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FIA Thursday press conference - Abu Dhabi

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DRIVER GROUP 1 – Daniel RICCIARDO (AlphaTauri), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas), Oscar PIASTRI (McLaren), George RUSSELL (Mercedes), Logan SARGEANT (Williams)

Q: Daniel, why don't we start with you. So much pace from AlphaTauri in Austin, in Mexico, in Brazil. And then came Vegas. What happened last weekend? Or what goes in Vegas stays in Vegas?

Daniel RICCIARDO: I was going to answer it not seriously, but I'll answer it seriously. We just missed a little bit. We took the weekend very seriously. No, there were no extracurricular reasons why we didn't perform. Now, we did some analysis post-race, a little bit more today. I think we know, let's say, the fundamental reasons or things that we maybe got wrong. But yeah, it was tricky. Obviously, it's a new track for everyone, it’s a street circuit. It was really the asphalt and the temperatures. I think that was obviously something that was a bit of a challenge, to get on top of it and to get the tyres working and in the right window. And that's ultimately where we struggled. So then, during the race, the race starts, the restarts, I felt like we were just sliding a little more than the others. And that put us on the backfoot a lot.

Q: Do you fancy your chances this weekend in Abu Dhabi?

DR: Yeah, one does. I think it's more conventional. Again, hopefully that speed we showed in the triple-header can be put on display again, in a more standard circuit. Yeah, so I'm confident.

Q: Now, Daniel, it's the last race of the season. It's been a shortened campaign for you. But what are your take-homes from 2023?

DR: Some metal in my hand. I think it's really just been… I think when I look back on this year, it's a year I never would have expected in so many ways. I didn't expect to be racing at all this year, let alone kind of going through everything else. So it's something that I'm definitely happy [about]. You know, the place I am and what I feel, let's say inside my heart ultimately, I'm really in a happy place, and I'm happy being here racing again. I'd say like, just fully hungry and motivated. And yeah, it's probably the first off-season that I would not really want an off-season, you know. I want to keep racing and keep a bit of the flow going. But also the thought of having a little bit of a break and getting myself prepared for next year, that excites me as well.

Q: Final one from me, can we get a word from you on Franz Tost, the team principal. He's stepping down after this race. How much will the team and Formula 1 miss him?

DR: I'd say tremendously. I think for the team, he's been everything, you know, obviously starting off in the Toro Rosso days, you know, that's where I started, or my first full season in F1. You know, I remember quite vividly the first meeting I had in his office and, you know, I kind of bounced in with a smile. And I think he looked at me like… Tried to prepare me for what's ahead. You know, it's a serious sport and it's a tough old world. So I think, yeah, he was very honest with me as well, but it made me… A little bit the same as with Helmut, it kind of made me mature a little quicker and ultimately grow up and I think Franz has always been really involved. You know, he's in every debrief, he'll normally speak as well in debriefs and give some analysis or advice or anything he's seen. He's fully involved in it. And it's his passion. It's been everything that's kind of given him drive for so many years. I hope he can enjoy putting his feet up a little bit next year. I'm not sure fully what that’s going to entail for him, but I really hope he's able to enjoy some R&R, but yeah, a lot of good memories and actually really nice for me personally to come back to the team and be here for his farewell.

Q: Thank you. Good luck to you this weekend. George coming to you. So Mercedes are P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, but just four points ahead of Ferrari. What's the mood in the camp coming into the last one?

George RUSSELL: Yeah, we're excited for the challenge ahead. It's going to be a close fight with Ferrari. They're obviously coming off the back of a strong race, but definitely I’d prefer to be in the position we are in than in their shoes. And I think we just need to go out there, focus on ourselves, try and be as fast as possible. And if we do so, we'll finish ahead.

Q: So try and be as fast as possible. Do you think you will have the faster car here?

GR: They were definitely pretty competitive here last year. But we've been surprised a lot this season about which teams are fast at which races and vice versa. So we're going in with an open mind. Qualifying, I think, they'll have slightly the upper hand as they have tended to do so this season. But come Sunday, I think it'll be a different story and we'll have a good race.

Q: Let's look back on the year. When you do that, what conclusions do you draw in 2023?

GR: It's been a very, very strange season. It’s been a season where we've had a lot of pace at times, but never achieved the results that I felt were deserved, or were possible. So we definitely need to try and understand why that was. There's been a huge amount of missed opportunities, in many regards. It really hasn't been a smooth season. But I think when everything's flowing, when everything's working, right, luck tends to be on your side. But when, you know, you're on the backfoot, you tend to have bad luck. I'm not one for believing in luck. I think you make your own luck. So we just need to be faster. And Lady Luck will be with us.

Q: George, can you compare the job you think you've done this year compared to last year when you won a race and had so much momentum going?

GR: It’s definitely something I'm going to look at over the winter, because the results were so smooth-flowing last year, I think we finished in the top five more than any other driver. And this year, I feel that I've upped my game in my quali pace and upped my game in my race pace. And we've definitely been on the backfoot. But we definitely have more competition this year, with McLaren joining the fight in the second half, Aston being there at the start of the season. But ultimately, we're looking forward to getting through this weekend, trying to cement that P2 in the championship and then eyes on next year.

Q: Final word on next year, can you just describe the scale of the task over the winter? It's 100 days today until the Bahrain Grand Prix, what have you got to do in that time?

GR: I think the task for everybody is massive. We're all trying to catch up to the most dominant car in F1 history. So that's no short task, and everybody's going to have to come together, really focused, really put everything into it and time will tell. But I think we're going into this winter in a much better place than we were 12 months ago and two years ago. So we hope we're not going to stumble over anything. But as I said, time will tell.

Q: George, thank you best of luck to you this weekend. Oscar. Let's come to you now. You must have great memories of Abu Dhabi. You won the F2 championship here. You drove a McLaren for the first time here last year. Do you like the place?

Oscar PIASTRI: Yeah, it's a nice place to finish the year. I've got good memories here, winning F2. So nice to be back, racing around here this time. But yeah, it's always a nice place to kind of end the year. You know, nice and warm. It's halfway back to Australia. So that's nice. I enjoy it here.

Q: Are you going straight on to Oz from here?

OP: I wish but no I have still got some work to do. But yeah, it's teasing me to go all the way back.

Q: So, Vegas was a bit of a topsy turvy weekend for McLaren. How confident are you of righting any wrongs that happened there and being more competitive this weekend?

OP: I think we should be much more competitive. I think being a new circuit at a drag range that we've struggled at through the year. We knew it would be a tough one for us. I think the pace that we had in the race was much more representative of what we had available through the whole weekend. We just got a few things wrong in qualifying in particular. So you know, that was a decent way to end the weekend. I think we should be more competitive here than that hopefully, and hopefully we can be fighting back at the front properly.

Q: Let's talk about the Constructors’ Championship. It's not as close between yourselves and Aston Martin as it is between Ferrari and Mercedes. Eleven points, the gap between you and Aston. Are you confident that you've got enough in your armoury to stay ahead?

OP: Yeah, I think definitely I think we've got the pace to be able to do it. You know, I think the sentiment is quite similar to what George was saying: that if we go out and do what we're capable of and what the car’s potential is, then we should be OK. But you know, we still have to go out there and do our job to get the most out of what we've got. So hopefully we can be quick, fighting well and truly at the front and then the result will take care of itself.

Q: Oscar, it's the end of your rookie season in Formula 1. I'm sure you've enjoyed it. But what has been the biggest lesson you've learned over the last 12 months?

OP: A good question. I mean, there's been a lot of lessons, I think, for me, you can't rest, making a mistake in Formula 1 costs you a lot more than it might do otherwise. You know, all the drivers are extremely competitive. All the teams are now extremely competitive. And if you take it a little bit easy you can suddenly lose a lot of time, a lot of positions. So that's probably the biggest one. I mean, there's been specifics on driving and energy management as well. It's been a busy year. But yeah, just how competitive everything's been, that you can't rest on your laurels.

Q: Your energy management or the car’s?

OP: I mean, both! It's been a busy year. I think this double-header has been a tough one for most of us, I would say. But yeah, definitely just having a lot less spare time to relax and stuff like that. It's definitely been the busiest year of my life, but I'm loving it, so I wouldn't change it.

Q: Thank you. Best of luck to you, Kevin, let's come to you. You described Vegas as one of your better races this year, despite not scoring points. Just elaborate a little bit on that. Why was that?

Kevin MAGNUSSEN: I think, you know, because of the cool temperatures we had less degradation compared to everyone else. So at least, you know, the pace we had at the beginning of the stint was kind of similar at the end or the competitiveness that we had at the beginning was the same at the end. It felt like there was more potential but looking back at it we still were too slow, so that's why we didn't score points. Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Q: What did the team learn in terms of a development direction? You had the new spec car, Nico had the old spec, which way are you going to go for ’24?

KM: Well, I think the upgraded car is more in line with the plan for next year, the concept looks like what we think of for next year. So, it's not actually got more downforce on paper, it's not faster, but it is better to drive, it's easier, the balance is more consistent and that's why you don't see a step back when we run the new spec, although it's got less downforce. I think that's what we need to go into the winter, developing in that direction and hopefully we can take a step forward for next year because it's not been an easy year for sure.

Q: It hasn't been an easy year. So I'm going to ask you probably quite a difficult question: what has been a highlight? Can you pick one for us from 2023?

KM: There's not been any great highlights I would say, unfortunately. But I think the races where we scored points have been quite… There have been races where I've been extremely happy with a P10, which, you know, just shows what kind of season we've had. But yeah, those races where points have been on the table have been the highlights. Unfortunately it's not been any better than that.

Q: Thank you, best of luck. Logan, let’s come to you. Qualified seventh and started sixth in Vegas. It was far and away your best qualifying of the year. What was the secret?

Logan SARGEANT: Honestly, the long straights! No, I think going into the weekend, we knew it'd be a track that suited our car. I think, generally as well, the lower temperatures helped us to be able to get the car in a better window. Very slippery down the straights as well, which helped us compared to the others. But I don't know, I think it was quite nice because for the first time in a long time going into qualifying, we knew we had a bit of a buffer to the cut off. And it just allowed me to sort of build a bit nicer lap after lap, get through Q1. Keep building on that in Q2, and then by the time we got to Q3 I was in a really good place. And I think for the team to start fifth and sixth third row on the grid was obviously a huge reward to everyone in the team for the hard work and we did put a lot of work into that weekend. So the fact that it paid off was nice, but I'm disappointed that didn't carry ​t​hrough on Saturday.

Q: But because of the pace in quali are you now confident that you're going to get that seat for 2024?

LSa: It's a good question. Honestly, I don't know. But I think for me, it's just a case of taking it race by race. I feel like from a driving point of view, everything's been getting much better in the past, I don't know, however many rounds. And yeah, I'm just trying to do my job the best I can. And I think with how it's been going recently, I don't see any issues.

Q: And ​the same question​ I asked Oscar, when you look back rookie season, what's the biggest lesson for you?

LSa: The biggest lesson. I think Oscar kind of covered it quite well. But I think the biggest thing for me is appreciating the level of effort that needs to go into it to be able to perform at such a level every single day. And like Oscar said, you can get away with on a semi-average day in junior formulas, you're still right at the front. Whereas here, that's not the case. So it's about trying to constantly be able to perform at that level, day in and day out. And I think that's been the biggest thing.

Q: What meant more to you, the quali performance in Vegas or the points in Austin?

LSa: Definitely the quali in Vegas for sure. I think to be able to finally put it together over three qualifying sessions was really nice, helped by the fact we had a quick car in Vegas, for sure. But that was definitely my highlight.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (David Croft, Sky Sports F1) Nice to see you all awake, gents. Not sure how the jetlag is going. But I'm sure you've had plenty of time in the middle of the night to think about Vegas. Give us your debrief: the good bits, the bad bits, the ugly bits, the bits you’d change for the future.

DR: I think the good bits, I mean, certainly… I haven't watched the replay of the race. I saw highlights for sure and it sounded like it was a good race. And I think obviously not every street circuit is that easy to overtake. You know, it's a little bit follow-the-leader on some of them. So I think that was kind of refreshing to have that. I think maybe second highest overtakes of the year? I saw a stat, so that's good. I think everything was pretty cool. It's hard when you put on an event like that. Even getting to the circuit. I think that was the first day, driving to the track, not very far, but having to kind of go around the whole city you realise how much infrastructure and everything has been put in place to pull this thing off. So I think that's where I realised just how much of a big operation it is and it's pretty much impossible for something like that to go perfect on its first attempt. So yeah, I think I just had a lot of respect for the effort that was put into it. Obviously, Thursday was difficult. I think they recovered well, obviously no issues since then. So as long as Thursday was, and for sure there were some people who were a bit upset by it. I think they did well to, let's say, get themselves out of that situation and repair the track. And have you know, from that point, Friday and Saturday, a pretty flawless weekend. So yeah, I think it was positive. I think there will definitely be things to improve in the coming years. I think the schedule was one that we can all probably say was just a bit… That was the thing that I didn't love, was just the timings of it. I'm sure there's reasons for that. But if it could be earlier for sure, that would be nice. As it does get dark pretty early in November.

GR: I enjoyed it a lot, to be honest. I thought the track was a lot better than first expected. Probably the only thing would be, it'd be good to see other formulas race. The track was always mega-dirty to start with and that makes it very difficult to race on when the whole track is pretty filthy. But, I think the show was great. Schedule was obviously a bit challenging, but added a different dynamic. Yeah, wouldn't change a lot.

OP: Yeah, I think the race was entertaining and yeah, produced good racing, and I think, you know, with the unknowns we had, in terms of the slippery track, cold temperatures, it always adds some unknowns which is entertaining for everyone. Yeah, I think clearly there's some things that we would like to improve. I think the schedule is probably the biggest thing but, you know, we've already been told that it's being worked on. So, you know, they're listening, which is nice. But yeah, apart from that, obviously the track on Thursday was not ideal, having those incidents, but it's not the first time we've had that. Hopefully it's the last time but probably won't be. And yeah, apart from that, I thought it was quite a good event.

KM: Yeah, apart from the issues on Thursday, I think the event was good. I really liked the track as well and I agree with Oscar that the challenges of the evolving track and the slippery surface, in a way, you know, it's the same for everyone. It's… I kind-of enjoy it, in a way, that there's so much evolvement over the weekend, and you have to adapt a lot. So yeah, I liked the event. Except for timings. I agree with that.

LSa: Yeah, I think going to the weekend, it got a lot more hate than it probably deserved. It was kind of looked over before we even got going, to be honest. So I think the fact that after FP1, it was pretty much a perfect weekend, I think. Similar to the others, I did enjoy driving it. I enjoyed racing there. And yeah, of course, you have to expect when you go to Vegas, it's all about entertainment. So, there's going to be a bit of a show. So from my side, I enjoyed it. And I thought people gave it more of a hard time than they needed to.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Daniel, please. You said in this press conference, I think it was in Austin, that in many ways your F1 comeback this year is about being seen as purely a race car driver and not in some ways as an entertainer. I was wondering, could you explain? How's that going? And how have you been doing that?

DR: Aw! You say something that you're like, ‘argh! , they're going to see me do, like, one talk show and be like: what are you doing?’ Yeah, I think it was… I've definitely cut back on a lot of things, let's say, outside of racing, for sure. I still have some other interests outside of the sport, which I'm involved in, and I enjoy, but I've minimised a lot. And I'm really just trying to, I think, make sure that… I think it always has been, but to obviously make the racing the priority. And, you know, if I've got, especially with the calendar now and the schedule, if I've got some time off, then I'm either in the gym, or I'm putting my feet up and recovering for the next race. So, I think yeah, just kind of prioritising a few things outside of this job. I think it's also… especially the way the sports growing, it's easy to get a little bit – I don't even want to say lost – but there's just so much going on. And there's so many things that you can be doing, and it's all really exciting and really fun, and I am… I love that stuff, of course because it's obviously it's a new experience and it's great but I think probably having the time off for the start of the year I realised that I was probably just doing too much sometimes and probably even just not prioritising myself in terms of my body and my recovery and all that. So yeah, in a long way of saying it, just try to focus on that.

GR: I want to see the headline Now Daniel Ricciardo, prioritises his body!

DR: It's hard when you don't take as many topless pics as George. I hope I answered that in a way that made sense but yeah, that's what I was getting at.

Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Question for Daniel and for Kevin. Both of you know what it's like to step away from Formula 1 and then make a shock, sudden return. When you both came back to F1, did it give you a new found appreciation for the sport? A greater love for what we do – and is the kind of thing that's kind of spurred you on to think well, I want to keep going further and further and as long as possible in my career than previously?

KM: Yeah, I think for me, it was different when I came back in a way. Having been out of the sport – not completely, I was still racing but in sports cars, and I think just getting away from it, seeing it from the outside, thinking about it from the outside. And then coming back in. I think, in those years before that, maybe I'd lost a little bit of the… maybe a little bit of love for Formula 1. I think you get through the junior categories and it's one thing, and you get to Formula 1 and it's different. For some people, of course, they come in, you know, to Formula 1 after their junior career, and they just get straight into success there. But I didn't, I had many years… well, I had six seasons or something before that break, of not winning at all. So, I think I'd maybe fallen out of love a little bit, and then kind of had that year out, missed it, and then came back and had a new sort of appreciation for it.

DR: Yeah, definitely. I think Kevin made… yeah, a lot of those feelings were felt for me as well. I think being away from it, yes, it's really that. It should be the coolest thing that we do, right? But when you've done it your whole life, and obviously, when you go through… when you're winning, it's kind of easy, but when you're not, obviously, you go through some other challenging moments where you can become a little bit frustrated with it. And then obviously, on a competitive side, your confidence takes a hit. So, then you're kind of asking yourself more questions. And then, I think that also makes you question the love for it, then maybe you're not as hungry and the other sides of the sport, in terms of preparation, and that and… yeah, I just, I think having the time off was, it gave me the answer of how much I do love it, ultimately. How much it means to me. And I think that's also where, coming into now, I feel like I got a second chance, a second wind, where it's like, okay, I want to make sure this is my one and only priority, I'm going to put all my energy into this. Because I just don't want to walk away one day and be like, ‘could have done more’ or, ‘that career slipped a little bit out of my fingers’. I'd hate to feel that. So, yeah, gave me a new perspective, which is really cool. I’d say I’d recommend it to everyone! I mean, obviously everyone's on their own kind of path but I can't believe how much I've enjoyed the second half the season. It's, it's pretty crazy what six months can do.

Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) Question for all five of you. Obviously, there's a lot of talk last weekend about jet lag, and the late hours, and so on and so on. How have you felt in the last few days? What have you been doing by way of recovery? Are any of you still feeling a bit suboptimal? And I'm thinking also about Esteban, who's not here today because he's not feeling well. So, but perhaps that might be a result of the schedule we've had.

GR: For sure, it’s pretty brutal for everybody. Yeah, had an interesting trip over, with Pierre. We were flying together and we got delayed and diverted via Dallas and ended-up in a 24 hour diner at three o'clock in the morning for some breakfast. So that was an eye-opening experience. But I think since landing in Abu Dhabi I've been feeling fine. I think the lack of sunlight really affected everybody in Vegas, it truly felt like we were all on a night shift. I was waking up at three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was set in two hours after that. So, that was the biggest challenge but it was quite a unique experience. And I guess we'll find out this weekend how we're feeling but I'm sure we'll be feeling a lot better than we did last week.

Q: Oscar any 24-hour diners for you?

OP: No, no 24-hour diners. Saw Daniel, actually, on the flight. [waves] There was a few of us on the flight, actually but yeah, I feel like everything's gone very quickly. And I've kind of realised it's because with the time difference and stuff, you lose a day, so it feels like I was in Vegas 24 hours ago, but it was like four days ago. So yeah, it's been a bit to get used to. I’m feeling fine. I think I've gotten into the time zone okay. But yeah, definitely you've got to conserve your energy in these back-to-back weekends.

Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Daniel, just on prioritising your body. Over the summer break, how do you plan to rest up? Are you heading home and recouping? Having Christmas with the family? And I guess, awkwardly, Oscar, the same question to you.

DR: I think yeah, obviously if I can prioritise my body like you prioritise your beard, then we're going to be in really good shape come Bahrain next year. I wish the camera would pan to you right now, in all its thickness and all its goodness! Look I feel… I haven't done the whole season obviously, so yes I still feel a bit tired because you know actually the last few weeks, it's been pretty relentless, the schedule, but I've probably got a little bit of energy reserve in me, so I plan to have just a shorter bit of couch time over the break. I will go home to Australia, spend some time there, which I always love doing. But yeah, I think as opposed to maybe having two-and-a-half, three weeks of kind of off and enjoyment, I might just have one-and-a-half weeks, and then get back into the gym and enjoy it. So, I don't know what I'm talking about anymore. Are you laughing at me or something else? Well, I don't know… one-and-a-half… it’s weird, isn't it? I should have just said 10 days. Anyway you're getting it. I'm going to do very well. We’re delirious! I guess this is answering Adam’s question earlier. Times are tough! Sub-optimal right now!

Q: Oscar just briefly from you.

OP: Yeah, I'm going back to Australia for Christmas, which will be nice. Go see my family, my friends. Becoming an F1 driver now, I've given myself an extra week at home mid-season for the race, which is nice but it's still not quite the same as going home for Christmas. So yeah, do that, chill out for a few weeks. And yeah, maybe give myself two-and-a-half weeks to relax. Be nice to go back, have an extended summer. I feel like, apart from Vegas not really had that much cold weather for the year, which has been a nice change. So yeah, be nice to go back home.

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ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia AlphaTauri attends the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on November 23, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

DRIVER GROUP 2 – Valtteri BOTTAS (Alfa Romeo), Lance STROLL (Aston Martin), Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull)

Q: Lance, can we start with you? Sporting the Movember beard, you look very relaxed. And so you should do, after what's been a really strong run of results in recent races.

Lance STROLL: Yeah. Thanks for noticing! Yeah, feels good. Starting to get a little itchy, but it's a good cause. So hanging in there.

Q: Just tell us a little bit about the results because you really have been banging them in, in, what? Three of the last four races now?

LSt: Yeah, we've had a good run. Vegas was fun. It was a fun race. Yeah, and, you know, we've picked up a lot of points over the last few races. So, car has been feeling good. I think we definitely made some progress with the car over the last month. Just kind of understanding it a little bit better and some of the things that maybe we got a little wrong, over the last few months, I think we’ve learned from that and got back to our stronger ways. And, you know, over the last few weeks, which has been good. And yeah, you know, tight battle now in the Championship with McLaren. So, you know, they're going to probably be quick this weekend. I think they had an off-weekend in Vegas, but I do expect them to be good. They've been good, you know, throughout the whole second half of the year. So, we'll see what we can do, though it's pretty tight now. And, you know, hopefully, we can have a strong result here and make something happen.

Q: How much confidence do you have in the car now? Can you turn up at every weekend knowing what it's going to do? Or is there a nagging doubt that Mexico could reappear?

LSt: I think it's much better for sure. There's still some weaknesses in the car. I don't think we're, you know, super quick in a straight line. You know, we're not very efficient. And you know, like Vegas, I don't think we were actually that quick. But a lot of things worked out in the race, and we had a good strategy and all that stuff, and we managed to get a good result. But we weren't like, as quick as we were in Brazil. Just yeah, like, you know, general speed. But I do think we're much, you know, stronger than we've been for a while. So that is good. And I'm hoping we can be strong this weekend.

Q: Well, what does it mean for the championship? You alluded to that earlier: you're 11 points behind McLaren. Can you do it? Can you chase them down and beat them?

LSt: I mean, if they're, you know, fighting for the win this weekend, like they were the last few weeks I don't think that's possible, because I think they'll be super quick. But, you know, maybe something happens and we're in a good position. Yeah, last race of the year, anything can happen.

Q: Even if the team finishes fifth in the Championship, how do you reflect on 2023?

LSt: I mean, I think it's been a… you know, we came out of the box super-strong, first few races, you know, really competitive. We had a little bit of a dip in the middle of the season and then, you know, the last few races have been really fun. So yeah, that's how I reflect on it.

Q: Valtteri. Let's come to you now, the Movember look is coming on.

Valtteri BOTTAS: Thank you, yes, good progress.

Q: Talking of progress, let's talk about Vegas, are Fernando and Sergio on your Christmas card list?

VB: Yeah! Well, I don't send Christmas cards. So, I don't have a list. But of course, I would still send the card if I would. I mean, these things happen in racing.

Q: I mean, how do you reflect on it? How much of a missed opportunity was it from P7 on the grid?

VB: I think it was definitely a missed opportunity. Like the whole weekend we actually seemed strong on that particular track. Every session in top 10, including Qualifying. And then, yeah, everything gets thrown in the bin in Turn 1 with the damage. It is tough to accept but you know, that's the name of the game sometimes. And we've got one more opportunity here to try and get some more points.

Q: How realistic is that? Let's talk about the Constructors’ Championship: you're behind AlphaTauri just ahead of Haas, what's the goal what's achievable do you think?

VB: We’ve got to look forward, so of course we try to get AlphaTauri. It’s only four points and it is realistic to get that – but there’s not been many occasions that we've scored, so we need to get everything perfect, so that's absolutely the target for this weekend, is trying to get them. But for that, we need to focus on ourselves as well.

Q: Can we take a moment to reflect on the year? On the whole it's been a frustrating one for you. Can you pick a highlight? I'm guessing it's Qatar or is it something else?

VB: Qatar… All I can remember that it was hot. I don't even know where I finished. So highlights? I think, sadly, I would say that the very first race of the season, we had a solid weekend, scored immediately, everything was looking quite good. But then it's been a tough ride. There's been a few occasions we have scored, but not enough times. So I'm definitely waiting for more highlights next year with a new car.

Q: To achieve that, what areas of performance does the team need to focus on over the winter? I just want to remind you, it's 100 days until the Bahrain Grand Prix.

VB: In this sport, with the margins we have, it's everything. There's nothing fundamental but the good thing is we do have a completely new car with some new ideas with new people in the team and that's exactly what we need now. So we need to make big steps over the winter. That's the key.

Q: Charles, let's come to you. So this battle for P2 in the championship; you are four points behind Mercedes. How do you see it?

Charles LECLERC: Well, it’s going to be tight. We have good momentum coming to this race, as the last few races have been positive for us. However, Mercedes is historically pretty good here in Abu Dhabi so we'll have to put everything together in order to fight them and then beat them in the Constructors championship. But yeah, this is clearly the target.

Q: Do you think you'll have the faster car this weekend?

CL: It depends on such fine details that it's difficult to predict before every weekend where you are going to be. As I said, Mercedes is historically strong here so yeah, it's going to be tight, as always, and it will all depend on whoever is optimising the package better, which is up to us. And we'll focus on that throughout the free practices.

Q: Your boss, Fred Vasseur says the momentum is with Ferrari. How important is momentum in your eyes?

CL: Well, obviously, we are coming from… especially the last race, that has been very positive. The one before was very positive pace-wise but obviously the result wasn't there for me, but everybody is super-motivated to beat Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship so yeah, momentum is good. But the big work remains to be done on track and we'll make sure that we do everything perfectly this weekend in order to beat them.

Q: Now irrespective of what happens in the Constructors’ championship, give us your thoughts on 2023. How do you review the last 21 races?

CL: Oh, highlights? Maybe last race, but yeah, to be honest it's been a disappointing season. After last year, we expected to come to this season and try and fight for the championship which after the first race, we straightaway understood how difficult it will be compared to the Red Bull that had done a huge step forward, especially in race pace. We didn't do the same step. So from that moment onwards, it was a bit disappointing. On the other hand, if you just look at this season – forget about last season – I think we've progressed quite a lot throughout the season which is positive and makes me confident for the future. But there's a big gap to fill to get back the Red Bulls so we'll work hard during the winter break and hopefully we'll come back stronger next year with a car that is capable of winning.

Q: Max, so the last race of the season; you've enjoyed such an incredible run this year. Are you wishing that it would just never end?

Max VERSTAPPEN: Well, yeah, of course. But it will end at one point, but hopefully not too soon.

Q: Now, you can increase your tally of wins to 54, if you win on Sunday. If you do that you will pass Sebastian Vettel for third in the all-time list; what would that mean to you?

MV: Yeah, of course it's quite a crazy number. But we've also, of course, had a crazy year, so it would of course be very nice but at the same time also I'm very focused on what's ahead of me and hopefully also next year we have a competitive car again, we can really continue that momentum that we can win more races.

Q: When you when you look back at 2023, can you choose a highlight in this impossibly brilliant season you’ve had?

MV: Well, I think winning the comeback race in Miami I think was great. I think that was an important one. Winning at home in Zandvoort was a very nice one and I think winning in Suzuka after the tough weekend we had in Singapore.

Q: We've just heard from Charles how Ferrari hope to come back next year with a car that can challenge you guys. How big of a jump do you think Red Bull need to take over the winter to maintain your advantage?

MV: It’s difficult to tell but of course we are also working on our car to try and make it better. I think we know our weaknesses as well in the car. And that's what we'll of course try to work on plus, of course, trying to make our strengths, of course, even stronger.

Q: Go on, share something with us: are there any weaknesses in the Red Bull?

MV: Of course there are. Look at our race weekend in Singapore. In general, on street circuits, I think we are a bit struggling a bit more like in Vegas also. So yeah, low speed is definitely not our strongest point in the car; bumps, curbs as well. So that's definitely a big area where we can improve.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (David Croft - Sky Sports F1) Max, congratulations on another championship year but let's delve into a parallel universe, the one where Lewis Hamilton approaches Red Bull and Christian Horner says yes, we're interested in you. You said that Lewis and his people reached out to Red Bull about whether there was any interest in driving. Checo’s got a contract next year, but say he’d have said yes, how would you have welcomed that? What do you think would have happened? And would you like to race against Lewis Hamilton as a teammate in the future?

MV: What would it add to know?

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) I'd love to know your thoughts.

MV: No, because it's not happening. So there's no point to make up stories if it's not happening.

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) Would you like…

MV: So yeah, I wouldn't mind. It doesn't matter. Anyone. I don't want to put it like now particularly on Lewis. There's so many great drivers as well. So, yeah, sometimes it just doesn't work out like that.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Max, there's obviously been a push for women in motor sport with the W series in the past and F1 Academy now. Your mother has been one of the world's greatest karters and you have that story in your own household. What do you think needs to be done for F1 to see its first female driver on the grid? And as the reigning champion what's your opinion on it?

MV: I think if you look at the percentage of men and women in racing, I think already for men the percentage is of course very low to get into Formula 1, so naturally, of course, for women, it's even harder because there are less women. Of course, I do think physically driving F1 in some places is quite tough but I do think that it's all trainable if you work hard for it, but it is, of course, naturally a little bit harder for a woman. But if you have enough talent, then of course it is possible because I don't think team bosses are people who make decisions to choose their drivers: look at it like ‘oh, no, we only go for men’. If there's a woman who is beating everyone else, then naturally they will have the opportunity to get to Formula 1, but it's just that there are less women in the sport and naturally, of course, the percentage to make it to the top is lower.

Q: Have you raced your mum in a kart?

MV: Yeah, but of course, she was over her peak and I was up-and-coming so it's not really a fair comparison.

Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Valtteri, you spoke a little bit about next year, new car, big steps needed over the winter. What is it about this year's car that it's been missing because as you said it looked very good in Bahrain, and it's just tailed off since then?

VB: Yeah, we have brought upgrades pretty consistently all through the year like any team but some have been decent steps, some really minor so we haven't found anything big throughout the season. It's been steady progress but that's not enough. Meanwhile some other teams they have found big steps, new concepts, innovative things, some might be copying other teams but still we just did steady progress but in this sport, that's not always enough. And ultimately, the biggest thing was how the car was born. It was definitely born better than last year's car but not better enough. That's just how it goes so there's not one thing that is lacking, so that's why I'm really pleased that we're trying to think a bit outside the box now, and with also all the new people we have on board and that will be coming on board.

Q: (Ronald Vording - Motorsport.com ) Max, you've said before that Nyck de Vries would find another good place in racing and now we've had confirmation that he will do a double programme: Formula E and WEC with Toyota. I was just wondering, have you been in touch with Nyck about it and how pleased are you for him, also given you're quite an endurance fan yourself?

MV: Yeah, I was just waiting for the announcement. Of course, I knew that it was happening so I'm of course very happy for him but also, I think what was very nice see that, immediately that he got these kinds of opportunities again. So everyone, of course rates him very highly and of course, now I'm excited to see what he can do.

Q: (Reem Mohamed Abuleil – Arab News and The National) Max, we've seen it with all athletes; if there's someone who's really really dominant there's a lot of mental challenges with it. Some can lose motivation, some can get complacent, there are so many different things, and I'm curious about you: what's the most challenging part of staying this motivated, even when you're that dominant? And is there anyone from any other sport that inspires you, that's managed to stay dominant for a long time?

MV: I don't really think about it too much to be honest, and especially not comparing it to any other sport because it all works a bit differently, I guess. I think in that way, F1 is quite unique. But I love driving, I think that's - first and foremost - the most important thing to be here. And, of course, winning is of course the best thing in Formula 1 so for me, naturally, the motivation is there, because I know that for most of the races that I go to this year, I have a big chance of winning so naturally, that's great. I think it's of course tougher when you have been in that position and then you come to a race weekend where it's not possible anymore, then it's hard, I think, or harder, to find your motivation. And then you need to try and look, of course into different places, how you can keep that motivation going. But at the moment, of course, when you're on the top, I think it's probably easier than when you're maybe in the middle of the pack.

Q: Have you have you got inspiration from any F1 drivers from history, Michael Schumacher, for example?

MV: No, no, everyone does it in their own way, I guess.

Q: (Ronald Vording - Motorsport.com) Max, I think at Vegas you said you were not too happy with Vegas and Abu Dhabi being back-to-back in terms of time difference and travelling. I was just wondering how it has been with jetlag and so on in reality, and how do you feel going into this weekend now?

MV: Yeah, it's a bit tough to understand what time zone that you're in. I think what does help here, of course, is that it's all a bit later, like you try to have a good night's sleep and stuff. But I definitely think for the future - of course for next year, it's not possible - but it's a little bit odd that we are on the other side of the world, basically, before getting here and especially when you're talking about sustainability, it's probably not very sustainable, not only for the emissions but also for the human body. Of course, eventually, we always deal with it but I don't think it's great. So we'll just talk to F1 about that, if there's something that we can do for the future to make it a little bit more of a normal end to the year because it's already a lot of races, a lot of travelling in the end, like after the summer break basically. So I think we can do a little bit of a better job with placing the Grands Prix, I guess, but already for next year I think they are doing that at the start of the year so that will help already.

Q: Let's open this to everybody: Charles, can we get your reflections on Vegas and of course, the jet lag as well.

CL: No, I loved Vegas actually. I really enjoyed the track much more than I initially thought I would and the race was also really entertaining so that was a that was a good thing. Jetlag-wise, I didn't struggle at all which normally I do in some races, but this time I think it's so different and with the 16 hours of flight, I arrived here, I was so tired that I slept like a baby the first night. And since then I am feeling good. So jet lag hasn't been a problem. But obviously then speaking around in the paddock, and especially with the mechanics and engineers, everyone seems to be really, really tired and really struggling with it, which next year I think will be even more difficult because we'll have three races in a row. After that, I believe that we might rethink a little bit the way we organise this last part of the season.

VB: Maybe not that much more to add. It is far away and you can see it from the people's fases, energy levels, there's more sicknesses, stuff like that. But yeah, I'm sure there's room to improve the schedules and I think there's some steps taken next year already with the calendar but still, it's tough sometimes. The track itself was actually better than what I thought from the simulator so actually the track was alright. Yeah, pretty hectic weekend. In the end, apart from Friday, I think everything went smoothly. I just had not such a great experience. I had a stomach bug over the weekend which got pretty bad so that was kind of the overriding issue I had.

Q: All okay, now?

VB: All good. All good.

Q: Lance?

LSt: Yeah, nothing much more to add really.

Q: How's the jet lag?

LSt: It’s OK, yeah, it's fine. I slept well the first night I got here, so I'm feeling good.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Speaking about the schedules next year, Vegas, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi, a triple-header all night schedules, what are your thoughts on that? And is that something you drivers need to talk to Stefano or whoever's required to, for the next season, make some kind of a change?

MV: Yeah, that's what I meant. I don't mind having a triple-header when it's the Middle East. It’s just the flight time from fully left to go here. It's probably a bit much but yeah, next year, we cannot change that but hopefully in the future we can have a chat and see what's possible and best for everyone.

CL: Yeah, I think it's definitely too late to change next year, but after that it should all change.

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