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FIA Wednesday press conference - Bahrain

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 28: (L-R) Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton of Great

DRIVERS – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Carlos SAINZ (Ferrari), Fernando ALONSO (Aston Martin), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), Lando NORRIS (McLaren)

Q: Lando, you're closest to me, so you'll start off. Obviously, we've had a bit of a break since the testing, and McLaren last year made such a rapid rate of development. Where are you at ahead of the first race? What are your thoughts and feelings?

Lando NORRIS: Good question. It's a question I think everyone's asking. I think we kind of have a rough idea of where we're at, but we don't actually really know where we stand compared to a few other teams. I think it's clear – the top two, then there's a bit of a bunch behind, which is Mercedes, us, kind of thing, but in terms of just how the pre-season test went, it was a lot better than last year, and we're in a much better position than last year, so that's the most important thing.

Q: Max, I'll come to you next. It looks like Adrian Newey has delivered you another car to beat this year. Had a couple of days to settle since last in the RB20. How are you feeling ahead of the first race?

Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, we had a good test. Lots of laps. You could do the whole programme and I felt comfortable with the car. So I guess from that side, it is all very promising, but you never know on the weekend. I'm just excited to get started and see where we're at.

Q: Fernando, if I could come to you next, please. Now, the Bahrain circuit celebrates 20 years this year, and you were the only driver on the current grid that was here for the first one and has raced here the most. I just wondered if you had any standouts from racing at this circuit over the last 20 or so years that it's been on the calendar and how you've seen this place evolve over that time?

Fernando ALONSO: Yeah, yeah, well, definitely it did change a lot in 20 years. But I still remember the first race. Obviously, 2005 and 2006, second and third race was great for us with the wins. The only time we race in the very long circuit, 2010. That was also a nice experience. And I think the track kept more or less the character of Bahrain with a very demanding for tyres, for brakes. Obviously now we race at night, so the temperatures are a little bit more easier for everybody. But yeah, I think it's still a very cool place to race. Good action on Sundays or Saturdays this year, but it's a great place to start the season.

Q: Thank you, Fernando. Alex, I'll come to you next. Williams had a really good, improved season last year, clinching seventh in the Constructors’. What are your hopes and expectations now for this weekend, and what would you be happy with come the end of the year?

Alex ALBON: To be honest with you, I don't think the positions have changed so much. I don't think the order is going to be so different. But the grouping has tightened up massively. So, you know, there is not really a P10 team anymore. I think, you know, obviously Red Bull might have a little bit of an advantage and there's still a top midfield section and a bottom midfield section. But that's kind of our hunting ground. I think depending on the circuit and what track suits us or not, we'll be on the you know either in the midfield or a little bit further back. But that's all to see. I don't think anyone really knows where we are right now.

Q: Lewis, obviously a big winter for you, a very busy off season but now full focus on the first race of the year. What's the atmosphere like in the team post-test?

Lewis HAMILTON: Pretty good. Same as every year really. Everyone's really focused. It's always an exciting time of the year when you see everyone just coming together and everyone just getting on with their job. Great motivation within the team and we have a better platform to work off from this year. We still have some problems that we're having to work through and it's not perfect but it's definitely a better starting place from the past two years, so we are relatively happy in that respect. We're not where we want to be. We're not competing with the guys at the front, but we’ll work towards it.

Q: Carlos, finally, last but not least, thoughts ahead of this season, the longest ever season in Formula 1. It will be your last one with Ferrari. What are your motivations going into this weekend?

Carlos SAINZ: Yeah, as you said, the longest F1 season up to date. So yeah, we're here in race one, getting ready. Felt like the last race was yesterday, you know, when we were in Abu Dhabi. So winters keep getting shorter, testing keeps getting shorter, and you're just constantly racing now almost, no? I feel like, yeah, we haven't lost the rhythm. We had a good first test. By good test, I mean good understanding of the car and managed to get all the tests that we wanted to get out of the way. And now, yeah, we feel ready and prepared for this race one.

Q: (Craig Slater – Sky Sports) Lewis, you've enjoyed a really good partnership with George Russell. That will come to an end this year. Toto has talked about him having the kind of leadership qualities to push the team on when you're gone. Do you second that? Is he the kind of guy, even if they bring in a younger driver, which has been talked about at Mercedes, that he can kind of lead the team?

LH: I don't know. I'm sure he can, yeah. I don't really know what else to say about it. I mean, George is very technical. He's massively engaging. He's obviously come a long way since where he was at, Williams, and since he's joined the team. He's obviously incredibly close with Toto, and so no doubt that will be his position.

Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) Max, question for you as the defending champion. Assess your rivals for us, please. Has anyone, any team, got what it takes to stop you and Red Bull winning the championship, or is this your championship to lose this year?

MV: Time will tell if they are fast enough or not. I also don't know if we are fast enough. Bahrain is one particular track. There are a lot of different tracks on the calendar where you have to perform. I think in general, it's better not to think about it and then just wake up, you get to the track, you see the result. If it's good or bad, it's not going to change anything. So that's how I approach it. But we'll see.

Q: (Peter Hardenacker – Sky Germany) Another question for Max. Max, there are a lot of rumours about the future of Christian Horner. He said that he knows that all this affects the team. Can you give us an insight for yourself and how it affects maybe you?

MV: It doesn't. I'm very focused on just the performance of the car, myself, and hopefully it will just be resolved very soon.

Q: (Peter Hardenacker – Sky Germany) You said once when we talked about Dr. Helmut Marko that it's really important for the whole team that everyone sticks together. Is it the same opinion that you have relating to Christian Horner?

MV: Yeah, I mean, it's a whole team effort that everyone has to stick together and work towards more success. And that's why it's important, of course, to get everything, let's say, resolved very soon.

Q: (Nelson Valkenburg – Viaplay) for Carlos Sainz. Carlos, how different do you go into this season knowing it's your last at Ferrari, and do you have a plan for the coming years? Do you know where you're headed?

CS: Not yet, no. I don't know where I'm going and I don't know what will be my best option. What I know is that I'm obviously going to maximise my last year in Ferrari. I really want to have a good last year in this incredible team and give my absolute best for everyone in Maranello. But regarding my future, I said that the situation changed quite a lot over winter. Now I'm going to need to take my time to decide where I go. We're obviously going to speak to all the options available what the best mid to long-term project is for me and my career and the best project that gives me a possibility to be a world champion and in the end that’s my dream and the thing that I want to do as soon as possible.

Q: (Julien Fevreau – Canal Plus) Question to Fernando and Lewis. Going back to 2006, Fernando, how did you handle the situation within the team with your mechanics, with the team personnel, knowing that you were leaving for McLaren year after? And a question for Lewis how do you intend to manage the situation this season knowing that you're going to leave for Ferrari next season? Thank you very much.

FA: Well, I mean, it was a pretty normal season. once you tell your current team that you are leaving, obviously, there are a couple of weeks that are a bit strange, you know, to say bye-bye one year in advance. But, yeah, then once you start the season and the competition starts, I think you are just so focused on the performance and on the championship and You know, I was just lucky enough to win that championship. So it was just a celebration every race that we were going through. So it was not a problem.

LH: Nothing really changes. I was back at the factory last, on Monday. It's full attack. Everyone's all hands on deck. And the team, honestly, has been, I've been with this team such a long time. There's so much love within the team. And I still, and always will, love this team. So... Everyone was incredibly understanding within the team and hugely supportive. And everyone knows that I'm here to deliver for them this year. So that's the focus. So it's the same as any other year. It is emotional and every week will be emotional because the seat fit is your last seat fit with the team and you've been doing it. You remember the first one. The winter test is the last winter test that I'll do with the team. There's going to be a lot of emotional experiences through the year, but we'll do it together.

Q: (Nelson Valkenburg – Viaplay) Fernando, obviously, of these guys, you're the most experienced, also in pre-season testing, and you have a lot of expectations for yourself and the team. Has the team met those expectations, given only the few laps you've done with this car, and how close are you to Red Bull?

FA: Let's see. Let's wait a couple of races. I think, as Max said before, even Bahrain is a very specific track in terms of characteristics. So we will have to go through in Saudi Australia and maybe even Japan to really have an order between the performance of the teams, but I think the car is a step forward, which is the first goal for a winter testing compared to last year. Everything is delivered as expected. Maybe our step between last year and this year is good enough or not good enough. We will find out, as I said, in the first couple of races. But what I see in the team is a different approach than 2023 where we started with a good baseline and it was a shock for us maybe how good it was at the beginning. And then we were not, let's say, a big team also off track in terms of developing the car and things like that. We learned a lot of lessons last year. So in the way of becoming a contender for the championship in the future, I think it was an important season for Aston Martin. And I think this 2024, we start with a good baseline, yes, but with a lot of things in the pipeline for the rest of the season. So it will be interesting to see if we can keep the pace of development of the car, comparing the top teams, which obviously we didn't met those expectations last year and we want to improve in that regard.

Q: (Mortitz Steidl – Servus TV) A question to Lewis. Big winter for you. You went to Brazil, you've changed your management and you will change after the season to Ferrari. Maybe take us through that process. How did everything go in your mind? Because did you spend Christmas with the thought in your mind to finish maybe your career in Mercedes and then suddenly change it in Brazil in your mind? How did that come? And another question also to Fernando. There's another seat open. Would it be interesting also to drive a Mercedes?

LH: Yeah, it was a difficult winter, I would say, and a very unusual one. Obviously, the winters are getting shorter, as Carlos mentioned. Yeah, just a lot of deep thought throughout December. Obviously, things going on with management, which is taking a lot of time to reshape, and that's never an easy process. But it's all amicable, and now just working on rebuilding my own team. I have lots of things that I want to do and I know exactly what I want to do. So it's about finding good people to add into your team, making sure that it's diverse. And so that's always at the heart of what I try to put in place. And then January was, yeah, everything kind of turned upside down in terms of when the option came. A lot of time alone trying to make sure you're doing your due diligence and you're making the right decision for yourself and I feel like I've made the right decision. I'm excited, really excited. I'm excited about this year and I know this team is going to win another championship and I feel I'll be proud to know that I've been a part of it because a lot of the things we put in place in terms of, you know, how much more diverse our team is, the processes that we go through, in the long haul, I will always be a part of that process and that development that this team has gone through. But I'm really looking forward to that new challenge that, you know, it's lots of different emotions that you would experience through that challenge. But it's one I'm really excited about. FA: Well, first of all, I need to decide if I want to keep racing. That will be the first thing that I need to decide in a few weeks or in a few races time. I feel great now, but I know it's a demanding calendar. And in 2026, there are different set of regulations as well, which maybe are tempting or maybe not. I don't know. But, yeah, let's see. As I said in the car launch, I will wait a few races to decide.

Q: (Diego Mejia – Fox Sports) Fernando, as a driver who has raced here the most, how telling is this track about what you can expect from a car in a year-long season, especially these ground-effect cars?

FA: I think it's quite unique here in Bahrain, especially with the asphalt and the characteristics of the race, very real limited in terms of degradation. So I think we really need to wait a few races to set the competitive order in all the teams. Also, we do a lot of testing here. In winter, it is the only track that we test. So between the test and the race, you can mix a little bit the order and be confused. So I will not pay too much attention of the results just on this first race if I was you.

Q: (Samarth Kanal – The Race) Fernando and Max and Carlos, if you're... if you want to answer this, but Minardi played a huge part in your careers. They also became Toro Rosso. It looks like there's not much room for a kind of new Minardi to come into the sport. Is that a shame in some ways that we won't get a kind of new team that can get youngsters in and launch their careers as well?

FA: Maybe yes, but you know Formula 1 is a tough sport. There are no gifts. There is not much time. It will be you know good to see a little bit more testing happening and there are a couple of the big teams that they can afford to run an old car and set a programme like maybe for F2 drivers. Antonelli, I read that he will do a program this season. So, you know some big teams they can afford that but still not a proper maybe preparation and testing. So yeah, this is the way the sport is at the moment and we have so many races and the teams. they are so stressed already with the budget cap and all the personnel that travel and around the world for these 24 races that I think it is quite impossible to set up a test team like in the past to really prepare a young driver. And we don't even have winter testing, as I commented last week. So even if you put a rookie on your car, he will have one day and a half before starting a world championship. So that probably stops some of the team bosses to really promote a young driver. So yeah, there are many things wrong in the sport. And we raise the voice sometimes. But hopefully someone listen.

MV: I think, of course, now lately there is quite a bit of interest from new teams trying to enter, which I think is a very positive thing, but also we have to look at it as a whole. A couple of years ago, teams were not profitable, and now, of course, everyone is growing, it's becoming more and more popular, so then naturally the interest goes up. So for myself, I would always welcome more teams for more opportunities for people, because there are a lot of great drivers out there only had a very limited chance or never had a chance to get into F1 which then maybe have a possibility you know to get in. But yeah it needs to be you know very well prepared. And from my side at the moment of course I don't know I'm not sitting in these meetings where you know the plans are all proposed to you and they show you how serious everything is. But for sure personally I would always welcome more teams but of course you only have to then you know look into the details to see how serious everything is. but yeah naturally at the moment the interest is very high.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) This is for Lewis, Lando, and Fernando. F1 as a sport has said it's making efforts to improve diversity. What's your reaction to the fact that someone accused of inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague has been left in his role and been given a platform in official press conferences while an investigation into those allegations was still ongoing?

LN: I think it's got nothing to do with us for the time being that investigations underway, things are happening. And something I'd prefer to stay out of for now, so simple as that.

LH: I think it's a difficult one to answer, naturally. I think we always have to do more to try to make the sport and the environment that people get to work in feel safe and inclusive. Yeah, any allegations has to be taken very seriously. I definitely. obviously we don't know everything that's gone on, but it does needs to be resolved as it's hanging over the sport. And it will be really interesting to see how it's dealt with moving forwards in terms of and the effect that it may or may not have on the sport moving forwards. I think it's a really important moment for the sport to make sure that we stand true to our values.

FA: Nothing to add.

Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsport-magazin.com) Lewis, please correct me if I'm wrong, but at least it's my perception that you work so well with Mercedes also because they give you freedom to exploit yourself as a person. Are you sure that you get the same level of freedom for that kind of stuff at Ferrari, because we all know that Ferrari is kind of a special team?

LH: Yeah, I've been very, very fortunate at Mercedes. Toto and all of the board have been massively supportive of me. I think ultimately being able to be myself, and I think you're seeing that more hopefully throughout the paddock. It will be no different at Ferrari for me, and it's a very, very much collaborative partnership that we will begin next year. And if anything, I think just through my experience of all these years and negotiating God knows how many contracts, if anything, it's actually, there's more freedom.

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 28: Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes attend the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 28, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Q: (Sönke Sievers – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) Lewis, what does it do to you that already almost everybody also at this very press conference here seems to see as being a Ferrari driver when there's one year left with Mercedes? Do you feel like being part of two teams now?

LH: No. I'm 100% a Mercedes driver right now. And that's my sole focus this year. And as I said, I don't want to have any of this distract me from doing the job for this team. I want to finish on a high. I think there's been a huge amount of work over the winter. And I have so much faith in this team. And I see the motivation in everybody that I've worked with for so many years. It's not just a normal driver partnering. There's no other team that's had what we've had. There's no other team that's achieved what we've achieved. And the relationships I have with the people within my team go very deep. So my goal is to deliver for them. And this year, if I can have the best year in terms of delivery that I've ever had, that would be... I'd be really happy with that. And next year, obviously, I've got all new relationships, a whole new environment, new language, everything. So it's two separate things and both just as exciting.

Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Another question for you, Lewis. In the Netflix documentary, there's a line from George where he says, if Lewis leaves Mercedes, it puts the team in a tricky spot because it looks as though Lewis has lost faith in the team. Obviously, there you've spoken about that not being the case, but was that a motivating factor to join Ferrari because you no longer thought you could win that eighth title with Mercedes?

LH: Well, thank you for the question. No, honestly, it wasn't. I truly believe that this team, as I mentioned earlier, is going to win another championship. It's an incredible group of people and it's really well run. Mercedes has such an incredible history and, you know, from the board down, they are ultimately, you know, really heavily invested in racing and in so many areas, regardless whether or not this is a championship-winning car. that won't have any bearing on how I feel about the next stage of my career. As I said, it's all about a new chapter in my life, and I really feel like I've done everything I could possibly do with this team. I'm on the back end of my career. I love a challenge, and this is the ultimate challenge, really, to go to a team that is incredibly iconic, has also amazing history, but also has not had as much success, I guess, as they would have hoped in the past decade or so. They're already looking very strong this weekend, which is positive for them. My goal is to beat them this year. And obviously that switches next year on.

Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Question to Max. Max, when someone asked you earlier on, you said it was a whole team effort and you're all sticking together. Just for avoidance of doubt, can you tell me whether you're 100% behind Christian and the way that he runs the team, please?

MV: Well, I'm trusting the process. That's what's happening right now. That's the thing that I mentioned with it. But besides that, when you talk about performance, it's, of course, very important that everyone sticks together.

Q: (Carlos Miguel – Diario Marca) Question for Fernando and for Carlos. Do you have already the tools to make the Spanish fans feel great like last year, or this ‘24 championshp will be Verstappen collecting trophies?

FA: I don't have the tools yet, no. So… collector.

CA: I think Max will keep collecting many trophies this year, and hopefully I can collect a few more than last year as a target.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) A question for Alex. Alex, you mentioned in the pre-season test that Racing Bulls, or RB rather, could be further up ahead in the pecking order than they are looking like. Any particular reason why we would feel that? And to Lando, you seem to be pessimistic after the test. Is there any area of performance you're worried about?

AA: Regarding RB, I think we already saw it towards the end of last year. They started to really make big steps as they work much closer with Red Bull. I think that's pretty much the reason why you see the increase in performance from them. And going into this year, you can still see that they've made great steps. That's not discrediting what they're doing. They're doing an amazing job. But I do think they're going to be... definitely one step or two steps ahead of where they were last year. They already showed great pace towards the end of last year as well. So they're continuing that and I think they're actually going to be quite close to the top of the midfield as well.

LN: It's just the honest answer of, I think, where we stand. I think until we get to Friday, we get to qualifying, it's tricky to know where we're going to stand against some other teams. I think it's pretty close with several. I think there's a lot of expectation for us as a team just because of how well we progressed last year. Certain races, we were the closest to Red Bull and definitely not far away. Certain other races we were still a long way off, you know, easily behind Mercedes, easily behind Ferrari, easily behind Red Bull and at times fighting with the teams behind that. So we were still just very inconsistent. Bahrain has never been a good circuit for us. We've never had one of our strongest races ever in Bahrain. So I think it's way too quick to judge and just say, okay, we're not going to be great here in Bahrain. That's the end of the season for us. I think for everyone, because everyone's so up and down, you have to give us two or three, four or five races to get the first, I think, honest review of where everyone stands against one another and not just judge it off of the performance that we're going to see here in Bahrain. A combination of things, stuff that we still need to tackle if we want to make sure we've taken a step forward, which I think we have. We've made the car quicker and that's very clear from all the data we've got. But certain things haven't allowed us to progress as much as what I would have liked and I think as we all would have liked as a team. And also some of those issues are just highlighted a lot here in Bahrain, just because of the nature of the circuit. So I'm still confident when we go to certain circuits we were very fast at last year, like going back to Suzuka and things like that. I'm confident we can still be one of the best cars. But Bahrain has just not suited our car ever, necessarily. And exactly for that reason, I think that's why we're going to struggle a bit more here. But I'm confident we can turn it around later down the line.

Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday) To all six drivers, we've got 24 races this year with Liberty pushing for 25 and even possibly pushing for more than that. The teams have started rotating team members, but the one part of the team they can't rotate is the drivers. Do you see any time in the future where you might do 20 out of 25 races and let the teams inject newer drivers in? Where you’ve got to do a minimum number of races rather than do all of the team. Or would you, even if there was 30 races a year, fly around the world and participate in all of them? Probably from a personal aspect, not from a team aspect. I'd like your answers.

CS: Yeah, I think if we've got to that point, it means that we've gone too far, in my opinion. I think we're already at the limit of the number of races that team personnel, drivers, F1, people in F1, journalists, et cetera, can take during a year if you want to have a family back home to go and see. and to keep in touch with your home. It doesn't matter if it's family, if it's your dog or whatever, you know, I think it's just on the limit of being a bit too much. And I really hope it just doesn't go much higher than 24, because if not, I think it's going to be very tricky for everyone. And from a driving point of view, When I look at football, I really like Champions League because Champions League, you don't get it that often, you know, and the highlight of having a Champions League match that connects people for that day. I think Formula 1 is risking becoming too constant, having one race every weekend and losing a bit the appetite of everyone switching on the TV to watch Formula 1. Formula 1 needs to remain exclusive. It needs to remain a sport where everyone is looking forward for that race to switch on and not something that you can get used to just by switching on the TV like a regular league match every weekend, you know. So in my opinion, if we've got to that point where we even need to rotate drivers, we've gone too far. And I think we are already pretty close to that limit.

LH: Yeah, not a huge amount more to add to it. Yeah, I think similar in the sense that we are on the limit already, maybe already over it, but I think we just have to be conscious of quality versus quantity, and we also have to think about the impact that we have on the world. The more races that we put, this whole circus traveling everywhere, so sustainability should be at the heart of the decisions that they're making moving forwards.

MV: Well, I feel already that we're way over the limit of races. So for me personally, yeah, I know I'm, of course, still very young, but I also know that I'm not doing this for another 10 years. You're doing 24 races. So I think for sure, like also Lewis said, I think it's about, you know, the quality over quantity that we have to look at as well. From my side, I know and I've said it before, this is not sustainable. I love racing a lot and I do it a lot, also outside of Formula 1. But at one point you start looking into the quality of life and how much you are away from doing a sport that you love. But at one point I prefer probably to just be at home and focus on other projects. Because this is... crazy. you know how much you have to do for it and I love it. Now it's not a problem but I know that in a couple years’ time it's very different. So for sure we need to look into that because I think if you have to start rotating drivers is a bit crazy. So it's how I feel. Probably maybe a few more drivers feel like that but at the end of the day of course it's up to Formula 1. You know what they want to do with their sport but if you know people in the sport start um shortening their careers because it's too much. I think that's a bit of a shame, so hopefully of course we can have a look at that for the future.

Q: Fernando, you were nodding in agreement there. Obviously, you're the most experienced driver on the grid. I think you said earlier in the season you could keep going till you're nearly 50, but could you with 24 on the calendar?

FA: No, not at all. I think we are well over the limit. I agree with all the comments. I started and we had 16 races, then it was 18 at some point, and then I think when Liberty came, it was like a message that we had 21 seasons and that was absolutely the limit, 20 races. And now we are up to 24. And yeah, this is not sustainable for the future, I think, for anyone. Drivers, we are just, even the world champion thinks that this is a little bit long, the season. Imagine for the rest of us, you know, that we go to the races in the second half. for nothing because I mean there is no incentive to fight for anything. So I think or someone understand this or yeah it's going to be detrimental for the sport.

Q: (Giles Richards – The Guardian) Just to follow up on Ben's question to Max. Max, you said you're interested in the process, I think is what you said that's occurring with your team principal at the moment. Can you tell us what you know about that process? And also, given what you know, whether you still have full confidence in your team principal at the moment?

MV: I do not want to get into that. because it's not my case anyway, and I don't want to be involved for that, but as a team, yeah, we do trust that process, and we just have to be patient because there's no need to start saying things, start screaming things out loud. You have to be patient. I think I've learned that over the years anyway.

Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Question for Carlos and Lewis. What are the feelings between you two after the funny winter? I guess not hard feelings, but Lewis, what do you think about what Carlos have done at Ferrari these past years? And Carlos, what do you think on Lewis getting that seat instead of you?

CS: Well, from my side, obviously no hard feelings with anyone. I think this is how the sport works, and obviously I have a lot of respect for Lewis, the success he's had, and obviously the choice to join Ferrari. Yeah, I would have done the same in his position. I think Ferrari's a great team and at some point towards the second half of your career or at the end, I don't know where he's at right now, he only knows, but for sure he's a team you would like to be part of. So I fully understand that in if on top there's someone like Fred that he knows and he has a good relationship with and trust, and it's a no-brainer now to go to Ferrari. And from my side, obviously, as I said, no hard feelings and focusing on my future, on where am I going to go next, and in the meantime, keep doing the best I can for this team.

LH: Yeah, I second what Carlos said in the sense that I think what's most important is that we have, I think, a really good relationship. I think that's something that all us drivers have actually improved on over these past couple of years. There's a huge amount of respect between us all, and I have a huge amount of respect for Carlos. So I don't feel that there's any animosity or anything like that. I think he's done an amazing job. He's come a long way, obviously, from when he started within the sport to the output that he has now and the way he approaches things. And he's grown to be a real strong voice within the driver line-up that we have. That's really contributing to decisions that we're making within the sport. And he's clearly done a great job within his team. So it's not a personal thing. It's what happens in this racing world. And I hope that nothing changes between us through that. I don't think it will.

Q: (Owen Slot - The Times) Question from Max, if I may. Apologies if this is another uncomfortable question, but I just wonder if you could answer to what extent is, how important is Christian Horner to the success of your car? And if he wasn't here this week and weekend after, how much would that diminish your chances of defending your title?

MV: I think he is very important, otherwise he wouldn't be in that position for such a long time. Let's say if your team boss disappears for whatever reason for one or two races, not much is going to happen because everyone is in their role. and they know what they have to do in the short term, but it's all about people management over time. And then of course, things will start to be different if one of the leaders starts to not be there anymore, but we are not thinking like that. Like I said before, we just trust the process that we are in as a team, of course, to see what the outcome will be. And besides that, at the moment, everyone is just very focused on the performance here at the track. And everyone is in a good mood and just excited to get going again.

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