FIA Thursday press conference - United States
DRIVER GROUP 1: Valtteri BOTTAS (Alfa Romeo), Lando NORRIS (McLaren), Carlos SAINZ (Ferrari), Lance STROLL (Aston Martin), Sergio PÉREZ (Red Bull)
Q: Valtteri, already a winner since you arrived in the US. Just tell us a little bit about what you got up to in Kansas last weekend?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, different win. This gravel bike race. I actually did the same race last year in Lawrence, Kansas, which was, which is cool. I enjoyed it. It's good fun. And yeah, my first win on a bike.
Q: First win on a bike, and you're coming to a track where you've won before from pole position back in 2019, you also scored your first ever FIA Formula One World Championship points here. Just share with us why you go so well here?
VB: It's always hard to know, like, why you succeed on certain tracks, but I don't know, it really is on top of my list of the best tracks in the world. The flow the track has, the elevation change, the high-speed corners, it's really something that I enjoy. But also on top of that, Austin is such a cool place, you always have a good feeling and vibe here. And great, great support as well. So it's a great weekend overall.
Q: Let's talk performance now. And first of all, about the upgrades that the team brought to Suzuka two weeks ago. I think there are a few more bits here as well. What can we expect from you guys?
VB: We had a new front wing in Suzuka, but obviously in the weather conditions it was pretty tricky to prove how it was, but we think it is a step forward. And also in this race, we have a new floor diffuser, which hopefully will give us a bit of a step. So let's wait and see on Friday, but hopefully that puts us closer to the top 10 and actually we can get back to scoring again.
Q: Well, how important is it for you guys to start scoring again? There is this slightly horrible stat where if you look at the first nine races of the season, you scored, I think 51 points, and you've scored only one point in the second nine races. How do you explain that?
VB: There's obviously many DNFs, but for sure some other teams have been able to improve more than us. But I think now with the upgrade that we had in Suzuka and what we have here, hopefully that will give us an opportunity to score again. That's something that we really need.
Q: Alright, well, best of luck to you. Thank you Valtteri. Lando, we'll come to you now. Not tempted to arrive on horseback today?
Lando NORRIS: Oh, no, definitely not. I was late on purpose just to miss the ride in, but Daniel had his moment of glory. So it was good to see.
Q: Tell us about just your thoughts on being at COTA again. You've had good results here, seventh in 2019, eighth last year. What can we expect from you and McLaren this season?
LN: More of the same, I'm hoping for. I love Austin. It’s probably one of my favourite places on the calendar. Enjoyable. I came out already on Monday, just to enjoy some time here and to get used to the time zone as well. But yeah, good fun. Just a cool atmosphere, you know, with the people, with the places to go and visit. I know a good amount of people around here. So yeah, a lot of a lot of activities, a lot of good things and then the track itself is for me one of the coolest, most fun in a way, and has provided some good racing and some fun races in the past. So, we'll see. You know, maybe Suzuka was not one of our best races but Singapore was there and we've been on the pace in the other ones, so hopefully we can keep it up this weekend.
Q: And this battle for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship. It swings one way then the other. Suzuka was a good race for Alpine. How do you read that one?
LN: It was a good race for them. Yeah, simple as that. They're performing well. They're doing a very good job and it’s as simple as that, honestly. They're very quick. They have been since race one this year. We're putting up a good fight. I think. We're doing everything we can. I feel like we are doing a very good job. I'm happy with the job we're doing as a team in terms of strategy and maximising the car's potential and just doing what I think is best on every weekend. So yeah, I'm happy. I think we will continue to do that, we'll continue to fight. It's not going to be easy by any means, they are doing a very good job, both drivers are driving well. So we'll see this weekend.
Q: Who has the faster car?
LN: I think it's pretty clear… but not us.
Q: Final one from me. You have IndyCar star Álex Palou alongside you in FP1. What sort of showing are you expecting from him?
LN: I mean, it's always tough coming into an FP1, especially in a car he's never driven before. you know. He's done some of the test days in the previous car, but this one is quite a different one, on such a cool track as well. So it's not going to be easy. It's not like you have a lot of time, especially with the tyres and things, like you don't get that many laps of feeling good grip and things. But he's an extremely good driver. I've known Alex, I guess almost since karting I've known him. More personally probably in the last few years. But he's an incredibly good driver, very talented and he's in the car for a reason. He can give good insight, add some valuable details for us and yeah, help us out as much as possible. So he'll do a good job.
Q: Alright. Thank you, Lando, best of luck to you. Carlos, can we start by just looking bigger picture, because this is the first time you've been in the FIA press conference since Max Verstappen clinched his second world title. Can we get your thoughts on the job he's done, and how you think he's improved and evolved as a driver since you were teammates at Toro Rosso?
Carlos SAINZ: I don't think I need to put any more prize to Max for what he's done this year, because I think it's pretty obvious that he's done a very good job and everyone can see how good he has performed and how well he's executed this season, especially after not an easy start of the season with a couple of DNFs, how they managed to recover and put together a lot of wins a lot of good moments through the year, keep it consistent, and be strong in the areas where we haven't been able to be to be that strong. And yeah, congratulations to him, congratulations to Red Bull because they fully deserve it.
Q: Do you think he's evolved as a driver since you were teammates?
CS: For sure. I think eight years in Formula 1 is a lot of years in Formula 1. And since day one of Formula 1 to year eight you evolve massively. For sure he's evolved in every single area. There is not one area where you haven't evolved and the way that he's managed to keep doing step by step, improving everything, you know, because there's nothing that we cannot improve in eight years. And it’s fair play to him and now he's maximising also having a competitive car, which is something that you need in Formula 1 in order to win. If not, you're never going to win.
Q: Well, let's bring it onto this weekend and you and Ferrari. You've scored points every time you've raced at COTA, but never been on the podium. How confident are you that you'll have the car underneath you to get on those steps this weekend?
CS: I think we have a competitive car everywhere we go to. This is a fact, I think. We are fighting for nearly every pole position. Wins are more tricky, because for some reason, Red Bull, in the race, they manage to do a step that we don't have, or that recently we don't have as much. But we're working on that. We're taking these last four races to experiment a bit, to see how we can be a bit more competitive in the race, how we can improve our tyre management. We have the next year tyres here for Friday, you know, and it's going to be a key part of understanding where we are lacking also on tyre management for next year, to try and improve.
Q: Just five points between you and George Russell in the Drivers’ Championship. How much significance do you place on that battle? Does it matter to you where you finish in the championship if you're not first?
CS: Fifth, fourth, it doesn't change my life as a racing driver. I only care about obviously winning and having a good season. I know this year hasn't been easy. The setback of Japan also was not ideal. made me lose even more points in this fight. And yeah, I mean, if I can finish fourth I take fourth, but I would prefer to win a race before the end of the year, even if it doesn't mean I finish fourth. And I think, for us, it's important to try and win, to get the podiums, to get the consistency. Obviously this would bring P4 to the table but I'm focusing more on that then then on the championship, let's say.
Q: OK, golfing challenge for the drivers in the paddock this weekend. Are you enjoying the favourite tag?
CS: I don't have a lot of confidence. Oh, what happened? We went silent. You were expecting me now to say something important, but I'm going to say that I'm P1 but I don't think it will last very long. I'm putting pressure on Lance and Lando here to beat me. And if they beat me, I will go back and try and beat them again. I'm that competitive.
Q: Good luck with that. Good luck on the track as well. Lance, do you fancy your chances? Are you good at golf?
Lance STROLL: Some days, some days not so good, like all of us.
Q: First up, I did want to ask you about your start at Suzuka two weeks ago. Those opening 200 metres or so were spectacular.
LS: Yeah, it was fun. We had a tough day on Saturday, so I had some work to do on Sunday and it was definitely one of my better ones.
Q: Well, what about this weekend? I mean, Aston have now scored points in six of the last seven races. How competitive do you think the car will be here?
LS: I think we're definitely making progress. We made a lot of progress throughout the year. You know, pretty much up until Spa we were not in a position to score points, unless stuff happened in front of us. And now we've been in a position where we have the pace to really challenge for points mostly every weekend, when the track suits our car. So I think we've definitely put ourselves in a much better position. And, you know, the last couple of races in Asia we scored a lot of points and we jumped a few positions in the Constructors’ and that's a really, really good thing. And, you know, it's also great to see signs of what's to come in the future. We've done a great job this year of progressing the car and that's a great thing.
Q: Talking of points, you're now just seven points behind Alfa Romeo, who are P6 in the Constructors’ Championship, do you think they are gettable?
LS: Yeah. I mean, I think it's all about how we do in the next races, how they do as well, and how the car goes from here until Abu Dhabi.
Q: Alright. Best of luck to you as well. Checo, thank you for waiting. So third here last year, with no water bottle. How do you fancy your chances this year?
Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah, I hope I have some water, especially as it can be really hot on Sunday. So it would be nice to have some water there. And, yeah, it would be nice to get a strong result this weekend.
Q: How important is momentum for you? Because you've now finished first and second in the last two races? Does that give you greater confidence coming into this weekend?
SP: It certainly helps. When you have a good run of races. The confidence and momentum is with you. But that doesn't mean anything. You have to go there and prove again and again and hopefully this weekend can be a good one. We can have a strong pace and yeah, it would be nice to get a strong result before the home race.
Q: And you can win the Constructors’ Championship as a team this weekend. Should that happen, how proud would you feel?
SP: It would be very nice. It's a massive effort that everyone has done, not only your track. Back in Milton Keynes everyone has been pushing so hard. Yeah, I mean, it's been a tremendous year for Red Bull and I really hope we are able to finish it on a high, because it's been tremendous, the year we've been able to have. I think throughout the season, you know, making the right calls, pushing at the right times has paid off. And I really hope that we are able to clinch that title soon.
Q: Which has been your best race this year?
SP: I don't know which is the best but the most special certainly has been winning Monaco. That was very special.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lance, you just said what a good job the team has done in progressing the car through development this year. Could you explain how that's felt behind the wheel? How is it feeling now compared to the start of the year?
LS: Yeah, I think we've just improved the balance a lot. We've put some more load on the car, which always helps. So I think just a combination of those two things has helped us be more competitive.
Q: (Mandy Curi – Motorsport.com) Carlos, last year you managed to outscore Charles in the Drivers’ Championship. This year you’ve fallen behind. What has been the biggest struggle for you this season?
CS: Probably the start of the season. Those first six or seven races when the car was the most competitive, he was doing the pole positions and winning the races you know. Lately obviously I got a lot of more up to speed and I'm driving a lot better the car, but also it's true that the car is not maybe at the level that it was at the beginning of the year, or let's say Red Bull has stepped it up and it's not as easy to score a pole position or a win as it might have been at the beginning of the year, no. But he's done a better job to me this year clearly, both in driving and race execution and yeah, he felt straight away more at home with the car than me. And I've been in this fight through the whole year to try and get myself to a level similar to last year. Am I there? I don't think so. I think I still have a few things with this car that still don't come naturally and I would need to change a lot of things. But yeah, I'm now at a decent level where I'm confident that I can score some good results and be consistent with it. But yeah, I look forward also to next year’s car and see if I can get straight away more on the pace.
Q: Carlos, just to follow up, what's not coming naturally with this car?
CS: I don't know there's just cars where you drive them and you know without even looking at the lap time, you know you've done a good lap and you know there's not going to be your teammate or someone else going quicker than you. And then there are other cars that you think you've done a good lap time but you know it's not going to be enough because you've done some mistakes here or there. And then there are cars that you need to think while driving and there’s cars that you drive naturally. And this year while driving I need to think a lot. I need a lot of headspace to know that this kind of corner, I need to do it that way, this kind of corner, I need to do it the other way. And I'm sure there's hundreds, thousands of seconds that go away while you're thinking about the corner that is coming. It's OK, I can do it. I mean, I've been pretty quick lately, especially over one lap, but it's still not ideal for a racing driver.
Q: (Jim Vertuno – Associated Press) Carlos. Now that we know a little bit more information, even not all of it, what do you make of the Red Bull cost cap situation and what consequences, if any, should there be for the team and drivers?
CS: It’s not only Red Bull, right? I'm joking. There's Lance here, who is not listening! But I think every team and every driver, we just want clarity, first of all, and second, fairness. And we all know how much 1, 2, 3, 4 – I don't know what's the number – million can make to car development and car speed in Formula 1. That's why years ago everyone was spending 350 million, or the top three teams were spending 350 million, and now we're spending 150 to keep these things under control. And yeah, I just hope that if there's a penalty the penalty is relatively important to take the appetite away from overspending 2 or 3 million to waste on next year's car because you think next year's car is worth it more than the other year, and then you take a penalty for ignoring it. I don't know, I just think it needs to be fair play for everyone. And if there's a cost cap, it's there to be followed and I just hope that the FIA takes the right decisions to make sure that everyone follows it.
Q: (Jeff Gluck – The Athletic) Checo, having seen Max up close now for a couple years and how he works, what is the single most important thing about him that you think helps him stand out as a driver?
SP: Well, I think he clearly has stepped up in the last few years. He really delivers from FP1 all the way to the last lap of Sunday at a very high level. He hardly makes mistakes. And I think it's something that is very hard to get, you know, to be able to drive at your 100% without making mistakes is the thing that makes him so special at the moment.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Valtteri, you were part of the Mercedes team obviously that went through Abu Dhabi in the title fight against Red Bull last year. I saw you nodding along when Carlos making those comments there. Could I get your thoughts on the budget cap situation? You know how much that title hurt last season. These millions they can make a big difference. What do you want from the FIA?
VB: I’m in quite a same line than Carlos. I feel like rules are the rules and if you don't follow them, there should be a penalty that really hurts because like Carlos said, you don't want anyone to have the appetite to maximise something for one year and risking with a budget cap but then… I personally hope that it's going to be a strict and harsh penalty because that shouldn't happen: rules are the rules. There's many rules in F1 and there should be no difference in terms of the penalty. So let's hope so, that it's a good penalty that really, really hurts them because, like I said, I was sitting in the fight last year for the constructors. Yes, we got that but we missed the drivers title by a few points and a few millions, it can make a big, big difference.
Q: (RJ O'Connell – Racefans.net) Lando, obviously last year the track surface was a main talking point – and this is before we have a whole new generation of cars where porpoising and oscillation has become a problem – so for Lando, for you, what are the areas of concern that you're worried about when tackling this track, be it over a hot lap, or again over full Grand Prix distance?
LN: I think first of all we’ve just got to wait and see. There's been several places where it's been resurfaced, especially in the worst places, so like the first chicane, so the first sector has been resurfaced, apart from Turn 1, and a few other places around the back. I'll be able to give a better explanation tomorrow on what the difficulty is going to be, but especially on a track where it’s so high speed, like the first sector, I'm happy. I mean, I spoke to Fabio [Quartararo] who drove here in MotoGP, and he said that a lot of the places are significantly better. It's a lot worse on the bikes than it is for cars, so if he says it's better than I'm expecting it to be a good chunk better. But it's always a problem for us. Every weekend we're having to make compromises because of ride and bumps and things like that, so the less there is, the more hopefully you can kind of benefit… it will probably benefit everyone, the smoother it is and the less bumps it is, but for us it makes a big difference. So if the track is improved this year and less bumpy then hopefully it can help us set up the car in a better way.
Q: (Francisco Fuentes – Televisa Univision) Checo, being so close to the border, how much motivation brings to you on this race? And having the next one in Mexico City, does it give you any leverage on your feeling on that support from fans?
SP: Yeah, certainly, this is a very special weekend because you know, there's so many Mexicans, Latins at this race and then we have also the home race coming up so these two races, I'll say are the most special weekends of my season, so I really hope I am able to have great results here.
Q: (Jim Vertuno – Associated Press) Checo, I’ll ask you, as a Red Bull driver, is anything different in the paddock for you or Max or relationships within the paddock, since we have what little information we have about the cost cap and what do you think should happen at this point?
SP: Well, we believe that we are in line and we believe that everything will come up in the right situation. Obviously, I will leave it down to my team to solve that together with the FIA, but at the end of the day, there's always teams that want to take performance out of you, especially when you are winning, so it's part of the sport and this has been forever and I just think that it will be… it's just a normal situation and everything. At the end of the day facts will come out and people will see and understand the situation.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lance, you changed race engineer midway through last season, I believe. Relationships between the drivers and the race engineers is obviously very important throughout your race and things like that. How tricky was that having that change midseason, and does it take time to build up that trust again, or was it quite seamless?
LS: I think it's definitely important to be on the same page as your race engineer. At the end of the day, they're setting up the car to your liking and I think that that relationship and what you want from the car and the decisions that are made with setup etc is very important. But I've definitely had a really smooth transition. Ben, who I've been working with for the last year and a half, has been great and it's just the evolution of the team and moving people around. It's definitely been a smooth transition for me and I'm really happy with how things are going.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Carlos, you mentioned earlier trying the 2023 tyres tomorrow. Tyre management has been a little bit of a weakness for Ferrari historically – thinking about last year – and obviously recent races against Red Bull so how much of a boost can that give you? How much do you think you might be able to glean from running that rubber tomorrow?
CS: Well, first of all, we need to see what the tyre does to the balance of the car. This is a huge factor because I always say that the tyre is the only thing that touches the ground from a Formula 1 car and the thing that gives you the grip and then the feeling and the steering and everything. So it will be super interesting to see what Pirelli has come up with, especially because every team has played its part in developing Pirelli towards a certain direction to improve the tyre so let's see. I'm a bit concerned about this tyre blanket rule. Everyone says that these 50 degrees – whoever has tried it, which I haven't – it's quite dangerous, and it's not the right direction for the sport. But apart from that, let's see what it does for car balance, how it changes our car behaviour and see what the main limitation becomes and if it benefits our car or not.
Q: Carlos, just staying with you, please can we get a word on Robert Shwartzman who is going to be driving Charles’s car in FP1 tomorrow. What can we expect from him?
CS: Bobby. I think he's going to have a lot of fun. I think he's tried the 2021 car before, so for sure it's going to be a bit of a surprise to suddenly jump into the 2022 because they are quite a bit different. Also, I guess it's a new track so plenty of new things. I just hope that he does a good job for the team because obviously when you're a young driver, the main thing is to keep the car on track and give the information to the team that Charles is not able to give and enjoy it. It's such a cool day, you know, when you drive an FP1 in front of all the Formula 1 people, and sharing a track probably with his idols from the past and it's a day that I think he needs to take it as an enjoyment.
Q: (Bartosz Pokrzywinski– Parcfer.me) Valtteri, you had a score at this Grand Prix before. What is your favourite memory from Circuit of the Americas since you joined Formula 1 in 2014?
VB: I think two favourite memories: first points in F1 2013, which almost felt like a win because it was a long season with quite a struggle with the car in 2013. But yeah, finally scoring first time was something amazing and I had a sore head the day after, But then the win 2019 was from pole; to win here it's really a unique Grand Prix to win so those two definitely good memories, but hopefully more to come.
DRIVER GROUP 2: Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas), Alex ALBON (Williams), Esteban OCON (Alpine), Pierre GASLY (AlphaTauri)
Q: Lewis, you've made various pitstops en route to Austin, including a Broncos NFL game, just how much fun have you been having?
Lewis HAMILTON: I don’t know about the various stops… yeah, I’ve had Tokyo and LA and I got to see the Broncos, got see my team performing. That experience was incredible, to just be in that huge arena. Firstly, the stadium is amazing but just to see a different group of fans, but all with the similarities of the fans that we have here, just passionate about their team, right on the edge of their seats for every single play. And then for me, just like speaking to the coach, speaking to the players, and speaking to the rest of the owners, about the takeover, about the challenges that we have, the things that we need to improve on, like our offences… our defence is really strong but our offence is quite weak at the moment. You've got Russell that's new to the team and he needs more protection. He's still getting to know a lot of the players around him. And so yeah, I like getting super deep into all that kind of stuff and also into athlete performance because these guys are huge. Some of the guys are over 300 pounds, they’re massive: wouldn't want those guys to hit you. And then just looking into how I can play a role with that team in terms of supporting them and also the things that we're going to do with D&I within the community in Denver.
Q: You are going to enjoy your association with that team.
LH: And you know, and Rob and Greg and Carrie and Mellody, they're all so kind and have achieved so much in their careers so it's quite amazing to be able to speak to them and learn from them, those people as well.
Q: Let’s bring it on to this weekend. You are a six time winner of the United States Grand Prix, five times here at the Circuit of the Americas. There's clearly something about this race that brings out the best in you. Would you agree with that?
LH: Yeah, I think just being in the States, I'm very happy when I'm out here. I think already when I came to Indianapolis - was it 2007? - was a good time. But I think this track is very special. Considering it's a newer circuit it's one of the best circuits that we have, provides great racing. A single lap is exciting and then we get this crowd that just keeps growing year on year. And they just do it differently here, right? I would say that us Europeans are good… we're good at sports but there's things that we've learned, I would say, with the partnership with Liberty and I think the sport is growing as a whole in terms of how we put on the show.
Q: And what about performance? You've got some upgrades on the car this weekend, what can we expect from you and Mercedes?
LH: You can expect we're going to try everything, as we always do. I don't want to get my hopes up with the… a lot of work has naturally gone into the upgrade as it always does. And I'm really, really proud of everybody for the work that's gone in. But in the past we've had expectations: oh, this is going to bring a tenth or whatever it may be, and then we struggle to extract that so I'm just really of a really open mind. I'm hoping our car just in general works better at this circuit. And I'm generally just excited. I did drive here just after Montreal in the old car which is amazing. And they’ve flattened off some of the section like Turn 5, 4 or 5 I think it is and so I'm hoping that's going to be better for our car.
Q: Kevin, you haven't raced here since 2019. What bits of this race track are you most looking forward to driving?
Kevin MAGNUSSEN: I agree with Lewis that I think of new tracks this is one of the best. I tend to like the old tracks more than the new but it is actually a very cool track especially sector one is very fast and you know, with these esses, although there's a lot of runoff, which kind of makes it a little less exhilarating, it's just such an awesome place to drive a Formula 1 car. I think turn five is where we put the most lateral G of any corner of the year. It's very bumpy usually, Lewis says it's less now so with these cars I expect it to be quite bumpy. But yeah, great to be back and looking forward to it.
Q: What about car performance for you guys at Haas?
KM: Well, I think we generally are more happy with high downforce tracks and this is a high downforce track so hopefully we can be a bit more competitive. I think lately some of the other teams have kind of moved ahead of us in terms of outright performance but that doesn't mean we can’t fight them and have a chance against them.
Q: Well, it's a very tight battle with AlphaTauri for P8 in the Constructors' Championship for you guys. Do you see it going down to the wire?
KM: Yeah, I think so. It's very tight in terms of points to these guys. Even the next position up, P7, is, if you just look at the points, it's not so much but it's so hard for us to score points at the moment so it is going to be tough, but yeah, we're going to do our best, of course,
Q: A lot of speculation about your teammate for next season. Has the team consulted you about who you want alongside you? And can we also get your thoughts on Mick Schumacher, and the job he's done this year? And where have you seen him improve?
KM: Well, first of all I haven't had any influence on what's been going on with the drivers and that's totally out of my hands. If I just look at Mick, I think he has been really improving over the year. He started off maybe not really liking the car, lacking a bit of confidence but he's really gained that and lately he's been super hard to beat for me. And I think the way he's driving right now, he definitely deserves a place on the grid. But again, you know, totally out of my hands and I can only sort of just wish, wish him well.
Q: Alex, coming to you now. You've gone blonde again.
Alex ALBON: First time. Don’t they say blondes have more fun? I don't know. Is that the thing? That's what the blondes tell me anyway.
LH: Are you blonde everywhere?
AA: Blonde everywhere.
AA: Oh! I was like, yeah Lewis, can’t you see the sides are blonde, everything’s blonde.
Q: Now, Alex, let's talk about COTA. You finished fifth here in your one and only race. What can we expect from you and Williams this weekend?
AA: Yeah, I think going into this circuit it's maybe less complimentary of our car. But let's wait and see. Obviously, I think it's going to be quite windy as well, which, again, is maybe not too favourable. But I don't want to sound too negative. I think we can do a good job if the cars strong in FP1, I'm sure we can try and keep that and yeah, let's see.
Q: Well, tell us a little bit more about FP1 because Logan Sargeant is going to be driving the car alongside you. What can we expect from him? What can you tell us?
AA: Not too sure to be honest. I think he's obviously been hard at work at the factory getting ready for tomorrow and I think he's there quite a lot actually. He's really there more than I am so he's hard at work. I'm sure he will enjoy it. It's a cool track to come on and obviously it will be a home race for him so it's always nice to drive an F1 car and I'm sure it will be special for him.
Q: Esteban, before flying here you attended the Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris. Tell us about it: it struck me you were a very brave man doing all those donuts and things with the Ballon d'Or just sat above your head.
Esteban OCON: Yeah, I was little bit afraid they would fall on my head because it's very heavy, it's about seven kilos I think. The guys at the team they've done a good job to hold it in place. But what an emotion to just be driving a Formula 1 kind in the streets of Paris and to deliver it inside the theatre and then it got won by Karim Benzema, who's obviously a French player, made history again. So yeah, it's been awesome, it's been an awesome experience for me.
Q: Now, before we bring it onto this weekend, I did just want to ask you about your drive in Japan keeping Lewis at bay for so many laps. Would you say that was one of your best races in Formula 1?
EO: I think it's been a good race for sure. I mean, we had fun with Lewis the whole race. I had a lot of fun fighting with him. And yeah, great to obviously bring some great points for the team. Taking that fourth place back in the Championship is very important for us. And it really showed that we stepped-up, you know, as a team with the performance upgrades that we bring. We have one more, this weekend, upgrade. So yeah, I mean, it's really going in the right direction at the moment, and hopefully we can keep that momentum going.
Q: Well, the car was very quick at Suzuka. Do you think it'll suit the fast sweeps of COTA as well?
EO: No reason why it shouldn't. We just obviously need to be careful, because last year, it hasn't been a good weekend for us. So that's the little thing that we are keeping in our head. You know, we've done a lot of analysis from last year looking at everything. Obviously that didn't go as planned. But clearly, we have a much faster car now and hopefully it will be a strong weekend again.
Q: Pierre. You were at the Ballon d'Or ceremony as well. Your first engagement as an Alpine driver. Is that what we call it?
Pierre GASLY: Yeah, I guess we could call it like that. Yeah.
Q: Tell us about it. How much did you enjoy it?
PG: Well, I'm a big football fan. So it was obviously very special to attend the whole ceremony. Even more special night, as Esteban mentioned, Karim Benzema, French player won the Ballon d'Or after 24 years, I think, since Zidane won it. So it was, it was very special. Pretty much all my favourite football players were attending as well. So a very special night.
Q: And what about being back in the US? How excited are you? Because it seems you've spent an increasing amount of time in the US over the last few years.
PG: Yeah, I must say it's a place which I really like. I think it's mainly their mentality, their lifestyle, the entertainment, just the way that they are. They're extremely friendly people. They know how to make you feel at ease, and I must say, I love the accent. I can't… I don't have the talent, not like Daniel, especially the Texan accent, I need to learn that from him, but it's a very unique place. And I've really enjoyed it. So I must say it… did he come with a horse this morning? I thought that was photoshopped, initially when I saw that! I've never seen a horse inside F1 paddock – that’s the sort of thing that happens in America. And I must say, I really enjoyed it.
Q: Three points finishes in the last five races. How confident are you in the AlphaTauri package now?
PG: Well, we know it's a tight battle. We know it hasn't been easy for us this season to score points and it's very tight with Haas, Aston has been extremely fast recently and scoring a lot of points. So, I think our mentality is more to go race by race and just try to give everything we have, every single weekend. And then we'll see the points at the end of the year. But Austin is kind of high-speed track, high downforce, which doesn't suit our car so well. But everything can happen. So, we'll try our best and hopefully can score points.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, Mercedes is the only team to have beaten Red Bull in the last decade, like since the start of 2010, that’s 12 years now. Do you think that if you're back in the title fight in the future, Mercedes is the team most likely to beat Red Bull? I mean, I'm sure you want to talk up your own squad naturally but what is it that makes Mercedes so strong compared to say Ferrari, which has shown some weaknesses on many fronts this year? Thanks.
LH: Yeah, that's a good question. Well, unlike at the beginning of the year, where I said, we don't make any mistakes, we're human. And we clearly do. I think, Ferrari will also have people that have been there for over 20 years and we really do have naturally, I think, a lot of strength in depth. I think it's leadership. We've got a great leader. We've got amazing support from the Daimler board who all like racing. Passionate racers. And then I think it's the core group of people. There’s great communication throughout the organisation. Toto is very focused as a leader to really elevate people. I don't know any other leader that that I've worked with at least that that goes and says, ‘hey, how’re things at home?’ How can I help support you better, so you have more time with your wife or your husband or with your partner, with your kids, so that you come to work and be happier and want to commit more. That’s who Toto is. So I think it's that, and because of that, there's a real general hunger within the team. So yeah, a combination of those. And I'd, like to think that we're going to be the ones that are competing with them and being able to beat them again, I do believe that for sure. But I really hope that Ferrari are strong in the following years. They've definitely had a difficult year but there's been some strong signs, obviously, that you've seen this year, which has been nice to see. And it's been nice to see Ferrari doing well again. So I hope that it's more than a two-way battle next year. I hope there's at least three of us. If not, surprisingly, maybe more. Like, why can't McLaren be there? We'll see. Or even Alpine’s been doing amazing. So we'll see.
Q: (Jim Vertuno – AP) For Lewis, based on what little information we know at this point, what do you make of the situation and the Red Bull cost cap breach? And what consequences – if any – do you think should be assessed against team or drivers? LH: I can't really give you much of an answer. There's nothing I can say that would be beneficial, it'll be on the assumption of what may or may not happen. So, I'm not giving it any energy, I'm focused on really continuing to try and gee up the team, really trying to turn this car around. Working on things that I generally can control. Like I've said in the past it's… I think it’s the integrity of the sport is… right now where I think the decisions that hopefully will be made will… I do believe that Mohammed and his team will make the right decisions. I have to believe that. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, naturally. And otherwise, as I said, I'm just focused on doing the best job I can. What they’ve ever done is done.
Q: (Emily Selleck – New York Post) Lewis, we saw the news that W Series had to end its season a few races early. Do you think there should be more of an onus on Formula 1 or the FIA to help out its support series when it's in dire financial straits? Thanks.
LH: 100 per cent I do. Particularly that. The W Series. There has not been enough focus on women in sport, the whole of Formula 1’s life, and there’s not enough emphasis on it now. And they’re not magnifying enough the great work that is being done there. There is not enough representation across the board, within the industry. And there's not really a pathway for those young, amazing drivers to even get to Formula 1, and then you have some people who say we’re never going to see a female F1 driver ever. So that's not a good narrative to be putting out. So I think we need to be doing more, and with the organisation, with Formula 1 and Liberty doing so well it’s not a lot for them to be able to help out in that space. And I think we need to be doing more to encourage…I mean, in the work I'm trying to do with Mercedes for example, we're trying to get like 8000 young girls into the sport – but every team should be doing that.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, just going back to the cost cap breach. Some people, particularly I guess, your fans, say that last season's results should be even reversed, given that Red Bull were in breach of the cost cap. Is that something you agree with? Just your thoughts on that really.
LH: Well, firstly, I love my fans. I love how passionate they are. So, I've not been really… I've heard the things that have been said. I'm generally looking forwards. I'm looking at how I can win another Championship. I'm not… I have my own opinions of what we did as a team and how we did it last year. And I'm really proud of that. And, belief in what we earned. It doesn't really change a huge amount. I do think that sport needs to do something about this in the future otherwise, if it's quite relaxed… if they relax with these rules, then all the teams would just go over, spending millions more and then only having a slap on the wrist, is obviously not going be great for the sport. They might as well not have a cost cap in the future. So, yeah… that’s all I’ve got to say.
Q: (Katie Barnes – ESPN) This question is for Lewis. I noticed that Mission 44 is hosting a number of black engineering students here this weekend, wondering if you can say more about who those students are, and the change that you're hoping to create through the programme that you're using to host them?
LH: Yeah, so very proud. I got to speak to just over 100, I think… I ended up speaking to 90 of them because some of them go into the garage today. But I was able to… with the agreement of Stefano, I was able to bring some of these young students in. Youngsters that have never seen Formula 1 before, with the ultimate goal of really just continuing to highlight to them that there is space for them within engineering. Most of them probably not realise that through STEM subjects, there is a pathway into engineering and this is somewhere one day they can work. There are lots of other directions, you can go with STEM, with those as qualifications. So, my ultimate goal in the future… while at the moment, Mission 44 is based in the UK, I do want to expand it to over here in the States and hopefully into Africa at some stage. And it's again, just working on improving representation. It’s about really improving the pipeline, Mission 44, really the core pillars are really about progression, empowerment, and really just, as I said, just trying to change and transform the lives of the youth that facing discrimination and disadvantage.
Q: (Roksana Cwik – Swiatwyscigow.pl) Kevin, you will drive with your Dad in Gulf 12 Hours. Are you excited about it?
KM: Yeah, I'm very excited. I feel like it's a great opportunity that me and my Dad have, that we're both, you know, active racing drivers at the same time. It's quite unique. And of course, it's because my Dad had me so young that he's not even 50 yet. It’s going to be great and, as long as we can, we're gonna take every opportunity to race in the same car – and I don't really care which kind of car it is. As long as I'm getting the opportunity to race with him and make these kind of memories, then, I'll take it.
Q: Who's quicker?
KM: Well, I think in a GT car my Dad is… not many people are faster than him in one of those, so I’m gonna push like mad to try and be faster than him in this one.
Q: (Jonathan Steel – Formula 1 News Hour). My question is actually for everyone. Juan Fangio. I watched an interview with him back in 1962-63. And he's said that the team was 65% responsible for winning races, and the driver was responsible for the 35%. And he said that he expected that to change over the years. Where do you think that percentage would lay today? What percentage is the team responsible for winning races? And what percentage would you say you as drivers are responsible?
PG: I'll go 90-10.
Q: Just to be clear, 90 per cent team?
PG: Yeah, for now. Hopefully one day we can change things around – but for now I will say that.
EO: Yeah,I was gonna say the same as Pierre. Obviously, it hasn't moved enough in that direction. I think everything that has been in place now, in Formula 1, with… I was gonna say cost cap, but let's keep it to that, that should help obviously for the future, to make just everyone closer, but it's not close enough yet for us all and I think it would be more fun if we could all fight at the front.
AA: Yeah, I think the two have said it. It’s pretty much around that ballpark number. Nothing more to add.
KM: I think it's difficult to put numbers on it, because in some ways you could say it's 100 per cent team, you know, because F1 in F1 the team includes the driver. F1 is, in many ways, like the most team sport there is. There's so many people that need to perform to be successful in this sport. So I don't think it's easy to say any kind of percentage.
LH: It's impossible to say what the number is really. There is no I in team, and there is no one individual that's bigger than any other people within the organisation. Yes, the one that gets to sit in the car is a part of bringing the attraction, and obviously putting the finishing touches to the amazing creation of all the people that you get to work with, but I think it's silly putting numbers on it, because it's irrelevant. It doesn't make any difference, does it? At the end of the day, it is a team and every single person in the team has to be pulling, when we're rowing all together, in the right direction with the same amount of might.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lewis, picking up on your comment about the integrity of Formula 1. We're currently enjoying this massive boom – three races in the US from next year, I think 440,000 fans over three days this weekend. This integrity, how important is it that we don't undo so much of the good work that's gone on for F1 in the last five years with things such as cost cap breaches, the crane incident and Suzuka for example?
LH: Yeah, I mean, I don't think the sport’s trying to make mistakes, but we're going to continue over the years to be coming up against things and hurdles. But I do think when we talk about integrity, it’s how we navigate through those whilst keeping the core values, while being transparent. And being true to the values of what the sporting regulations have put there to be policed. And I think, you know, it can be a confusing time for fans. Without the fans, the sport is nothing. So, yeah, I think we've just got to hold on to those values.
Q: (Elizabeth Blackstock – Road and Track) I have a question for Lewis. You've been one of the more censured drivers regarding social media in the past years, but you've also become kind of a paragon of how social media should be used for Formula 1 drivers. How do you think that use of social media has helped to impact the growing popularity of Formula 1, especially here in America?
LH: Well, thank you. I think it's been an interesting journey in trying to understand… We all have a platform, right. We all have, I'm sure, social media and we're all learning how to utilise it. We all use it in different ways and for different reasons. I think what I would say that I've learned is how to be more vulnerable, how to share more with people. I'm noticing so many people having the same experiences that I'm having and messages I get and the messages I give… I think, for example, in Formula 1 there's only 20 of us, and we're kind of you know, people see us on TV and you almost seems so far out of reach, it's impossible to meet, you know, and we're only humans, you know. We go through the same human emotions and experiences other people do in public. And I think that's the one thing that social media has enabled me to share, because I don't think it's easy to do through a camera, as such, and through interviews, necessarily. So it's been my medium to be able to control that narrative and share the journey with them, because this has been an amazing 15 years. I have grown with so many people that are within the sport. It’s a huge big family. And then there's those that come to these races year-on-year and save up to come with their families and that, and regardless of the result they're right there with you on the edge of their seat. So it's quite a privileged position.