and all I can do is try my hardest to empathise with those who face these challenges and have these tragic stories to tell. I think the weight of change really needs to be put on the governments and those that are in power and I think that’s why we’ve got to continue to utilise the platforms we have when we arrive in these countries as well, make sure we’re holding serious conversations about what is happening there. I think, as drivers, we have platforms to try to help raise awareness for those, but there are amazing organisations out there on the ground that are fighting for human rights and I support those. But there’s a lot of work to do. The world is a mess and yeah, we see more displacement of refugees than ever before, not only in Ukraine but in Syria, in Yemen, I think it needs to be a priority for all of us to come together and really try to push for change, long-lasting change.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, I just wondered if you’ve met the new FIA race director yet? If you haven’t, is it a surprise given the fact that you’ve all mentioned transparency, that he hasn’t come to see the drivers? Secondly, you said you spoke to the FIA president; I wondered if you’d mentioned the gala which you obviously didn’t attend. I wondered if that’s all done and dusted now and whether he told you anything about this VAR system that he promised would be introduced and we know nothing about?
LH: What was the first one? I think none of us have really had the time, I think, over this… it’s been flat-out. I don’t know if the other drivers have yet met him but hopefully in time we will. I met Mohammed a long long time ago through an event that we had ten years ago or something like that in Dubai, so it’s good to see him in the position he’s in, again it adds to that diversity challenge that we’re trying to overcome. What was the other part of the question? We’ve not spoken about the VAR stuff, we’ve not spoken about that. I don’t know any further about that part. And there will be some sort of fine re the gala but we’ve worked together to make sure the money will be put together towards youth from under-privileged backgrounds getting into motor sports engineering.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lewis, Apple announced earlier this month that you’re going to be doing a new documentary series with them, giving access about your life and your work. How excited are you about that new project? What kind of things can we expect on there from you and is that going to affect your involvement in the Netflix series?
LH: It won’t affect involvement in the Netflix series but it is a really exciting part of my life. I’ve started a production company working on creating documentaries and movies. I have a movie that I’m working on which is also super-exciting. The documentary, yeah, it’s a challenge; of course you want it to be great. There’s lots of great documentaries out there and lots of not-so-great documentaries out there but I think the ultimate goal of the documentary is really to explain the story and hopefully to inspire lots of kids out there, lots of even parents, it’s a journey of a family that had a dream to do better and I’m sure there are lots of parents in this room who want the best for their kids and would do absolutely anything they can to create better opportunities for them moving forward and this is what that story is really about.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Lewis, just to follow up on what you were saying earlier; you are an inspiration to a lot of people with the work you do. I don’t know if you’re aware that in a prison here inmates have started writing your number 44 on their uniforms and on their bedsheets because you have inspired them so much by expressing a voice in support of people in difficulty. How much of an inspiration is this kind of thing for you to hear?
LH: Honestly, when I did see the story on that and I was very moved to… I never in a million years thought that I would ever be able to have that sort of impact on people, particularly in those positions, with just some of them with some incredible stories, fighting against a difficult system. And honestly, I really tried to hold serious conversations in the background to try and improve that system for those that are currently in prison and those that who may face those circumstances in the future and it’s not an easy line to walk and it’s risky, it’s challenging, it’s difficult relationships but for me what’s important is seeing a better future for people and I think we come to these beautiful places and there’s challenges everywhere and no country is perfect but I think we can all do more and so I’m just trying to do as much as I can with the time that I have. I can’t do everything and I can’t do it alone, so I need allies but it’s really, really… honestly it’s amazing to hear of that story.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Lewis, Max has been perceived as being pretty much on the aggressive side towards the end of last season: Brazil, Jeddah, also Abu Dhabi. Have you considered that over the winter and have you made up your mind in terms of probably being a bit more aggressive when you’re racing around him?
LH: I will be a more aggressive driver this year. You’ll see.