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FIA Thursday press conference - Belgian Grand Prix

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Belgium 2022 Thursday

DRIVER GROUP 1: Zhou GUANYU (Alfa Romeo), Fernando ALONSO (Alpine), Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas), Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)

Q: Welcome back after the summer holidays. Zhou, why don't we start with you? First up, how were those holidays? What do you get up to?

Zhou GUANYU: Yeah, mine was pretty simple to be honest. Went straight back to work for some magazines for the Chinese people, because I didn't really have time to do that. And then some shootings the first week and then actually I stayed in UK because my family actually flew in the Silverstone weekend, the first time the whole family was here and we stayed put pretty much all the time in UK. And actually, I went you to the beach in UK because it was very nice and sunny there, 30 degrees. Yeah, we had fun with the family and now obviously back to work.

Q: Well, I guess the break gave you a chance to take stock of everything that's happened so far this year. So how do you reflect on the opening 13 races and going forward, what areas are you going to focus on in terms of your own performance?

ZG: To be honest, I think it was better than I expected in terms of the speed. We were able to reach reasonably quick up to the speed also matching or catching up the gap with Valtteri from beginning of the year first race to now onwards and it's been good in that. And obviously, there's weakness I have to improve and also, I feel like the first half are being quite extremely unlucky in some cases with quite a lot of DNFs. I think the most DNF on the grid. So I feel like we deserve more points so hopefully everything will be reasonably much smoother for the coming races. And yeah, we'll be working together with the start. I think it's quite clear for our team, struggling first lap and to get that fixed and should be having more opportunity fighting with opponents.

Q: Fernando coming to you. You've been at the centre of the Formula 1 news cycle over the break so tell us why Aston Martin next year?

Fernando ALONSO: Well, yeah, it was for two or three days, then it changed, there was more news coming. But yeah, I had this possibility, the phone call from Aston after Sebastian announced that he was stopping at the end of the year. So yeah, at that point we sit down and we go to this agreement. I think the project is very attractive. Obviously there is a lot of investment going on in the last few years, a lot of new people came to the team, very talented engineers, designers, new facilities in Silverstone. So… I don't know, I felt that it was a nice project for the future. They were extremely happy to join forces and to have this possibility to grow up together. We felt that it was the right thing to do.

Q: On paper, you're moving from a team that currently sits fourth in the constructors championship to a team that is sitting ninth. So what are you expecting Aston Martin to do for next year?

FA: Let's see. I think for sure there are some risks on every decision you make in Formula 1. No one has the crystal ball to guess the future. At the same time in Formula 1 or in any sport, you win or you don't. Doesn't matter to be fourth or ninth or 13th. You are first or you are not winning. And I think… all the Formula 1 teams and drivers we are here to be in that top spot and yeah, I felt that within the possibilities that I had on the table for next year, I think this one was the right one and as I said, the project has some ingredients for the future that in Formula 1 normally are synonymous of success: when you invest and you have the best people so let's see if we can shortcut that time as much as possible and make Aston Martin very fast, next year already,

Q: And Fernando just bring it onto this weekend, you've had eight consecutive points finishes going into the summer break. What do you think you can achieve here with Alpine?

FA: I hope to keep this consistency; as you said eight consecutive times in the points. Some of them could have been even better. I remember in Austria, for example, in the sprint race, the car didn't start on the sprint race, I had to start last. Barcelona: we changed the engine, we started last. So even with those difficulties, we kept scoring points. So yeah, I hope to have a good weekend here, a clean weekend. The car is strong now. We've been improving a lot in the last few months and yeah, I hope top five or top six is possible here. And also I talked with my engineers, mechanics and these remaining nine races, we want to finish on a high and a podium will be a dream for us and who knows when that possibility will come? Hopefully this weekend will be the first one.

Q: Charles, coming to you now. Recharged and ready?

Charles LECLERC: Yes, And I needed it. The first part of the season has been full of highs or lows so loads of emotions and there's lots of accumulation of emotions which leads to being tired so I was quite happy to go on holidays and I use these three weeks in the best way possible with my family, my friends. And yeah, it was just great.

Q: So you're currently 80 points behind Max Verstappen in the championship. Just tell us how do you view these next nine races?

CL: Well, I think we'll take it one by one as a team. But for sure we need to try and maximise every opportunity that we have ahead and I still believe in the championship of course. It's going to be a very difficult challenge but I will believe in it until the very end.

Q: You need to do a Sebastian Vettel back in 2013. He won every race after the summer break.

CL: Yeah, well, we just need to do that. It's maybe easier to say than to do it but I'll give my best.

Q: Few thoughts on Spa as well. You scored your first Grand Prix win here in 2019. Just describe what this track means to you and how much you enjoy driving on it?

CL: It is a very special truck for me obviously. I think for every driver the first victories is very special. I got it here in very strange conditions obviously, with what happened on the Saturday with Anthoine but it's a track I really enjoy driving all the time and hopefully, more of a great result this weekend.

Q: Kevin coming to you now. You swapped horsepower for wind power during the break. Just tell us a little bit about that?

Kevin MAGNUSSEN: Well, yeah, I had an opportunity to go on one of the SailGP boats, which was a really cool experience with the Danish team, I got to meet the sailors there. I'm a passionate sailor myself so going on one of these boats is almost like the… that and the America's Cup is the top in terms of sailing so yeah, they're much like Formula 1 cars on the water so I really enjoyed it.

Q; Now, what about this weekend? You got a first go with the upgrades in Hungary. What conclusions did you reach? And do you think they will help you on this track layout?

KM: We put the upgrade on and could see that the numbers we were getting on track were correlating to wind tunnel and that's like the first bucks you want to take and then of course, there's some work to do to get it to perform at its maximum and get the full potential out of it. But at least, sometimes and in the past with the team, we've put upgrades on and we've taken a step back and have had a tough time with it so it was nice to see that at least it was correlating and then we didn't take a step back. It was kind of maybe not so much better right in Hungary but there's potential.

Q: You've got a new race engineer this weekend. How does it change like that affect things on your side of the garage?

KM: The good thing is I know Dom, my new race engineer, I know him quite well, because he was Romain’s race engineer during our time, so I haven’t worked directly with him, but kind of, you know, know him very well. And he kind of knows me, too so it's going to be a pretty smooth transition, I think. So I'm looking forward to that and yeah, the rest of the year.

Q: Lewis, thank you for waiting. Welcome back. Now you've had clearly a very memorable trip to Africa since we last saw you. What in particular made it so special?

Lewis HAMILTON: Well, good afternoon everyone. It's nice to see everybody. We’ve definitely… I'm pretty sure all of us have missed being at the race circuit. This year… when I started this year, I'm quite bad at some planning things, I'm always very last minute and one of my New Year's resolutions was to plan ahead. So, for the for the August break, I already planned it in February and it's the place that I have… it’s the continent that I've wanted to go and visit. Whilst I've been there before, it's the place I wanted to go more than anywhere. And I got to obviously travel in lots of different places. It was incredible how welcoming everyone was and it was a very grounding experience to see the incredible landscape and the different countries that we went to. And it was a very humbling experience just seeing people live with literally nothing. Just in like a house made of sticks, you know, literally twigs, and no shoes, no socks, and going about their daily lives, you know, not with social media, and not with the stuff that we all we all have in the Western world and then it didn’t seem like they took anything for granted which was really quite beautiful to see.

Q: Now, if I can bring it on to performance this weekend, how excited are you by the pace of your car? Do you think that win, that first win of the year is close?

LH: I do, definitely, I think. Of course we've been improving, we've had this consistency that's come up of the recent races and great progress that the team was just making, everyone pulling together, continuing to push. And the car is becoming more of a racing car which is not particularly what it was the beginning of the year, more like a normal racing car in the sense of its characteristics so that's positive. And the last race was obviously the best showing that we've had so far. And that, for us, was a huge boost of just that we can close that gap. So it's naturally going to continue to be tough, we will keep our heads down. The other guys are doing an amazing job but I do believe that we can close the gap.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports) The question is for Fernando. Let's try and take a bit of a deep dive if we can into that Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. You've got the phone call from Aston Martin, who did you speak to at the team? When did you sign your contract? And if that phone call hadn't have happened, would you have been happy to stay with Alpine for next season?

FA: Yeah, well, you ask too many details, which then is up to us to disclose everything. But yeah, I have no problems to say that everything started when Sebastian announced the retirement. I think Aston was waiting for that decision. They were happy with Sebastian to continue one more year. At the end, Seb decided to stop and they started calling some drivers that they were interested in. I was one of those and I was still available and yeah, we started talking on that weekend, briefly, about the conditions that I was expecting, about what they were expecting from me as well. Yeah, we meet quite quickly on our expectations and fulfil all our wishes. And yeah, on Monday morning we signed and we decided to announce it quite quickly before any leaks. And yeah, that's more or less the timeline of everything.

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports) And were you happy to stay with Alpine if that hadn’t happened?

FA: Yeah, yeah, that was my intention and I was not hiding that as well. Every press conference that I did so far this year, I was quite clear that I was happy with the progress that we're making as a team. It has been an incredible journey for me to come back into the sport with Alpine which I consider my team, my family. We won so many things together and that will be part of our history, not only the Renault Group history, but also Fernando history, what we do together and I was happy but yeah, for one reason or another, we were not moving forward from a couple of months already and yeah, it seems that it was a logical move to me because Aston was very willing to have me and trust on my abilities on the track and off track as well, to develop the project. And, in my case also, it felt that after all the negotiations and the months, having the seat available for a younger driver and talented driver like Oscar, it was the right thing to do and a win-win situation seemed for everybody.

Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Fernando, as you mentioned, Alpine had this plan with the young driver coming through, Oscar, and that seemed to play a part in how long they were willing to definitively commit to you. Had they offered you maybe a longer term deal, a guarantee of more than a year earlier, do you think you'd have signed the contract before the Aston Martin possibility ever became available?

FA: You never know. It was not that a specific talk about the future with them, and we were moving around in different things and we were not maybe agreeing on the principles. And it's not only what you agree in terms of the duration of the contract, it’s just also the trust that you feel and how you feel wanted in a place, you know, and if it was just a temporary thing or is just facts and a time watch that they are happy with. And it was always a strange feeling and yeah, as I said, I felt we felt that it was the right decision to move to Aston because they seemed to really want me and appreciate every performance that I was put in the last two years.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Lewis, there was an interesting interview with you in Vanity Fair over the summer break in which a friend of yours was quoted saying you've got nothing left to prove but a lot left to achieve. I wondered how much of what you have left to achieve is in Formula 1 and how you viewed your future in the sport at the moment?

LH: I think there's still plenty to achieve here personally, maybe not like that many records as such, but still a lot of ground to cover with the team. And like the guys here I still deeply in love with the sport and particularly like the direction and things that we're doing within the sport, the work that conversations that I get to have with Stefano. But of course, there's lots more outside that's continuing to grow as well. So it’s exciting times I think. The future’s bright, I like to think.

Q: (Abhishek Tackle – Midday) Fernando, Otmar seemed surprised by the announcement. He said he heard about it from a press release. So at what point did you inform the team that you were leaving? And what was that conversation like and what's the relationship like now within the team?

FA: Yeah, I'm happy with this question because, yeah, it's true, Otmar probably didn't know anything but I informed Laurent Rossi, president Luca De Meo, my mechanics, my engineers before any announcement, so all the people that were involved in the negotiations, they had been informed before any announcement on Aston Martin. Omar was not involved in the negotiations and yes, probably Laurent or Luca didn't call him before the announcement and he was surprised by that. But yeah, all the people that I've been negotiating with, they were informed before any announcement and about my move to Aston and as I said, even my mechanics and my engineers, I took my time to inform them before any announcement.

Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Fernando, after your movement, Alpine announced Oscar and some minutes after Oscar said that he is not driving for Alpine. What do you think of all this situation?

FA: It’s difficult to comment. Obviously, like every one that is seated here probably we were surprised and I was but I think it's not up to me to comment on this and more to the team because I don't know exactly how is the situation but I think everyone was surprised.

Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Charles, question for you. Obviously, Hungary was another disappointing setback for Ferrari. We saw a picture of you and Carlos and Mattia at Maranello the other day, what kind of debriefs have you had with the team over the past few weeks around the summer break, and have you got an understanding of where things are at? Mattia said he sees no need for changes. But how are you feeling going into second half the season about where things are at with Ferrari?

CL: The picture was actually something we did in 2019 that we couldn't do in 2020 and 2021, because of Covid reasons, but it's something that we just do with absolutely all the factory, all the people involved with the Formula 1 department, which is very nice, because you can finally see faces and speak with them directly. And thank them also for all the support they've given us, and the work they've done in 2020 and 2021 while we're going through these tough times with the performance of the car, and now we are fighting for wins again. But speaking about Hungary, obviously, we looked at it. And yeah, we'll grow from that as a team, I'm sure. And again, in 2020 and 2021, we’ve been working very unified as a team. And I think that helped us to be at the level where we are at in terms of performance today. And this is exactly the same thing that we are trying to do now to get better.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Question for Fernando. Fernando, you were managed – I don't know if you still are – by Flavio Briatore, who sort-of managed Mark Webber, who's a friend of yours. And there's this whole conspiracy theory. Can you try and clarify? You said earlier-on, ‘all the negotiations with me’ and ‘I did this’, and whatever else. Was Flavio involved at all? And was Mark Webber involved? Or was he aware of anything?

FA: No, not at all. And I read that in the first days. And honestly, it was by quite sad, and annoying to read that, you know, conspiracy, because, I mean, I make this decision, I explain why. Because, you know, from some months that I've been chatting with the team about extending the contract, that nothing officially arrive, and nothing officially happened and Aston called me after Sebastian retired. If Sebastian probably continue, this will not happen, they move to Aston. So, I mean, they were very clear and very easy decisions from my side. And what happened after and what is happening, as I said, with Oscar, whatever, is completely, you know, not my thing. I will be completely aside. Oscar is an incredible talent for any team and for Alpine. I've been working with him for now two years and I wish him the best, and also the best for Alpine, because it’s going to be my team this year but they’re going to be my team always on my heart, as I said before, because we achieved things that were unthinkable when we started the relationship, and I went back to the sport also thanks to Alpine, so I only wish the best for them. And those comments that I read, they were sad to read. Bar of any of these negotiations, you know, I've been doing my things always and Flavio’s coming to some races, but as you may know, with other deals that he has with Stefano and Formula 1 and Paddock Club and things, but not related to me.

Q: (Bastien Dauby – MotorsInside.com) For Charles, you said before that you still believe in the Championship. So, in your opinion, what could make the difference between you and Max for the nine last races?

CL: Well, I think it's, it's whoever puts it a perfect weekend together because in between Red Bull and ourselves there's very little: maybe sometimes we're a tiny bit stronger, sometimes they are a tiny bit stronger. Now there's also Mercedes that is coming into the fight, which is nice, but at the end, I think the one that wins eventually is the one that just puts a great weekend together. And yeah, so that will define the differences between the two teams, I think

Q: (Rodrigo Franca – Car Magazine Brazil) Question to Lewis and Fernando please. Formula 1 is getting new fans every day, a new generation, teenagers, maybe people who weren’t even born when you were already racing Formula 1. So, as F1 drivers, do you see that in your daily basis? And why do you think is that happening? Drive to Survive? Social media? And, of course, it's good for the sport, right?

LH: I mean, the business is growing. So yes, it is good for the sport. I think it's down to the great work that that Liberty is doing with the sport. The access, of course we know that Netflix has had a big effect but social media as well, I think the young youth is on TikTok, all that sort of stuff. So just a lot more eyeballs are on it. Kids love cars and it is the coolest sport there is. So, it was only a matter of time, at some point that it was going to go this direction. And I think it's great. I see fans from all ages that come and visit me, or send me letters from literally just from babies and their little baby Mercedes outfits to, you know, to five-year olds to 106 year olds. There's a still a good older generation that's still super in love with the sport. Obviously they watched it their whole lives. And so yeah, I think it's awesome.

Q: Fernando, anything you can add?

FA: Yeah, I agree with Lewis. We have more access to everything now, compared to the past. I think we always follow Formula 1, and even when we were kids, and we were racing in go-karts, we still you know watching television and Ayrton Senna and all our idols. But it was very difficult to get more info about Formula 1, you just had to have the right country to watch Formula 1. In Spain, for example, we didn't have any coverage. So we have to find RTL or some satellite to follow Formula 1. There were not social media so you were not updated on anything that happened. And there were not activations by the team, the sponsors, the promoter now with Liberty Media, the great job that Stefano is doing. So, I mean, everyone can more-or-less follow Formula 1 now because there is a lot of access and is much more open. So, this is bringing more and more fans into the sport and this is very welcome.

Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) A question for Lewis, Charles and Fernando please. Yesterday we found out, the news was confirmed that Daniel Ricardo and McLaren will be splitting. As drivers have varying length contract, Charles, with your long-term contract, does this show that there are negatives to having that long-term security that many drivers crave throughout their career, and that there needs to be specific mechanisms so parties can split at certain points?

CL: Well, I mean, I can only speak personally. I think it was in 2020 when I renewed for that long-term contract. In my situation, it was a dream. I mean, I've always dreamed of being with Ferrari. And yeah, it was an amazing opportunity and obviously, I signed it straight away and I'm very happy that I've taken that choice. And I believe also, from the team's point of view, I think it's good to have a long term vision on what you are doing with the team, the development, there's no rush. I mean, obviously, there's a rush to try and bring the pieces as early as possible, the parts as early as possible. But on the other hand, you also have that long-term vision where you know, you're going to work with the team in one year or two, and that whatever you are working on with the team, you will also be able to experience it. And yeah, I think that was very beneficial for myself and also the team.

LH: Just from my personal experience, I think there's pros and cons always in all different scenarios. I remember when I signed at McLaren, I signed a loan deal. And I think that was good at the time. When you do short deals… it takes time to bond with a team, it takes time to build relationships, it's not something that you can do in half a year or a year. I’m incredibly grateful for my journey with my team because we're still continuously improving and growing closer and, and starting to actually create some change. But to each their own, whatever works. I look down, and see what other drivers are doing. It doesn't matter what I think, whether I think it's right or wrong, it's what they feel is right. And at the end of the day, just the opportunity to re-sign with the team is an amazing scenario. It's really unfortunate for Daniel, but I really, really hope that… I still think he has he deserves a place here in the sport. So I really hope there's somewhere great for him, because he's still got lots to achieve.

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SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 25: Fernando Alonso of Spain and Alpine F1 talks in the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 25, 2022 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

DRIVER GROUP 2: Sebastian VETTEL (Aston Martin), Pierre GASLY (AlphaTauri), Daniel RICCIARDO (McLaren), Nicholas LATIFI (Williams), Sergio PÉREZ (Red Bull Racing)

Q: Daniel, please, can we kick things off with you? News broke yesterday that you're going to be leaving McLaren at the end of this season. How did it happen? And how do you feel about it?

Daniel RICCIARDO: Yeah, obviously, it's not, the result we wanted, in terms of when I joined the team. The outcome, this wasn’t desired. As a collective though, we just didn’t really get it right. We put in a lot of effort and tried to understand, things with the car and obviously myself gelling with it and getting the maximum out of it, but there was just too many weekends, where it was obviously just a bit of a struggle. So that was pretty much how that kind of decision came about.

Q: And how do you feel about it?

DR: Well, it's obviously not the nicest feeling, but I can hold my head high in terms of applying myself and trying to make it work, like trying to put everything in. Sometimes you just have to accept that, okay, I try it and it didn't necessarily work out. But, from that point of view, I don't look back in terms of ‘man, I was slacking off, and that's why, like, I earned this’, or whatever. It’s just one of those things. I'm proud of the way we tried to make it happen and persist through it, but some things maybe you just say that they're not meant to be.

Q: So what happens next for you? How much do you want to stay in Formula 1?

DR: I still love the sport and I think through all of this – I guess call it adversity – I haven't lost that confidence in myself. For sure, we've had some tough weekends and you can't help but show emotion sometimes but I still love it and I still want to do it competitively. I want to do it in the right place. I never said I want to just be a driver to make up the numbers. You know, if I'm here I want to be here for a purpose. So, I don't know what that means yet for the future. But of course, if it's the right opportunity, then this is where I want to be.

Q: If the right opportunity doesn't present itself for next year, would you consider a sabbatical away from all types of racing?

DR: If it made sense? Yes. If it makes sense. It's the only racing I'm interested in at this stage of my career. F1, it's what I love and it's where I see myself if I'm doing any racing. But as I said, if, let's say, the stars don't align, and it doesn't make perfect sense next year, and if it means taking that time off to kind of reset or re-evaluate, then if that's the right thing to do, then I'm willing to.

Q: And how do you view the next nine races?

DR: Honestly, it's one of those ones where, after all this, there's kind of a bit of a weight off the shoulders, and it's just to go out there and just race, go have fun. I always feel like I've got a point to prove. But there's also, you know, although the team has made this decision, there is still… the team is behind me to make me get the most out of the last nine races and to finish on a high. So there's a lot of people that support me and want me to do well. And I'm not one to just drive around and enjoy it. Like I want to drive around as competitively, as fast as possible. So there's no slacking off. There's none of that. It's just go out, have fun, and try and get another Monza moment.

Q: Checo, can I come to you next, because you've been in a position similar to Daniel’s in the past, not knowing where you're going to be racing from one year to the next. What's your reaction to this news? And is there any advice that you can give to Daniel?

Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah, as you say, I've been in that situation before. And sometimes, for people sitting back in the computers, in social media, it's very easy to judge thingsbut for us, this is our life, this is what we want to do and we still want to be in the sport. But I think it's always good to sit back sometimes, you know, and just enjoy the time. Because whatever comes next, you will be great. I mean, Daniel, it's in a privileged position as well, the career he's had up to now. And I'm sure he will find the right opportunity for him.

Q: And Checo bringing it onto this weekend. What can we expect from you and Red Bull here at Spa?

SP: Yeah, we hopefully are competitive, and it would be nice to be in the mix for the win. It's looking a bit wet for the next few days. So yeah, a few opportunities are there.

Q: And what are your thoughts on the changes that they've made to the track?

SP: I think certainly into Turn One it’s good. You know, we've always had discussions, people going off, getting advantage, and people just pushing each other off. So it will be important that we all behave a bit more through Turn One. And I think the other, Eau Rouge, it's mainly a safety concern, which hopefully, it's better. You know, it doesn't send the cars back to the tr=ack.

Q: Nicky, coming to you now. How was the break? Did you bump into any other Formula 1 drivers on holiday this year?

Nicholas LATIFI: No, I didn't bump into anyone this year. It was a very nice break, fortunately. I got a bit of everything in, which was quite nice. Straight after Budapest, I did a day on the sim, and then went back to Canada right away to spend some time with my family and with my girlfriend, then we went over to Greece for our own little holiday. And then we ended off with a trip to Poland to see her family. So we fit everything in and yeah, I feel relaxed and refreshed.

You could have bumped into Pierre Gasly in Greece…

NL: We weren’t on the same island I think! I think you were in Mykonos? I was in Crete. Different islands. He was on the party island, I was on the relaxing Island.

Pierre GASLY: Definitely!

Q: Nicky, what about this weekend? Is there a feeling within Williams that the car could be competitive this this weekend?

NL: I'm optimistic it should be more competitive than we were last time out in Budapest. I mean, we've seen these tracks that require the maximum downforce, we've tended to struggle at. The past races when you've needed that set-up. This track is obviously not the case. Checo said there could be a bit of wet weather playing a part and when it has rained, we have the tendency to at-least outperform the dry performance of the car. So yeah, I mean, there's hopefully going to be some opportunities and yeah, just as for me, this track is always a nice one to get back into it after the summer break. For me. It's one of the more enjoyable tracks on the calendar. So we're looking forward to getting going.

Q: And Nicky, clearly the driver silly season is in full flow, how are negotiations going with regards to your own future?

NL: Yeah, so from my side, still nothing really new to comment on or to announce. I mean, I know what the objective is from my side. The team wants performance, I know, and obviously, that's clear. I mean, at the end of the day, it's going to be the performance that's going to decide everything. So yeah, it's just for me, trying to, tackle these next few races and get the most out of myself and the car, I feel, from the past few races before the summer break, it's been on a much, much better path than it was looking at the beginning of the season. So, it's just… my goal is kind of continuing where I felt that I left off in prior to the summer break, and showing what I can. It sounds simple. It's obviously not simple – but, that's what the goal is.

Q: Pierre, coming to you now. Your tonne is up. It's your 100th grand prix this weekend. What does that stat mean to you? And talk us through some highlights.

PG: Yeah, that’s quite a good number, I must say. My taxi driver coming to Spa asked me for how long I was planning to stay in the sport. And I told him another 10 years, hopefully. So, I don't know how to feel about this 100th grand prix. But clearly a good number to achieve. I'm not going to go through the these past few years, we obviously know the highlight of it, and hopefully the next 100 will be even more successful than this.

Q: Let's bring it on to this weekend. From a performance point of view, what can we expect from you and AlphaTauri?

PG: Well, I think this year, it's quite fair to say, it's been harder than we would have liked and harder than expected. Last time out in Budapest, we came close to the points, starting from the pit lane. So hopefully, this weekend, we can be in the mix for the top 10. But we know we need to get everything perfectly right to be in the fight. So that's going to be the main target.

Q: Best of luck with that, thank you. Sebastian coming to you. I hope you had a good break. Did the time away feel different, knowing that you only have nine races left in Formula 1?

Sebastian VETTEL: Not really. I don't know. Maybe? It's just me, but I find it difficult to… I always tend to look forward to the next thing and I don't spend that much time looking back. So it has been less like… You know the people around me expected it to be, saying that, you know, I received… which was great, I received an overwhelming, to be fair, so many congratulations and support after the announcement in Hungary. I find it difficult to reflect all these years, in just a short time. So maybe it will hit me at some point later on. But yeah, I just enjoyed the break. The fact that the decision or the fact that I was carrying this decision around with me for such a long time in a way that it's out felt quite liberating. So I could just enjoy the break and the time I had and also looking very much forward to the races that I have left. So yeah. But it didn't feel like a different break. You know, it's not like this is the last summer break. I think it's difficult for any athlete, man or woman, to know what life is going to be like after you sort of step away from what you've done your whole life. But then again, I feel time will tell.

Q: How hungry are you to get back in the car this weekend?

SV: Yeah, I mean, I'm generally very competitive in most things. Even though I feel like I've calmed down off track in some of the things, maybe racing to the cashier is not anymore as much of a challenge as it used to be years ago, but yeah, definitely when I'm in the car, I want to extract the best and most from, so I feel I'm very much looking forward to these races because I feel free in my head in terms of what's going to happen and yeah, hopefully we'll be able to enjoy it.

Q: Your retirement started a bit of a domino effect in the driver market. Were you surprised by the news that Fernando Alonso is joining Aston Martin next year?

SV: Yes and no. I was told on the Sunday? The Saturday or Sunday of Hungary. And then to be honest, I didn't follow any news in the break, just because it felt like a good strategy not to follow. I mean, I'm interested in what's going on, you know, with the regs and with the cars and all of these things but I thought it was it was a good choice to not follow any Formula 1 news. So I had a couple of phone calls in the break, and, you know, people from the outside, sort of friends and stuff that I got to see, they filled me in of what's going on. I heard it was quite turbulent. But I actually don't know what the current state is. Obviously, I was very… Maybe I have too much empathy for a Formula 1 driver, but very saddened by hearing what's going to happen to Daniel. I think it's a very, very difficult situation to be in. I think he's still one of the best drivers. I raced against him. I had the pleasure to race against him and the not so pleasurable side of getting beaten by him years ago, and I still think he has very, very much to offer. I don't know the details, but I guess McLaren failed to extract the potential that he has. And it's sad to see that he's been put in a difficult position. But I wish him, obviously, all the best and I'm sure that ultimately the talent he has, and the qualities he has, will shine through.

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) Picking up really where Seb left off there. I heard something the other day that I thought was quite a good metaphor for you, Daniel, that in life, sometimes you're the hammer and sometimes you're the nail. And I'm sure you feel at the moment like you're a bit of a nail. But you know, you won a race with McLaren and at times you might have felt like a hammer. How do you get your life back on track from a professional point of view to be that hammer again? And how difficult is it going to be to do that with a team that have made it quite clear they don't want you for the rest of the season?

DR: I think like picking myself up is, I don't want to say it's easy, but it's something I feel I'm very capable of doing. This is certainly a big moment in time for my career. But even if things aren't maybe always highlighted you're always going through challenges, or you always have to pick yourself up you know. I remember actually here in 2008, when I was racing in the Formula Renault Junior category, it was like a Saturday night before the race on Sunday, and I got like a real pep talk. I was just in one of those moments in my career at the time and I still hadn't yet made it but I knew that I really had to pull my head in kind of thing and start making it happen. So you always go through these… I mean, no one has a perfect career. So I think I've learned to deal with it over time. For sure, now this is another challenge, another hurdle, but I simply see it as, if I want to pick myself up, I will. As I said that, that fire, that belief is still in me. So it's really just a choice that, you know, if I want to make that choice, I can. And obviously, I don't have every option on the grid or anything, you know, and it's not like I can race wherever I want but in terms of just from a self-worth point of view, absolutely.

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) And being with McLaren for the rest of the season?

DR: As I touched on, it's a decision they’ve made, but it doesn't change the way I'm going to go racing. I only know how to race one way. And, you know, I went in to see… Because I hadn't really seen the team, I had simulator during the week, so I saw a few engineers, but I hadn't seen you know, the wider team and I saw the mechanics and that this morning and you know, there's a lot of hugs and a lot of people obviously want me to do well and are going to support me until the end. So that's that. As I say, I owe it to myself, but also to the ones who support and want me to do well. There's no better feeling than success in this sport and being up on the podium and that, so I know if I apply myself then maybe we will find a way to do it in the last nine races.

Q: (Silvia Arias – Parabrisas) Sebastian, there used to be many German drivers in Formula 1, and now with you, you are the last one, though still Nico Hülkenberg is on the market. If you have a comment about that? And no German Grand Prix. What is going on in your point of view?

SV: Well, there's Mick obviously, we shouldn't forget him. But yeah, I think it goes… You know, there's no guarantee that you have German drivers or a driver of a specific nationality on the grid. I think it goes in cycles and we had, at some point, nearly half the grid German drivers, like seven or eight or six, I don't remember. And now, next year, it might be down to one, maybe two? I don't know, we'll see what happens. But yeah, I remember that a lot of people from the French media were asking, there's no French drivers, where are the French drivers? Now we have a couple of French drivers. And yeah, so I think naturally it goes in cycles. But what's going on in Germany? I don't know, maybe Germans are very realistic and, you know, motor sport has gotten more and more expensive. I think if I had to start, if I was seven again today, I'm not sure I would make it, just because you need to have the financial backing at a very, very early age. It has turned into an elite sport. And, hopefully, you know, we're taking the right actions, especially through go-karts to make it more affordable. There has been too many too much money around and too much money being thrown at the manufacturers and different dealers and teams. So it's hard to blame them, they need to make their living and survive as well. But yeah, maybe that's a little bit the trouble, that overall motor sport has become… I don't know how to change that, but too professional. And with professionalism there's also the financial aspect. I mean, look at Formula 1. Now we have the budget cap to try and counter that but there was no limit before we entered that era, where we are in today, and teams were spending more money than they had and that's for all the teams. Obviously, the ones that have more spend even more. It's not an easy one to fix. And hopefully we will continue to have Mick definitely and then hopefully some other Germans coming up.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Sebastian, a very brief yes or no question. And then based on what you've just said there… So, if Aston Martin gave you the opportunity of stopping immediately, in other words, not racing on this year would you take it or not?

SV: No, I want to finish the job that I set out doing.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Thank you, and then, based on what you've just said now, and also stuff you've said previously, there seems to be a suggestion that Formula 1 may offer you some kind of role. Obviously, you've got your ecological interests, you've got your diversity, what you've now spoken about. Can you see yourself contributing to the sport either at Formula 1 level or at Federation level?

SV: I don't know. Time will tell. You know, I think obviously, I'm entering a different stage of my life very different. But yeah, time will tell. I mean, I have so much experience, I have so many lessons that I learned about the sport, not just about driving, but more bigger picture about the sport. It would be very easy to pick up certain roles and share that expertise. But then again, it depends what exactly and I guess if you pick up something, then you want to do it right. I think that would be my drive, at least, behind it. So I don't know. It depends on the role. And it depends on the seriousness. I'm not thinking of being an expert running around and telling these guys what they're doing wrong. I don't see myself doing that.

Q: (Adam Cooper Motorsport.com) Question for Daniel. If I can ask you about couple of your fellow Australians. Obviously, Mark supported you when you were working your way up at Red Bull. I'm sure you've been keen to see Oscar make progress the last couple of years. What are your feelings about their involvement in this story? Is it just business? And have you heard from either of them in the last two or three weeks?

DR: I honestly still don't know what the future holds for Oscar. But yeah, I mean, from the terms of that, it's just business. And obviously Mark’s just doing his job for Oscar. So I don't take any of that personal. Assuming Oscar… I think he is kind of guaranteed a spot on the grid next year somewhere. So I will support him, and I will support a fellow Aussie and yeah, I don't I don't take it personal. And you had a second part of the question. Have I heard from him? No. I don't think there's been a reason for him to reach out. I said, I'm sure they're going through their stuff as well. So yeah, I’ve obviously been trying to sort my stuff out.

Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Question for you, Sebastian. I know you just said you can't speak for everybody, but [Stefano] Domenicali just recently said that it's very unlikely that a woman's going to be racing in Formula 1 for the next five years. I just wondered, considering we have women on the scene already as racing drivers, how damaging that might look for young women trying to come in? And how much it kind of looks like a bit of a shut door for people that are maybe trying to get into Formula 1 already?

SV: Well, I know Stefano and I think it was, I haven't read exactly, but it was a very unlucky choice of words. Because it's statements like that, that I guess women are, probably all girls, are probably confronted with when they grow up and sharing their dreams, I don't know sitting at breakfast, saying that I want to become a racing driver. And then, you know, the father might have just read exactly that statement and makes it clear to her that, ‘but you do like other things, why not focus on other things’, and then maybe they do focus on other things and drop racing or the idea of it. It's important that we don't say these things, because you know, there's sparks everywhere. I don't see a reason why we can't have a woman on the grid. I think the challenges we are facing, they can be faced by women. So, I do the opposite. I encourage every girl at the breakfast lunch or dinner table to speak up and prove Stefano, in this regard, wrong and all these people wrong. Let's say that, you know, certain things can't be done by you, because you are a girl or a woman, I think this this sort of stereotype thinking is slowly disappearing, but has to disappear completely.

Q: (Laurie Vermeersch – F1only.fr) Question to Sebastian, again. I would like to know, what is your view of the rest of the season? How you approach the rest of the season, especially the GP in Spa? Are you still motivated? In other words, to fight for the midfield to improve the car?

SV: Yeah, I mean, I would love to fight for the win but I think being realistic, with the package that we have, we are far away from that. But yeah, I'm very motivated and very much looking forward, like I said earlier. I feel free to enjoy these races. I'm looking forward to work with the team trying to extract everything we can, obviously develop the car as much as we can till the end of the year. I won't benefit from most of the development next year or of any development for next year but still I see that I can do you know the job the way that I've always done it and I want to finish it that way and I also see that we can have great results. I don't know it might be a fifth place. It might be a very, very lucky podium. You never know what's happening. I think for here, it's mostly redemption, because last year we didn't have a race, which was very bad for the people that came and turned up. I think it's one of the best tracks in the world. After Suzuka, maybe the second best track. But yeah, I'm very much looking forward to racing here.

Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) One for Daniel, please. Obviously, the process you've just gone through with McLaren with bringing the contract to an early end won't have been an enjoyable one. But how satisfied are you with the way the McLaren have conducted themselves, particularly at management level, both publicly and privately, in dealing with this and do you feel you had kind of had enough warning that this was a possibility? I imagine it wasn't dropped on you at the last minute that this could happen.

DR: Yeah, it wasn't dropped. It wasn't just a random call one day that ‘hey, this is what we're doing’. We’d been in dialogue for really the last few months. And it wasn't always, it wasn't like ‘don't top five this race and you're done’. But it was more, you know, what can we do? How can we as a collective, try to keep making this work? And, obviously, I'd try to give feedback on obviously the things I would struggle with on the car, and there was a lot of, I guess, dialogue, but also that was, you know, I understood that was also a point of concern, because the results I was getting were not up to, I guess, the level that we all thought they could have been. So we did talk, yeah, I certainly want to say months about it, and ways to try and rectify the issues, but then also, potentially, like, ‘Okay, what next? What now?’ And we kind of just came to, unfortunately, a bit of a dead end, where we felt like we'd exhausted most things that were at least in reach at the time. And that's when obviously, they made the decision.

Q: (Guillaume Alvarez – Sport Auto) A question to all the drivers. There's been obviously a couple of changes to the track this year with the return of more gravel than run-off areas. I was wondering to know how much it makes the driving maybe more interesting or more challenging from your point of view, knowing that there's less run-off area in some of the high speed corners here in Spa? And is it something that you'd like to see maybe more for other tracks in the world? Maybe in the future for more modern tracks?

SP: Yeah, I think definitely it would be good to see if it works, if it makes the issues better that we are currently facing with track limits. And if we are able to adopt it in basically all the tracks, you know, and just get rid of it. It will be quite interesting, because I think certainly here, it's a big change in that regard.

NL: Yeah, I think it's a step in the right direction. I mean, when you look at, specifically, a turn like Turn 1, which even before there was the gravel put in this year, it wasn't really a track limits corner, because there was the big sausage kerb, but I think what us drivers would like is, especially corners that you do have the motivation to play with the limits of the white line a bit. It's probably what we want to see more because it just sets the hard limit, then, you know, no questions asked about track limits. So, I think it's gone in the right direction. I mean, to be honest, with the exception of that corner, I mean, did walk around the track this morning, I don't think it’s going to make much of a difference. Everywhere else, the layout of the track and everything, the kerbs, it's really minor changes, obviously, some new tarmac in places, but yeah, I think it's a good step.

DR: I've never been a massive fan of the big run-offs and that, of tarmac. So it's just like, you have to build up to a limit, as opposed to go over the limit and work back. So I think having the gravel there is good in some places. I've seen it's a lot closer to the track exit on quite a few corners. So yeah, as I said, kind of building up. And obviously, if you go off, then you go off. So I think it just changes a little bit the approach, I don't think it changes that necessarily like the style or the character of the track, but probably the approach.

PG: Similar common to the guys. I must say I'm quite…. I like it a lot more to have the gravel, like the straight after the curves, because I do think if you do a mistake and go off track, at least you pay a real price for it, rather than having a big piece of tarmac where you can rejoin the track. I think just a new approach of racing, you know, also for the race start, coming into Turn 1, 20 cars coming there, it just changes slightly, your approach and the stuff you can try. No, it's definitely better, Turn 1. I walked the track this morning. Turn 1, Turn 9, Turn 12 as well. So yeah, we may see more Safety Cars. I don't know, maybe we’ll see a bit more actions or a bit more yellow flags. I don't know but at least it really forces you to be more disciplined and have a slightly different approach compared to the past. So yeah. in favour of that.

SV: I think I agree with everything that's been said.

Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Daniel, there's been a lot of backlash online, particularly aimed at Oscar Mark, and Zak, and a lot of support for yourself, particularly from Australian fans. What would you say to fans? How should they react and digest this information?

DR: Well, I'm not going to tell them not to support me! But yeah, look, as I touched on earlier with a previous question, it's obviously… People will feel, I guess, emotional towards the decision. But it's business, in terms of… As I said, Mark’s looking out for Oscar, he's got a job to do for him. So you know, that's where this is… It’s a sport, but business at the same time, so you have to kind of put yourself first, if you will. And that's that. It's not certainly not the outcome I wanted, you know, and as I said, when I joined the team, I had a much different idea of how it would go. But it's the reality of the situation. And obviously, that's where Zak and the team felt like it was going so that was that. But yeah, I don't know. Happy to have the support, but I don't want to condone any negative feelings towards others.

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