FIA Thursday press conference – United States
DRIVERS – George RUSSELL (Williams), Lance STROLL (Racing Point), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), Lando NORRIS (McLaren), Pierre GASLY (Toro Rosso).
Q: Gentlemen, you can see the 2021 car sitting in front of you. I’d like to start by asking you all about it, the car and the general direction of Formula 1 in a couple of years’ time? Max, if we can start with you, please?
Max VERSTAPPEN: It’s a bit small!
Lando NORRIS: I was going to say that! That’s my joke!
MV: Yeah, also for us it’s still early days. I haven’t really looked through all the things – I mean it’s just announced. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how it looks like or whatever, as long as it gives us better racing and we can follow better. Of course we want to be within two seconds, three seconds of what we are doing now, definitely, because if it’s going to be about four or five it’s not what we want, because then it feels a bit too slow. But I think this is just the start of it and I’m sure that teams will come up with a little bit of a different look as well, so let’s just find out over time how it’s going to work out.
Q: Ross Brawn has just said that lap times will be similar to 2016.
MV: Yeah, I guess… To be honest I didn’t really enjoy driving the cars as much back then as I do now, but of course you have to find a middle way in terms of what you want with following and stuff like that. Anyway, throughout the season the cars will improve.
Q: OK, let’s get some other thoughts: George?
George RUSSELL: Yeah, from my side it doesn’t really matter how it looks or the speed of it as long as we have great racing. I think that’s what we all want. Obviously the weight is heavier which I think is not ideal for any of us. I mean, even driving like a Formula 3 car it was really fun to drive but it was much lighter than what these Formula 1 cars are. But as long as it improves the racing and brings the field together that’s all I care about.
Lance STROLL: Yeah, not much more to add really. I think the main thing is to focus on the racing. We need to be able to follow closer to one another and to improve the wheel-to-wheel racing, the show for the fans, and I think for us drivers, too, it will be very exciting if we can see closer racing. Hopefully it levels the playing field as well. If we can see the gaps reduced to the top teams and there are more opportunities for the midfield teams to score podiums and to fight for positions further up the grid, that would be exciting.
Lando NORRIS: I think it’s pretty much been covered. As they all said as long as the racing’s better and we all have a chance to fight for wins in different races and as teams we can all fight for being a strong constructor, I think that’s the key thing. That’s about it.
Q: Do you like the look?
LN: I would change the paint scheme slightly! Apart from that, I think it’s alright. I mean, I’ve seen the renders our designers are designing and it looks pretty cool. I don’t really mind too much, that’s not what I’m fussed about. I’m just fussed about the racing and having fun and being able to follow cars closely and just enjoy racing more than what we do now.
Q: And Pierre?
Pierre GASLY: Well, I agree with all of them, so not much to add.
Q: OK, well Lando, a frustrating race for both McLaren drivers in Mexico. What did you learn from your various problems in Mexico and do the temperatures we’re experiencing here in Austin worry you?
LN: Yeah, not a great race for us as a team, especially after our qualifying position and a good chance to score some more points. I think there are obvious things… I think my race was put down fairly quickly with the pit stop. There’s something that’s easily known and understood in terms of what the problem was, but fixing it isn’t something that is going to happen overnight and it doesn’t happen often at the same time, so it’s not like we’re worried about pit stops or anything, it’s just we can be a bit unlucky and this time it was the first pit stop that I had where I was a but unlucky. I’m not so worried about that; the team have got solutions in the pipeline, which is a good thing for us. We just have to look on to this weekend. I wouldn’t say we are worried about the track temperatures or anything, it’s just how it is. It’s similar to Barcelona in pre-season. It might be a bit more difficult to get the tyres in the right window and so one, but I’m hoping it will play a little bit more to our strengths rather than our weaknesses.
Q: And an opportunity to reflect on your first season in F1. What’s the take-home message from this year for you?
MV: You sound like a sheep. I think there is a meme incoming now.
LN: I’m happy with bits of it. There are bits I’m not so happy with. I’ve not made any huge mistakes. I’ve not crashed a lot, I’ve not done anything stupid. But as a racing driver, and I’m sure all drivers on the whole grid would say the same, there’s always room for improvement and things they want to do better. So, I am happy, I think 90% of the things I’ve done, I think I’ve done them reasonably well. It’s just the smaller things – you mess up a qualifying lap or you don’t progress enough on how you work on the set-up with the engineers as much as you want. It’s just putting all the small things together. A bit of it comes with experience, but a bit of I don’t think I did a good enough job in. I’m happy, it’s been a good year, a very enjoyable year, but I want to make sure I come back next year and already in the next races in slightly stronger form.
Q: Thanks Lando and good luck this weekend. Pierre, how’s your health?
PG: Really good. I think that’s about 20 times people asked me since I arrived in the paddock today. It was a rough time last weekend, but everything’s perfect now.
Q: How tough was that race? You finished ninth but you really weren’t…
PG: Yeah, it was probably one of the most challenging race weekends I’ve had…
MV: The seat [inaudible]…
PG: No, the seat was clean – nothing wrong with that. It was pretty tough from Saturday morning onwards, just in terms of energy and trying to keep the focus. It wasn’t an easy one but I’m happy we went through it. We managed to get the best result we could out of the weekend. Pretty strong qualifying and race, even though it wasn’t easy, but yeah, it was definitely a challenging one.
Q: You say strong qualifying. Both Toro Rossos got into Q3. How much progress have you made with the car recently?
PG: To be fair, the car is more or less the same as it was in the last couple of races, since I rejoined. But I think it’s just trying to extract the maximum from what we have and trying to find the set-up directions that suit tracks and what I need from the car. I must say I’m really happy with the way we’re working with the team. They are providing me with everything I need so we can extract everything from the car. So far we are doing well. We can always do better and we’ll try to keep that form in the next three races.
Q: You say the team is giving you everything you needs. Confidence looks high. Are you driving better now than when you were with Red Bull Racing?
PG: Not really. I didn’t learn or forget how to drive in a couple of months. It’s just a matter of putting everything together. As I said, I’m just focusing on the job to do with Toro Rosso. I think we are doing pretty well. There are always things we need to focus on and improve and that’s what we need to focus one.
Q: Lance, if I could come to you now. Belated happy birthday. Turned 21 on Tuesday. What have you done since Mexico?
Lance STROLL: I mean, just been laying low and enjoyed my birthday. It was nice… I went for dinner and was able to have my first drink in America! That’s a real breakthrough. First time ever in the United States. So that was a lot of fun – but in moderation, looking forward to this weekend. I’m a professional athlete, so I’ve got to be in the best shape I can be for the weekend – and here I am.
Q: Now, it was a competitive showing by both Racing Points in Mexico. Was that track-specific or are you really starting to add performance to the car?
LS: A bit of both. I didn’t have the best weekend myself. It was really my team-mate who had a solid weekend. On Saturday and especially Sunday I had a scruffy qualifying session and then my race was going well until the second stint where I got a lot of lapping events, graining etcetera. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way but we definitely had potential again to score points and it’s looking that way over the last five or six races since we brought the upgrade in Spa. That’s really positive. Looking good for the next three races.
Q: George, coming on to you. The team has been introducing new parts in recent races. How much better is the car to drive now than it was at the start of the season?
George RUSSELL: I think the upgrades we’ve brought to the car recently, it’s more been looking into 2020. We knew that it’s not going to necessarily unlock a lot of performance on the car as it is now – but it’s definitely looking promising going into next year. Overall, the car is definitely nicer to drive. I mean, at the start of the year it was not nice at all, let’s say, and it was pretty tricky just to get around a lap. But we’ve done a good job to fine-tune the balance, just to make it a nicer car to drive – but now we need to rely on the engineers back at the factory to bolt some more downforce on it.
Q: And what about your own development as a driver this year? You said you wanted to learn out of the spotlight, which you’ve been able to do – but what do you take into year two next year?
GR: Similar to what Lando said. I think there’s things I’ve been happy with, things I haven’t been… just experience really. The little things that you only improve on, race by race: understanding the tyres; the starts. It’s pretty tricky starting at the back of the grid, with all the cars around, a massive lack of downforce. Even less downforce than what we’ve got, let’s say. Just little bits and bobs here and there. I think I’ll definitely be a better driver into next year.
Q: Max, just off the plane from L.A. at the fan festival yesterday. How was that?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, it was good. Good amount of fans and some good donuts as well. So, that’s always nice to do.
Q: This weekend, believe it or not, is your 100th grand prix.
LN: Same as Carlos!
MV: Yeah, we started together.
LN: That’s sweet!
Q: What does that stat means to you, Max?
MV: Good beginning! And, of course, it all happened very quick. To realise and see that you are about to do your 100th grand prix at 22 years old, I think I would never have expected that – but I guess it’s a good thing. Basically, those five years have gone very quickly.
Q: Just looking ahead to this weekend, you had a cracking race here last year. Onto the podium from 18th. What are your expectations this year?
MV: I think we can have a good race. Last year, coming from the back and then still finishing on the podium was a very good result. Of course, it gave me an opportunity to have a different strategy, which at the end of the day was not a bad one – but now we want to start a bit more upfront and see what we can do. But I think in Mexico the car was working really well, so we just try to continue that here.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Question to Max initially and then secondary question to Lando and George. Max, it looks like Lewis is going to wrap up his title very soon – potentially here, he only needs four points. In competing with him these past few years, what makes him the driver he has become, do you feel, effectively now on the brink of becoming a six time World Champion. And to Lando and George, what does Lewis mean to you guys as British drivers growing up, potentially wanting to emulate him as a future British world champion?
MV: From my side, unfortunately I haven’t really had the time to compete with him that much. I mean, just a few races. Most of the time we didn’t have equal material but he was always clearly the better of the two within the team. And then, when you have the best car out there, of course you can win the Championship. It’s amazing, of course, to go for your sixth World Championship.
Q: Lando, let’s start with you. What does Lewis mean to you?
LN: I guess he’s a guy who I’ve always looked up to since I was young. A driver who I’ve loved to watch. I’ve been very excited to watch a lot of his races since I started watching F1 when I was six or seven years old. So, I’ve kind of not been on the journey but I’ve been able to watch a lot of the races and it gives a bit of… I wouldn’t say belief or faith but it gives a bit of confidence knowing that, or hoping to go into the future and emulate him in a way – but like Max said, the equipment’s very different to when he joined Formula One, when he was with McLaren. So some things aren’t going to be exactly the same; it’s not possible to do the same as other drivers – but there are a lot of things that he’s extremely good at and I would like to improve on and be as good as him on, so yeah, a guy and a driver who’s inspired me and who I’ve looked up to since I was very young.
GR: Similar to Lando. Definitely somebody who I’ve looked up to for a while, since I’ve been wanting to become a Formula One driver but especially in the last couple of years. I’ve gained a huge amount of respect for him, seeing him within the team. I used to think he just relied on his natural talent to jump in the car and do the business but he puts a huge amount of effort in and the attention to detail he goes into is massive. I did learn a lot from him in the years I spent with Mercedes, so yeah, definitely respect and admire what he’s achieved.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) For Max. Just on Lewis. He had some comments to say about you after the last race. Said he affords you more space than other drivers in fear of being torpedoed…
MV: Torpedoed? I didn’t hear that one.
Q: …well, it was part of what he said. And I think Seb also said that he copy-and-pasted what Lewis had to say. I was wondering what your feeling is about those two comments?
MV: Well, looking at Turns One and Two in Mexico, I don’t think that happened. From my side, yeah, it was a bit of a silly comment to make. I think I’m always a hard racer but fair. I think it’s just not correct – but of course it’s easy to have a dig at someone. From my side, it’s fine. It’s always positive when the talk about you. That means you’re in their head, So, for my side, I just focus on my driving and I think that’s enough said.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Pierre, Lando and Lance: we’ve got the 2021 regulations which are aiming to bring the field closer together but for the three of you, competing in a very tight midfield this season, do you really enjoy those battles when the main target really for you is what we call best of the rest, behind the top three teams, and when you do come up on top of those, does it really feel like a win in a junior category or is it quite frustrating to be limited like that?
PG: Well, I do enjoy these tight battles because at the end of the day I love racing and that’s what you get when you’re right there, like six to eight cars within three or four tenths. It brings a lot of excitement to the track on my side actually. I do like it; for sure, knowing that the best you can achieve is seventh is always a bit disappointing sometimes when you need to be satisfied with this kind of result because of course as a racer you want to fight for the top position. When you finish seventh, that’s kind of the first place you can target; you don’t get any trophy, you don’t get any champagne, it doesn’t really taste the same. Hopefully this can be improved for 2021. I don’t have the answer at the moment. Of course I think we have all the common targets with F1 and that’s what all the driver wants so yeah, hopefully it’s going to be achieved by 2021.
LN: I agree with Pierre, to be honest. 2021 regulations are not going to mean we are going to be winning races or we’re going to be on the podium all the time. It’s a much better chance for us to achieve those things and as drivers to achieve those things and experience a podium at one time. It’s going to just even up the field I hope, make racing better, make it more enjoyable to watch, more enjoyable to race for us drivers because that is something we miss. A lot of the drivers who are in Formula One have done very well in the junior categories since karting, F4, F3, F2, whatever, so we’ve always loved it and it’s part of the feeling we enjoy so much as a team is getting on the podium and knowing we’ve been able to beat sometimes the rest of the field and we’ve done a better job because of it. So it’s something I do miss but it’s not just me, it’s the whole team as well. Yeah, something I look forward to and hope we can take advantage of.
LS: I’ve loved the midfield competition this year. I think it’s been tighter than it’s ever been. You look at the gaps on Saturdays and then on the Sunday how close the racing is, it’s great for the drivers, for the fans. Unfortunately we are so getting lapped by Mercedes and Ferraris, even Red Bulls, so hopefully that can change in ’21. I agree with what Pierre said: it’s great to fight for the best of the rest but when you’re seventh and there’s no reward for that. We’re always trying to score World Championship points but the podium is realistically out of reach and victories are out of the question in today’s sport. I really do hope that we can see some changes in ’21, closer racing as well. That is the priority, I think, with the regulation changes this year, capable of following cars nose to tail but then on top of that, if we can see the gaps reduced to the top teams the opportunity to fight for podiums and wins potentially – that would be awesome.
Q: (John Massengale – Speed City) Pierre, we got to go to Houston with you yesterday to go to NASA. How was it, talking to an astronaut while he was live in the space station?
PG: This was really amazing. I would have never imagined one day in my life talking to an astronaut who was actually in space, I don’t know how many kilometres away but that was just incredible to imagine that just from that fun talking and then getting an answer two seconds later from that same guy who was in space. It was an amazing experience. We got to visit the whole NASA control centre, speak with astronauts who have already been a couple of times in space. Saw some rocket ships – no, it was just an incredible experience.
Q: (John Massengale – Speed City) Max, going to the festival in Los Angeles and the talk of a race in Miami, do you think this is important, not only for the sport but for you as a driver to get this exposure here in the United States, and what do you think about the possibility of more races here?
MV: Well, in general I think it’s good for the sport, the owners as well, they want more races I think in the US. I think what we’re doing, at the moment, is of course trying to make the sport more popular and more well known in the US. I enjoy being here. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Austin or LA or Miami or wherever in America, I think it’s just a very cool place to be. I think a few – or one or two more races, they wouldn’t hurt, as long as they are exciting of course and a lot of fans are attending.
Q: Max, what was the atmosphere like in Los Angeles yesterday? Was there a great atmosphere? What was the reception like from the crowd?
MV: It felt good. They liked the noise as well from the cars, as soon as we were warming the engines already they loved it. Of course it was all very limited, we could basically only do a few doughnuts and stuff but I guess they liked that already but of course it would be even better to show how quick we can go through corners as well and hopefully with those kind of regulations coming in also the racing will be really cool to watch.
Q: (Yhacbec Lopez – Motorlat) Max, do you think Lewis and Seb are more aggressive with you than any other driver on the grid?
MV: I don’t know. I think you should ask them that question.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Max, it’s for you, unfortunately, again…
MV: It’s not a surprise so…
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Well, you’re quite topical at the moment. Do you think you’re being treated fairly by the FIA in the wake of what happened at the last race, for your honesty, your brutal honesty, about the yellow flags? And also do you think that you’re getting dug out by Lewis, by Sebastian? They don’t seem to dig anyone else out, it just seems to be you; you seem to be the centre of attention a lot of time.
MV: No, I think it was very fair from the FIA. We had a good talk in the stewards and I said ‘I didn’t see the yellow flag’ but of course there’s a rule that when there is a yellow flag displayed that you have to slow down so from my side, there are also no hard feelings about that. It’s just very unfortunate I didn’t see that yellow flag and in hindsight I also didn’t need to go for that lap time because I was already on pole position but what was going through my head throughout that lap was you don’t know what the other guys in front of you are doing, if they are improving, are they beating your pole lap time? I didn’t see the yellow flag, I improved my lap time, in hindsight I didn’t need to do it but also in hindsight I think next time I’m anyway going to lift even if they would improve my lap time, just because they got lucky, they were in front of the accident. It is what it is but of course…. At the moment we are still not in a position to fight for pole position all the time so of course I was enjoying the moment as well. But still, it was a great result for us, it showed that after the few difficult races we’ve had in terms of performance the car was working really well so that was a big boost even though we didn’t start from pole position.
And then your second question, I think from my side it only shows that I’m in their heads and I guess that’s a good thing but from my side I don’t need to dig in to other people in the press conferences because first of all I think it’s a bit disrespectful as well and I prefer to fight on track which I love to do and of course I like to fight hard but on the edge. Otherwise, if they want me to stay behind, it’s also better to stay at home. I really want to take the fight to them because that’s what we are here for. We are racers, we in Formula One, I think we are the best out there and we do fight for victories because that’s what I live for.