FIA Thursday press conference – Abu Dhabi
PART ONE: DRIVERS – Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas)
Q: Charles, if we could start with you, please. We’re going to take a look back at the last race in Brazil, to begin with. Having had time to review the video footage, what’s you analysis of what happened in the incident between you and Sebastian?
Charles LECLERC: Yeah, we looked at it and I particularly looked at it, obviously, to try to understand how we could have made the things better. I think it was very unfortunate, first of all, because the touch was extremely small and it had a big drama after that, and that was a bit unlucky. But as a team we should probably try to be a bit less aggressive in between each other, for these things to not happen again. For the team it’s not good. For everyone supporting us it’s not good, so we will try for it to not happen again.
Q: What has happened since the Brazilian Grand Prix? Have you guys all met up in Maranello and had a chat?
CL: Yeah, I was there for the simulator, so on this occasion we also took the day to discuss a little bit and yeah, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again.
Q: Seb is still on your Christmas card list?
Q: I was joking: Seb is still on your Christmas card list.
CL: Oh yeah!
Q: Charles, if we can look back at the season as a whole now. Your first with Ferrari. A lot of headlines that you can very satisfied with on a personal level – the wins, the seven poles, including being the youngest ever Ferrari pole sitter. But in terms of the team’s performance it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. How would you sum it up?
CL: It’s been a bit of a weird season. We started definitely not where we thought we would start after winter testing. Winter testing was very positive and we arrive at the first race and we have been struggling quite a lot. After that I think the progression was very good. Austin was a little bit weird too; we still don’t really understand why we were so off the pace. Brazil we were back to where we wanted. But overall we progressed quite a lot, which I think is the most important [thing]. Now I’m really looking forward to keeping this momentum for next year. It’s the first time in my single-seater where I stay in the same team from one year to another, which also should be an interesting challenge to develop a car. Let’s see, but overall I think it has been a positive season, apart from the first race, which has been very negative.
Q: Thank you Charles and good luck this weekend. Max, a question about this year for you too. It’s the team’s first season with Honda. Has it exceeded your expectations?
Max VERSTAPPEN: I don’t know. It’s been very promising and I think also we had some good results. For me, what was more important was reliability. That has been very strong throughout the whole year and also the progression we made with the engine itself. Yeah, that has all been going really well. But we always want more, so we will never be satisfied with what we are doing. It’s been good and I think it is a good, let’s say, basis for next year as well. We learned a lot throughout the whole year and I feel confident that we can have a positive to next season.
Q: Dominant win for you last time out in Brazil. Which team comes into the Abu Dhabi with the fastest car?
MV: I don’t know; we’ll find out. Still, looking at the season, you’d have to say Mercedes. We’ll see how the weekend will progress. It’s still also a lot about just finding the right set-up. I think the last few races the three teams, the three top teams have been really close to each other and I hope it’s going to be the same here.
Q: Thank you Max. Kevin, for your 2019 started strongly, but it tailed off quite dramatically. Why did it go wrong?
Kevin MAGNUSSEN: I think there are a few different reasons, but it became very clear in Bahrain that we had a problem, which was really strange because in winter testing and in the first race the car was really good. Even in Bahrain in qualifying we qualified… I can’t remember, sixth of something, up there. Then in the race it just completely fell apart. So from there on it was a little bit of panic in the team. We couldn’t really focus on… kind of find the real root of the problem. We were looking a lot at tyres and blaming the problem on tyres issues whereas in fact it was a little more simple, I think, just aero issues, unstable aero and the whole platform just not being strong enough and consistent, stable enough. It’s a very, I would say, frustrating problem, because we have able to qualify well but in the race we just have not had any strength. That’s very frustrating as a driver, where you start in a position and then you’re just fighting to try to hang on to your position rather than attacking the guy in front. In that way it’s been pretty frustrating, but on the other hand, we are a very young team, it’s only our fourth year. Last year we got P5 in the Constructors’ Championship. I think that’s pretty impressive. I don’t think many teams have done that in their third year. So we’ve got to take some confidence from that as well and just build on the experience that we have had this year and the learning that we have done and then just come back stronger next year.
Q: You say it’s been frustrating for the drivers, but how have you progressed as a driver this year?
KM: Well, you always learn in any situation but especially when it’s difficult you learn different things and you just have to approach your problems in a different way and I think that gives you strength and some experience that you wouldn’t necessarily have gotten if you were just cruising and driving in a perfect car. So in many ways it’s also been positive, both for me, as a driver, and for the team as well.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Question for Charles. You say you are pretty sure that an incident like that won’t happen again, but how can you be so sure. Was blame apportioned by the team in the meetings you had? What guidelines and rules have been laid down about racing together in the future and are you even allowed to race together in the future?
CL: No, I think this doesn’t change. We will be able to race together. Obviously, Seb and myself are very competitive, we both want to win, but we also need to find the right compromise. We are also racing for the same team. As I said earlier, we need to be lees aggressive towards each other and give us a little bit more space for these things to not happen again. Of what I know, that’s the only thing that will happen for the next races, but maybe Mattia can go a bit further into that. Apart from that, I don’t think there is much we can do. Obviously, as I said, the consequences were huge in the last race but if you look back at the contact it was very, very small. It was unfortunate but we will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Q: (Jon McEvoy – Daily Mail) Charles, just to go back to what Andrew asked before. Did either driver do as was suggested and say “I was to blame for that”, you or Seb? And b, are there now sort of new arrangement that if you do have an accident for example that you might be fined or banned or sacked or is it just sort of idle hope?
CL: On the second question there’s been nothing said on that. We called with Seb and we tried to understand both of our situations. I think probably Seb shouldn’t have gone to the left and he knows it and I probably could have done a better job of avoiding him going to the left. So yeah, both of us have a bit of responsibility, but the most important thing is that everything is clear with Seb and we move forward.
Q: (Walter Koster – Saarbrücker Zeitung) Charles, before I start my question, I have to remind you of high praises – no doubt you have had more good races than bad ones, but if we stick to the less good races with bad luck and mishaps, such as Baku, where the Ferrari hit the barriers, in Bahrain where you lost the lead due to an engine problem, in Austria where you were caught by Max and Monaco, your first home race, was very disappointing with last place and probably the low point, in Hockenheim, it was a mistake of the driver and last in Brazil, the finish after a hard battle with your team-mate. Now, my question to the pop star of Formula 1: what was your best race among your worst races? Can you give us, please, a ranking regarding your five not so good races, starting with the worst? I’m a polite person or man, please excuse this question, but I still hope for an answer.
CL: That was a long question. Congratulations. Kevin, you can start.
KM: I’m in a trance.
MV: Well [Charles] you are the pop star, so first of all, can you sing?
CL: Yeah, I can sing. I won’t sing now, but I can sing. I don’t know…
MV: I lost you after a few sentences.
KM: You have to rank your five worst races.
CL: Worst races? Five worst? OK, that was a simple question. So…
Q: (Walter Koster – Saarbrücker Zeitung) What was the best race among the worst?
CL: So the top five best and the top five worst?
KM: Take your time.
MV: We’ve got a lot time.
Q: Your five worst races, please?
MV: Are we going to make it more complicated? Like, this year or in his career?
CL: My worst race this year was probably Brazil, second one Monaco, third one… Third one? That’s two. That’s good. No?
KM: He’s had a good question.
CL: That was a question only for me? OK, thank you!
Q: Unless, Max, you’d like to offer your worst of the season, or Kevin?
MV: Er, no – save the time.
Q: (Joost Nederpelt - NU.NL) Question to all drivers. If you were the director of the Drive to Survive documentary on Netflix, what moment of the season would you definitely put in?
KM: I don’t know. I don’t know what… I have a thing in mind but we’ll see if it’s made it into it. It’s a surprise. Watching the next Netflix season two and you’ll find out.
Q: Nothing else you can offer us now?
KM: No, it hasn’t been that exciting from our side, so…
Q: What bit of Hockenheim exactly?
MV: I think they were following Mercedes closely in Hockenheim? I would like to see that episode. It’s a bit of fun, right? I mean, they can laugh about it as well: they still won the Championship, so a bit of drama involved in the series is good. If I would be the director – because you have to create the hits.
CL: yeah… I would not choose the last race but probably the Monza victory is the one I would like to see on the documentary.
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agencia EFE) Question both for Charles and Max. I can imagine you being young and very talented drivers, you’re focussing on winning your first world title but do you every focus yourself like looking at Lewis, maybe winning six?
MV: I was thinking about ten. No. You don’t need to think like that. It just happens or doesn’t. It’s 50:50. You just try to do the best you can, personally. You also need a bit of luck. You need to get into the right car at the right time and you need a dominant team as well for a few more years in a row. At least… it depends on how long your career is lasting. No, personally I don’t think about it too much because, as I’ve just said, it happens or it doesn’t. At the end of the day, I think already winning one title would be a great achievement.
CL: Yeah, I personally don’t think about it too much. I believe that with work, anything is achievable, so I mostly think about how I can do my job in the proper way. Then, of course, the choice you make in a career are very important. It not only depends on yourself but it also depends on luck but I’m mostly focussing on work more than thinking about the title.
Q: Kevin, I feel we should ask you as well.
KM: I need to try to win a race first and then I can start thinking about championships after that. So, y’know… the ambition has always been there. That’s always been the dream since I was a little kid: to be Formula 1 World Champion and y’know, that ambition and that dream is still there but obviously I’m in a slightly different position to those two guys.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD Sportswereld) Two questions for Max. What’s the importance of the third place in the Drivers’ Championships, and again, you’re on the long list for Dutch sportsman of the year election, together with six cyclists, three speed-skaters, a darts player, a world champion in chequers, a windsurfer, judoka, and the Champions’ League winner Virgil van Dijk, so I presume you’re going to win this one – what do you think?
MV: First one, I think it’s always nicer than finishing fourth or fifth – but yeah, looking back in 20 years’ time and seeing that you were third in the Championship wouldn’t really make me very happy. I think we’re all here to win and, of course, fight for the title. So yeah, I think it would be nice after this weekend to be third but in 20 years’ time, I don’t think it will do much. And the second one, honestly, yeah, I have my own opinion about being nominated but I prefer not to comment on it.
Q: Charles, can we get your thoughts on third place in the Championship?
CL: It’s always nice to finish a season on the podium. I’ll give it all. Now, 11 points are quite a bit to recover in one race, but we’ll give it all and it will be a nice thing to finish my first season with Ferrari on the podium – but yeah, we’ll see what will happen.
Q: (Lennart Bloemhof – Volksrant) Question for Max, you’re nearing the end of your fourth season at Red Bull. Regarding your dominant win in Brazil, and you’re fighting for pole positions now, do you believe you’re closer to having a Championship-winning car more than ever at the team right now?
MV: Yeah. I think we do. Also, looking at the plans for next year – but of course you still have to wait and see what the others come up with. But we are of course… we want to fight for the title, so we’re going to give it everything we have to be competitive from the start next year.
Q: (Milan Klemenc – Avtomanija) I have one question for all three: what are expectations for next year. We know new tyres 2020. I know you were interested after the last race. What’s your opinion?
KM: I don’t even think the tyres have been chosen yet, have they? And then the aero is the same. So, on personal side, I’m hoping we will get a better car – but in terms of regulations and the racing itself, I don’t see it changing too much. It’s more 2021 I’m looking forward to: to see how that performs.
Max, do you see it changing much next year?
MV: Well, I hope we can fight for the title. That’s it.
CL: Yeah, not much. I think we’ve been working pretty well, as I was mentioning earlier, with the car, so hopefully we can continue with the progression and start from a better place, the season, to be fighting for the title.
Part Two: Pierre GASLY (Toro Rosso), Carlos SAINZ (McLaren) Daniil KVYAT (Toro Rosso), Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN (Alfa Romeo)
Q: Pierre, how’s it been since Interlagos? Have you been home? What’s the reaction been like in France?
Pierre GASLY: Yeah, it was a pretty crazy weekend in and, yeah, after the race it was probably the worst celebration I’ve had, because I had to fly straight back home, so 11pm I was in the plane, and landed Monday afternoon back in France. The only thing I really had was a nice dinner with my family, brothers, back in France, in Paris on Monday night, just to celebrate and enjoy the moment altogether. And yeah, it was great to see the reaction back in France. All the news and the support. The messages from everybody after a great race and yeah, my first podium in Formula 1.
And the reaction within the team and within Formula 1 as well.
PG: No, I must say it was quite impressive. The reactions from everyone. Of course it’s been such a rollercoaster for me this season. And just, yeah, to end the season with my first podium in F1, in Toro Rosso, which was their third podium in history, of course, was something really special. So, to celebrate with everyone; mechanics; engineers, it’s also their second podium this year and year, just to see the passion, the excitement that was going on in the paddock in Brazil was something really special.
And of course, 2019’s not over. You’re battling with Carlos Sainz, the man on your right for sixth place…
PG: It’s not the first time we’re battling, is it!
Carlos SAINZ: No!
Q: True, and both tied on 95 points now and, as you say your careers have crossed in the past. How much rests of what happens in that battle this weekend?
PG: I think it makes it really exciting, you know, coming in the last race of the season with something to play in the championship, so really looking forward to that battle. Carlos and McLaren have been fast all year long. Consistent. So, we expect it to be tough but it will be our job to execute the perfect weekend to hold to that sixth place until the end.
Q: Carlos, coming onto you. Let’s start by talking about that sixth place. How confident are you?
CS: I think as confident as we can be but at the same time you’re obviously cautious. You can never know what’s going to happen in the last race but, you know, I already consider it a bit of a success to be fighting for P6. It’s a bit of a bonus because you never expect, when you’re in the midfield, to fight for P6. Maybe you would expect to fight for P7. And now that we have the chance, we’ve created ourselves an opportunity, and we want to take it, obviously. I’m sure it’s not going to be easy. Pierre and Toro Rosso during the last few weekends have been very strong. They’ve executed some really nice races and I’m sure we’re going to have some fun and some tough competition.
Q: And, the podium in Brazil. How do you reflect on it? What was the reaction back home in Spain?
CS: It was good. To see a team celebrate a podium in that way, and to have them in the podium with me was quite special, quite different to what I expected of my first podium but definitely good fun. Then when we went back to the factory. To see a whole factory taking pictures with the trophy, enjoying it with me for a couple of days, was great fun – then I went back home to my family and friends to celebrate a bit – but at the same time, as we have this battle going on for P6, you know I was like, yeah good fun – but at the same time I want to go to go to Abu Dhabi and try to finish off on a high.
Q: Carlos, some people questioned your move to McLaren this year, yet it’s turning into your best season in Formula One. How much satisfaction has it given you?
CS: Obviously quite a lot. I had good feelings when I moved to McLaren, even if things didn’t look very promising at the end of 2018. I did have some conversations with a lot of engineers, a lot of people, Zak. I don’t know, the project itself just gave me good vibes. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the good results but those good vibes. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the good results but those good vibes translated very quickly into results and into a change of approach by McLaren, a very big change in the structure of the team, and all of a sudden we’re here with one race to go, having secured P4 in the standings, the first podium in five years and, all of a sudden, it looks like the right move. I’m very happy, and very pleased to see such a great group of people performing at such a very high level and being so hungry and motivated to move forwards still.
Q: Daniil, coming to you now: you’ve scored a podium, Pierre’s scored a podium, Honda are making good progress. Can you just describe the atmosphere in the team at the minute and how bullish Toro Rosso is about the future?
Daniil KVYAT: Yeah, certainly it was a very strong year for Toro Rosso, perhaps the best in the history you may say, so yeah, it’s obviously great to be able to fight for a very high position in the Constructors’ championship, the highest it has been in recent years. Yeah, so great to be a part of it and the atmosphere in the team this year… I think the team has always performed very well; since the beginning of the year it was quite consistently in the points and always taking the opportunities quite well; with strategy, taking the points which weren’t even there, to still get them was very crucial sometimes and now at the end of the year we find ourselves in a good strong position, so certainly it was also a very good boost for next year.
Q: And what about your own performance this year? You sat out 2018, how do you feel you’ve progressed as a driver in 2019?
DK: I feel very satisfied, to be honest. I would put it in line with one of my best years in F1 so I’m pretty happy. Some races go your way, some races don’t go your way but this is how our midfield works, it’s very tight and some small mistake can cost you some opportunities like myself in Brazil for example. I definitely lost a very big opportunity there which luckily Pierre, for the team, managed to take. Yeah, but these are the parts of our sport that we all know. I think this year I have been a lot more better driver than my last years in F1.
Q: Kimi, coming on to you: it’s been an up and down kind of season for Alfa Romeo. When you reflect on it, what has the team done well and where does it need to improve?
Kimi RAIKKONEN: I think it’s two different halves of the year where the first part of the year was pretty decent and most of the races and also we had some bad races around Barcelona, Monaco but it improved from there and then since the summer break, first we had good speed still but didn’t score any points as a team and then it’s been very difficult apart from the last couple of races where we at least had some speed to fight in the top ten. Only in the last one could we score good points with two cars but it’s a bit too late, looking more as a team halfway through but that’s how it goes. I think we learned some things; last race we brought a new front wing which helped a bit, so we’re still trying to improve so it’s all learning for next year and we try to do a better job as a team.
Q: Kimi, how much have you enjoyed this season, away from the pressure cooker environment of Ferrari?
KR: I don’t think the pressure was any different. Obviously we want to do well and like I said, it’s a shame we’ve kind of fallen down as a team but as a driver, I think everyone puts a lot of pressure on themselves and in the end the work that we do over the race weekend is not really any different whichever team you’re in, it’s just that the meetings are very similar between teams, the driving is there and the racing. Outside of racing it has been less busy so that’s nice part of it plus obviously the team is very close to where I live so I don’t need to travel to different countries, in many ways it helps, I have a bit more time to stay with the family. It’s a nice thing.
Q: And this is race number 312 for you, taking you ahead of Fernando Alonso to second on the all-time list of starts. Are you excited to come back next year and become the all-time most experienced…
KR: On that, not. It gives me nothing but I’m excited now to have another go and we can improve from this year and learn the lessons from what we’ve done wrong and what we’ve done good and get a bit closer to the front but time will tell, it’s way too early. Once we start running the cars in the first race next year we will get a good idea.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Beatrice Zamuner – Motorlat) Pierre, after your latest achievement in Brazil, do you personally feel you needed to go back to Toro Rosso and let some pressure off your shoulders in order to perform at a higher level?
PG: I don’t think so. l think in a way it was a positive chance to show myself as well the right things and the things I needed. Of course I’ve seen in both teams and I know what worked, what didn’t and then on both sides. It obviously was a good experience to see that but I don’t think it was needed to perform at a better level because I don’t feel that I’m performing better, I’m still driving the same way, approaching every weekend the same way. I always try to deliver the best performance I can and give 110 percent of myself every single weekend. It’s not like I feel I’ve changed anything but it was good to get the results in this second part of the season.
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agence EFE) Carlos, your Dad is a very great champion. Could you share with us what he told you after your podium?
CS: Oof. He was probably happier than me. My Dad has been there with me since I’m three years old, travelling the world, travelling, sacrificing a lot of stuff for me and to become a successful driver, teaching me a lot of things. And once the podium happened, he knew all the effort that I had put into this year in the change of environment, going to live in UK etc, so he’s been very close to that change and yeah, as I said, I think he was happier than I was. Probably the only guy but yeah, happier.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro - Diario AS) Carlos, last season you were dropped by Red Bull and Renault but this season you have scored more points than both Renault drivers and you’re fighting in the championship against two Red Bull drivers. Which message do you think you’re sending this season and also is there any kind of feelings of revenge?
CS: No. Obviously I didn’t go into this season with willing revenge or anything like that. I have a lot of friends in Renault and in Red Bull who I still feel are happy for me to do well now at McLaren. I got a lot of messages from people, congratulating me and at the same time you go into a Formula One season just wanting to perform at your best, the same way I went into 2017, ’18 and this year I’ve just got the results on board and I’m just very proud of it.
Q: (Heikki Kulta -Turun Sanomat) Kimi, your first season without a podium since 2014. Which one was more difficult to go through, this season or the first season with Ferrari?
KR: I think the expectation at the start of the year is completely different in those two different teams. For sure this year has generally been much better than if you have such a difficult year in Ferrari as a team or as a driver.
Q: (Daria Panova – Motorlat) Next season [sic, 2021] we will have three-day race weekends; what do you think about it? Isn’t it too much to have so many activities in one day for you?
KR: It should happen next year, already. I mean today is an absolutely useless day. Honestly, we’re going to talk the same things, half of the things we talk at least on Sunday after the last race and tomorrow again. I think it will be a good step because people don’t need to be away that many days and there’s no cost and hotels and (indistinct) that much and all things will be better for the team… so stop wasting time.
CS: I have a bit of mixed feelings. Personally I like when Formula One goes to a place it makes a big impact so it becomes a week of having Formula One there. I think it still involves too much travelling and too much effort from the mechanics but I think this is a way of preparing for a bigger calendar which is something I’m totally against. I mean 22/21 races already feels too much. I think that last extra day that we take off doesn’t fully compensate those 22/25 races that we want to have in the future.
PG: I think everyone in this room is happy about it: more days at home, more days with the family. I think it’s needed, clearly I agree with what Kimi says, that not so much for us, because I would say we almost have the easy life, easiest life in the paddock but for all the guys – mechanics, engineers – well, you can see, talking with them, that to have a personal life in that world, working in that environment is really difficult. No, I think it’s a good thing but then after, I join the point of Carlos, that if we increase the number of races as well, it’s never going to balance it, so I think it’s a good step for ’21 but hopefully they don’t increase the number of races too much. That’s about it.
DK: Not much left to say but yeah, I agree with that, that more races will… it will become more races but we obviously need to shorten the weekend, which is good. Maybe more real car driving, also some more testing and less simulator for example, from my side, I think because we also need… we don’t need to forget that with the racing we also do a lot of simulator, a lot of PR events, so it becomes a very difficult calendar. Some guys have families within the team including myself and yeah, so I agree with what’s been said.