FIA Thursday press conference – Belgium
DRIVERS – Alex ALBON (Red Bull Racing), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), George RUSSELL (Williams), Sergio PÉREZ (Racing Point), Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes)
Q: Alex, many congratulations, new colours for you this weekend. How much of as surprise was it for you to get the call up for this weekend?
Alex ALBON: Yeah, definitely. Starting the summer break, I came into it expecting a relaxing time and then the first day of the summer break I got told the news. I had a lot of time to think about it. Obviously in F1 with the summer break you can’t really speak to anyone, so there was a lot of time there where I was like: “OK, who do I speak to? What can I do?” The first time really speaking to everyone was really on Monday. I’m kind of catching up right now, trying to know all the team and that’s about it.
Q: So what are the objectives for this weekend at Spa?
AA: Just see how the weekend goes. We’re starting at the back anyway. Just take it step-by-step. Obviously it’s a new environment around, so just trying to understand really how the team works, how the car works and just to listen to Max as well, just to see how he interacts with the team and kind of learn from that. Yeah, we’ll take it step-by-step.
Q: And on a scale of 1-10 how excited are you?
AA: I’d say it’s a 10 for excitement, but then the numbers for nerves are quite high as well!
Q: Good luck, thank you Alex. Max, what was your reaction when you heard Alex was going to be your team mate?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Well I knew before. They told me when I was on the simulator before holidays so for me it was not a surprise. I mean, yeah, I’ve been there before myself.
Q: And are you looking forward to having him as a team mate? What do you think you can achieve together?
MV: I guess time will tell isn’t it. It’s a bit difficult for me to answer that. Alex is a great guy. I know him already for a long time. A bit like Pierre, we raced against each other, all together in 2010. Yeah, he’s a fast guy and as you can hear he’s very excited and that’s always good.
Q: Max, the car was very competitive before the summer break. What are your expectations here at Spa?
MV: I don’t know. I think in general it will be a bit tougher for us because of the long straights, but even in Silverstone, for example, we were still competitive, so we just needs to find a good balance in the car. Of course, around here Sectors 1 and 3 are pretty much flat out and in Sector 2 there are a lot of corners, so you have to find the right compromise there.
Q: OK, good luck with that. Thank you, Max. Checo, a lot of talk about contracts coming into this weekend. What news about your whereabouts for 2020?
Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah, I’ve seen the news. It was a busy day in that regard. I am confident and I hope that soon we can announce it and just can get on with it.
Q: Announce with Racing Point?
SP: Well, what my plans are. I think I am very close to finding out what I am going to do for next year, so it shouldn’t be long before I know.
Q: OK. Turning to this weekend, the car wasn’t so competitive last time out, can we expect more from you here because the team certainly has a good record at Spa-Francorchamps?
SP: Yeah. No, definitely. It’s a good place for us. We’ve been strong in the past so I see no reason why we cannot be strong this weekend. The margins in the midfield are very small, so a little improvement it can put us back in contention to be the fourth fastest here. We are aiming to finish the season on a high. It has been a struggle all the way up to now but margins are small, we are improving, so hopefully we can finish the season with the fourth fastest car.
Q: OK, good luck with that. Thanks Checo. George, I’ve asked almost everybody else about 2020, so I’m going to ask you. What are you plans?
George RUSSELL: Hopefully in Formula One, I guess. No, I’ll be racing with Williams next year. When I signed the deal it was a multi-year deal with Williams, so I guess it’s just waiting to formally announce everything.
Q: OK. It was a very solid performance from you in Hungary last time out. What can we expect from you here? Do you think you can maintain that momentum?
GR: I think in Hungary we optimized everything to the absolute maximum. I think a few drivers didn’t – there was obviously the incident with Daniel and Sergio in qualifying, which probably helped us a little bit. I think this circuit, and also Monza next week, will really not suit our car. Unfortunately we don’t have much downforce but we also have a hell of a lot of drag, so we’re going to struggle on these long straights. But the season has been full of surprises and we’ll see what we can do.
Q: OK, thanks for that. Valtteri, some very positive news for you this morning. You’re staying with Mercedes for another year. When were you told and please give us your reaction?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, thank you, for sure that’s always good news when you get things confirmed for next year and it’s definitely all that I wanted, because I believe the team will be strong for sure for the rest of the year but also next year. I see no reasons why it wouldn’t. So obviously that made me very happy to hear it and to get it all done finally. I think it was last weekend that we signed and the paperwork was done. So we had to wait a bit until then, but I still had a good break and lots of fun and everything, but I’m happy now.
Q: Looking ahead to this weekend. Ferrari won at Spa last year. Who are favourites coming into this weekend?
VB: I think Ferrari can be really good here, as we’ve seen with the straight-line performance. There are super long straights here. And Red Bull have been improving at all kind of tracks. It’s not going to be an easy weekend for us, for sure. We are not standing still. We have some new parts on the car. I think also power unit. So it should be quite interesting to see how the car feels again here and how is the engine.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Livio Oricchio – liviooricchio.com) Max, all drivers says the first competition is on your side, your team mate. Do you believe it will be more difficult for you, the next of the season, with Albon?
MV: It’s a bit difficult to say at the moment. I rate Alex very high, but I also rated Pierre very high, so we’ll find out.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Valtteri, how was your birthday party and was it like a double celebration because of your new contract as well?
VB: Thanks, yeah, I turned 30 yesterday actually. I didn’t have a party yesterday but the day before I had. It was a good one, with some good people around. Obviously, 30 it happens only once in a lifetime, so… There is always a good excuse to throw a party, but that’s a good excuse. It was good. I enjoyed it. Was there another part to the question?
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Was it a double celebration because of the contract?
VB: Well, yeah, for sure. I knew by then. Everything was done by then, so it was actually nice to celebrate with the closest people. Another good excuse.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Question for Valtteri. After the last two races, what happened in Hockenheim and then in Budapest, did that add to the stress of waiting for the decision – or were you still confident you would get another contract?
VB: To be honest, going to the summer break, and in this sport you know once you’ve not signed, anything can happen in this sport and obviously always what comes, the driver decisions by the teams, there’s many different things that the teams look at and what kind of things make the difference between the choices, and obviously it was very openly spoken, the whole situation between me and Esteban and yeah, so I had to wait until last weekend. For sure it was… thinking about it and other options just in case, because obviously you never, in this sport, want to be left between two chairs. So for sure I was trying to make a plan for something else but then things started to go the right way and I saw that it’s just better to commit to this as it is, and it makes me, like I said, very happy to know about the future and don’t need to worry about that now. I can just really focus on the job. Unlike the last couple of races I really want to have a strong result here and a really strong end of the year.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Alex, can you just explain a little about how you found out that you were going to be driving for Red Bull for this part of the season? And also, do you think that you’ve got the tools to be able to take the challenge to Max at Red Bull?
AA: Yeah, sure. So, it was just a normal thing, a daily catch-up with Dr Marko in his office in Austria. Pretty much that’s how the conversation went. I think it was the Monday at the beginning of the summer break. That conversation went through and it was one of those things: “oh, by the way, this is what’s going on.” And that was pretty much it. I think you guys knew only an hour after I did, so it was quite close, in that sense. But yeah, it was all OK. Regarding Max, yes, on my side it’s really just focusing on myself. I’m not looking too much at Max at the minute. I’m know I’m coming in quite inexperienced. I know that; I think the team know that as well. So, it will just be about step-by-step; start from the beginning, know my team, know how everyone works and understand the car and then we’ll see. Treat every weekend race-by-race really and if we start picking up results towards the end, that’s obviously great – but that’s not really the focus at the minute.
Q: Alex, team mates now but when did you first race Max?
AA: 2010, wasn’t it? We did the European and World Championships together. We had a few crashes together, do you remember?
MV: A few touches, yeah!
AA: We had a good rivalry going. Max was the young guy, I was the experienced one – which is a bit weird. I mean, I’m older than Max but he’s a bit more experienced than me in F1. So, yeah, we started like that. We had some good races.
Q: (Pierre Van Vliet – Fi) To Alex again – sorry Alex – just to understand, how difficult is it going to be to adapt to a new team in the middle of the season – and do you fear encountering the same difficulties as Pierre Gasly versus Max?
AA: I can’t really tell what it’s like from experience to start with a new team midway through. We did some sim this weekend, just to try to get the first initial feeling and, of course, the cars are different but in the end they still have four wheels and yeah, we’ll get used to it. In terms of the whole feeling of not being ready. Let’s say, the beginning of the year, in February when I didn’t drive the car, I felt more in this situation than I do now. That kind of anxiety and stress about ‘what’s it going to be like?’ I went through that already in January. Coming into the summer break I was a lot more relaxed about it – and again, yeah, we’ll see? I wasn’t looking too much at Pierre, I was just focused on myself. Of course, I think Max is on top of his game right now, so it would never be easy but with Pierre, I wasn’t really involved in all of that and I didn’t really look too much on where he was struggling – but it’s still trying to do my own thing and trying to get on top of the car.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Alex, a couple for you wrapped into one. First of all, I’m sure you’re caught in the whirlwind at the moment but ten months ago you thought your Formula One career was over, so can you take a step back and tell us how you feel about that huge turnaround in your career and, secondly, does the engine penalty take the pressure off a bit for this weekend?
AA: Yes, it is quite laughable really, when I look back at it. Even just now, having the announcement and everything. I called my Mum and Dad, it was the first thing I did and they were… it’s kind of a journey that we’ve all took from… even as early as 2012, I don’t think my career has been very fluid, let’s say. I’ve had a few ups and downs and just to be in this position is incredible. I think there are a lot of drivers who have done an amazing job in F1 who have never been given an opportunity to be in a race winning, championship winning team. So, it’s a big opportunity for me and I really know that. Engine penalty, you could say that, yes. I think we just go into the weekend more towards the race pace, more focused on race pace – which also means more laps as well. So, that will be the target – and yes, of course, I think that kind of feeling, straight away into qualifying, it will be a different atmosphere but I still would have liked to have given it a go and see how I would have done in qualifying and started further up than I will be.
Q: (Jonathan McEvoy – Daily Mail) To Max, how much do you think you can really have a go at Lewis now over these last nine races? How high have you set your ambitions and realities?
MV: I always try to do the best I can. I think it’s just going to be a bit track dependent for us. Where are we going to be a bit more competitive? I’m expecting this to be a bit more tricky, and especially Monza but from there onwards, and especially with upgrades coming to the car. Of course, everybody is doing that but I think, in recent years we’ve always been quite strong in developing the car throughout the year. Yeah, there are a few tracks where I think we can have a good go but for the Championship, I don’t think so. But, as I said, I always try to get the best out of it every single race weekend and we’ll find out where we end up at the end.
Q: (Phil Duncan – Press Association) Alex, you said you called your Mum and Dad when you found out that you’d got the drive with Red Bull; can you just say how they reacted?
AA: Sure. Mum was just being a Mum, kind of that ‘ah, I don’t know what to say’ kind of thing. OK, thanks. And then my Dad was just laughing actually. Yeah, just kind of surreal. I felt like they were a bit more excited than I was actually.
Q: (Vladimir Rogovets – Sb Belarus) I have a question for Max: we know you for five seasons already and every time we are writing ‘Max is a very good young driver’. What do you think? How long can you be a young driver?
MV: Until I’m old. Is it 30 that you get old? Thirty. OK. Well, I guess there’s eight and a half more years.
Q: (Joost Nederfelt – NU.NL) Max, can you imagine other drivers being a bit nervous being your team mate, as it can damage their careers?
MV: Well. I don’t know. I think everybody always tries to do the best they can, don’t they? I don’t know what to answer. It’s a bit shitty – to answer.
Q: Do you feel on top of your game like never before at the moment?
MV: I think it’s quite natural. You just get older and more experienced so for me it’s not a big surprise what is happening at the moment. Just a natural process that you go through, that you become better. I think it would be bad if you were already declining at 21.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Max, you drive into Spa from the Burnenville direction and all you can see on your left hand side is big Max Verstappen banners and motorhomes and all the rest of it, and driving over there’s caravanners and everything coming in from the Netherlands. You’ve got a following for a single driver that hasn’t been seen for a while. How do you feel about that? What kind of reaction do you have and what kind of interaction do you have with the fans? Do you know any of them, do you meet them? How does that all work?
MV: Well, I think over the year I get to meet quite a few but of course it’s amazing to see that, to have such a big following. Of course, I think also the colour helps quite a bit. It’s quite easy to spot a Dutch fan around the track. I would say it’s a positive motivation for the weekend because I don’t experience any more pressure through it because at the end of the day, you always try to do the best you can so it’s not changing for this weekend. The more the better, of course. They get quite crazy with flares and stuff so I remember once going up the Kemmel straight, it was almost turning orange but yeah, it’s great to see and of course I’m happy to have such a big following. I hope over the years that it will only become bigger.
Q: Do you find it motivational to have that many people supporting you?
MV: Absolutely. It brings a big smile to my face and of course if you then… like here, we created our own grandstand as well so when you see them all jumping up like during the drivers’ parade or there’s any music going on they’re going completely crazy already when there’s not even a race going on then it’s quite special.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD) Alex, to follow up on the question from my neighbour here, in a process, did you get a chance at Red Bull, is there any room for doubt in your first year or is doubt not even in the question and you just go on it?
AA: Yeah. The way I see it is that it’s an opportunity. Doubt in myself, not really, no. You have to go into it as confident as you can. I can have no… I’ve only done six months in a Formula One car so there is definitely room for improvement and I know that. When I look back at how I was in Melbourne and how I am now, I have definitely improved as a driver so I know that kind of progress is only going to continue and of course jumping into a car this early I do feel like in a way you would wish it would happen a bit later but no, I’m still very excited and I can’t wait to get started.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – liviooricchio.com) Valtteri, you started the season at a very high level, you won in Australia and Azerbaijan and then you were unlucky in some situations and also did some mistakes in Hockenheim. In this period of vacation, did you analyse your own performance in the first part of the season and if you can come back in the same level as you started the championship?
VB: Yeah, for sure you’re always analysing. You look back to things to learn from those and for sure with the team before we all went for holidays we had a good catch-up on everything and as always, trying to improve and learn from every single mistake and every single situation. I feel that I could have been better or we could have been better as a team, so there’s nothing new in that and definitely I feel overall the level at the beginning of the year was very good but I believe my performance since then has not been dropping, it’s just been a few odd races and some mistakes for sure, that has been my bad which were not there at the beginning of the year. But those happen and you learn from that and my goal, definitely, for the second half is to be as strong as I can, try to be on my best level and I know what I can do if I get there but how to get there, that’s the tricky part in this sport but obviously the goal is to – and I have the belief that I can be strong for the rest of the year.
Q: And Valtteri, has Lewis Hamilton said anything to you about your contract renewal?
VB: Yeah, he sent me a message actually when it was all confirmed, when he heard about it. I think so far we’ve made a good team and I believe we’re going to make a good team in the future as well.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Just to follow up on that, Valtteri, you said that you needed to keep your options open in case you didn’t get the seat. I think you said that in Hungary as well before the mid-season break. Were there any talks with specific teams, any verbal agreements that you could then go back to Mercedes with and say ‘well, if you don’t keep me, I can go here’? How far did some discussions go if there were any?
VB: Yeah, unfortunately I can’t really say much. That kind of question is very private, obviously, all the conversations. I would never say the name of the team or person I’ve been talking to because I want to keep the trust and people can trust me so can’t say much but basically, like I said, I was waiting first for Mercedes to decide and still knowing that other things could be possible if we wouldn’t continue but everything turned out good and I’m happy and the team is happy.