Thursday’s FIA press conference – part 1

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In a new format, Thursday’s FIA press conference was
split into two parts with Lewis Hamilton in the first and his
new team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, in the second.


PART ONE: DRIVERS – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Sebastian
VETTEL (Ferrari), Daniel RICCIARDO (Red Bull Racing), Fernando
ALONSO (McLaren)

PRESS CONFERENCE

Let’s start with Lewis Hamilton – a two-time Australian
Grand Prix winner, record five times pole sitter here at Albert
Park? Lewis, you and the other drivers have spoken about how
much you enjoy driving this new generation of new cars. Could
you perhaps give us an idea from your own point of view of a
few areas you particularly like about it?

Lewis HAMILTON: Well, firstly, hi everyone,
it’s good to see you, it’s good to be back. I don’t know, as
racing drivers and in general, you want to drive the quickest
cars in the world and you always want to go faster and the cars
are faster than they were last year. And the challenge of
exploiting that speed with your car on track is a great
challenge. It’s more in the direction of how Formula One should
be, in the sense of the physicality side of it. We are
athletes, and Formula One should be the most physically
demanding sport in terms of all the driving series. In the
previous years that’s not been the case. To the level we train
to it’s relatively easy for us to, but now you are going to
have to push the boundaries, which I like.

There’s a saying in sport – never change a winning
team. But you have a new Mercedes technical boss and a new
team-mate. How’s that all working out?

LH: So far, great. I sat down with James and
had a great conversation with him and he’s really blended well
into the team and super-excited to work with him. It’s always
great to have great new creative minds and he’s one of the
smartest people I have ever met, if not the smartest. I’m
excited to see what he can bring out of me and the team and all
the guys we’re working with. Valtteri has, as I said before,
Valtteri has been gelling really well into the team, working
really hard to be the best he can be, which is all I want.

Sebastian coming to you, of course, 2011 Australian
Grand Prix winner. You had a good chance to win this race last
year and the recent testing would suggest you will be in the
hunt again on Sunday. Is there a more solid baseline do you
feel to this year’s Ferrari attack.

Sebastian VETTEL: We’ll see. So far we don’t
know anything. For all of us, it will be exciting to find out
where we are on Saturday/Sunday, to get a first impression. For
us a lot of new things last year didn’t really go the way we
expected, so I think for this year we have really focused on
ourselves. We have tried to do our job back in the factory and
in testing… I think testing times, I don’t think they are that
crucial, I think it matters much more what you show from here
onwards. We’ll see. I think we are a bit in the dark like
everyone else, not knowing what other people have done. For
ourselves we can be reasonably happy, we did decent mileage, we
didn’t have any major issues with the car and hopefully we can
carry that momentum into the race.

Well, the car looks pretty competitive but the real
question I guess is how it will do in qualifying. Ferrari have
only taken five pole positions this decade, since 2010, so how
have you addressed that? Have you got a go-faster engine
setting for the final part of qualifying?

SV: Not necessarily. I think we worked on all
areas, trying to improve. Obviously, we all know that
qualifying is important to have a good race, so the higher up
you qualify the better the chance you have in the race.
Statistically, it doesn’t look that good, so hopefully we can
turn that around.

Fernando, coming to you, 2006 winner here, of course,
there’s no hiding the fact that McLaren and Honda are in a very
difficult position at this stage. Do you have any expectations
at all for this season?

Fernando ALONSO: Well, I think let’s wait and
see. We have only done the testing period, so I think the first
race now will put things a little bit more clear. It’s a
question mark also for us where we exactly are. We were not
able to push the car to anywhere close to the limit at any lap
on the testing, due to different problems. Let’s see. If we can
have a good first weekend, see a little bit more of the
potential of the car and hopefully see where we are. But yeah,
still a long way to go for us and a lot of work to do.

It’s been only three weeks since testing began and the
problems came to light. Have you and team been able to put the
rescue plan in place yet or is that something that’s going to
come in the next few weeks?

FA: The team is always working to improve the
situation – to word as hard we can, to identify the problems
and to improve those areas. I guess everyone did the maximum in
the last three weeks and let’s see what we can find tomorrow on
the track and that’s more a question for Eric and Honda.

Daniel, it’s a stat they don’t care for much around
these parts, but no Australian has won the Australian Grand
Prix since it became a championship round in 1985, so come on
Dan, are you going to put that right this weekend?

Daniel RICCIARDO: I’ll try. I’ll try to. It
would be nice. If anyone could win just one race they’d always
say their home, so that’d be cool, it would be good.

SV: Didn’t Alan Jones win here?

Not since it became a world championship round,
no.

SV: So what race did he win in 1980?

DR: That was the world championship. He’s
here; I’ll ask him.

Daniel, do you want to add anything more?

DR: I’d love to. We’ll see what happens. I’m
prepared. As Lewis touched on, it’s more physical this year and
I think we’ve all done our work in the pre-season. I’m sure all
of us up here feel like we’re coming in as well prepared as
possible and it’s been fun to put more emphasis on that, on the
training. The cars are more enjoyable. They are going to be
fast. For the fans here this weekend to see the cars on track,
the cornering speeds, I think they’ll definitely see that.
Hopefully we’re cornering quicker than anyone else.

Well, you got a really good look at your team-mate Max
Verstappen in the second half of last season. How tough are the
battles between you two this year?

DR: Hopefully tough. Hopefully we’re fighting
for victories, I think that would be something we would
welcome. He’s obviously fast. It’s his third year now and
although he’s young, he’s no longer a rookie anymore so I think
we both carry a bit of experience. I think the team is excited
to see how we go and I think everyone else is. They’re starting
to hype it up a little bit. Hopefully it’s hyped up by the fact
that we’re fighting at the front, that’s what we both want.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) I want to say good
afternoon to everyone and I want to wish us good press
conferences for the rest of the season and a good, robust
conversation. This question is for the entire panel. This year
we have some new owners, the sport is owned by Liberty Media
and they have a big, bold vision for the future of F1. What
would be your top three wishes for the new owners of Formula
One?

DR: A race in Vegas.

SV: A race in Germany.

DR: That’s it; I’ve said mine.

LH: Miami race…. More ladies in the paddock?
More paddock access to some women, there’s too many dudes in
the paddock.

SV: V12s.

LH: V12s, I agree.

Fernando?

FA: I agree. I agree with everyone… equal
engines for everyone.

LH: I don’t agree with that one.

DR: But not electric.

LH: And not Honda. I’m kidding…

Q: (Andy Benson – BBC) We had Charlie Whiting in here a
couple of hours ago and one of the things he was saying was
that the so-called ‘Verstappen rule’ has been removed, just
leaving the general catch-all regulation about potentially
dangerous driving. Are you all happy with that
situation?

SV: I don’t know. I’m not…

You’ll be told tomorrow.

DR: We’ll be told tomorrow? You know
everything before us! Let’s see. I think we can… the good part
of it is it means fewer decisions to be made on track. If they
leave it up to us I guess the positive is that we sort it out
on track. Hopefully, we can get redemption if we feel like
something has not gone our way. We’ll see., I like being able
to race. That’s the positive from it.

SV: Will I get my trophy back… it makes sense!

DR: I guess he wants his trophy back from
Mexico. It was a pretty small one actually. Right, I’ll shut
up.

Q: (Leon Alepidis – F1fan) A question for Daniel. For
many years it has been talked of to have a second grand prix in
the USA. In the past Germany, Spain and Italy had a second
grand prix in the same year. Your thoughts about a possible
second grand prix in Australia and where would you like that to
be?

DR: I’m going to sound greedy if I ask for
another one here. We’ve got some great circuits… Seb’s saying
Bathurst. That would be an amazing circuit for sure. Adelaide,
I believe… I was very young but I did go to the 1993 grand
prix, I was very young but I heard Adelaide was amazing, they
still do it with the V8 supercars. Phillip Island, they host a
great event for MotoGP, so there’s a lot. I wouldn’t say no,
but I feel a bit greedy asking for more than we have got
already. I think everyone else would like to come here. You
guys like Australia, right?

Q: (Rebecca Williams – News Ltd) A question for
Fernando. You were involved in a frightening smash here last
year at Albert Park. Just wondering how you feel about your
return to the track this year, and if that’s something that’s
going to be at the back of your mind when you get out there,
specifically at that corner?

FA: Not really. You try always to forget all
the accidents, all the moments you were scared in the car, so
yeah, it was a pretty big one here last year but it will be
perfectly OK and I’m really looking forward to go back here. I
like the circuit. I like how passionate the fans are when we
are on the track so it will be a good experience to go through
those turns.

Q: (Flavio Vanetti – Corriere Della Sera) To Sebastian.
You said it’s too early to have a judgement on your car. But do
you feel this car has enough quality to let you fight for the
title?

SV: Well, it’s March now! I think if you are
in a fight for the title that’s a question for October,
November. I think looking at the performance of the cars
obviously it was expected to be a big step up and that’s how it
felt on the track. I think that’s what we all said when we
first got out of the car, that it’s a big step forward. It’s
not entirely fair to judge to the previous years because it’s a
different formula but I think they will be the fastest cars we
have ever driven. Naturally, the day I came into Formula One
the cars got a bit faster, a bit faster, then they tended to
stall a little bit. We distributed straight line speed versus
cornering speed and I think for us what really gives us a good
feeling is cornering speed and I think we are back to the level
we were probably ten years ago, and maybe a bit faster. For us,
it’s always nice to have the feeling that these are the fastest
cars we have ever driven. On competitiveness we are all here to
find out, that’s why we go racing I guess.

Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Sebastian, last year
it was very tight between you and Kimi in qualifying. With this
better car do you think it can be even tighter or is it easier
for you in qualifying against him?

SV: I think it’s never easy. You try to get
the best out of yourself, out of your car for one lap. I think
last year has been closer than the year before but it’s always
been fairly close. Obviously, I want to be in front of him and
he wants to be in front of me but I think starting the season
priority number one is hopefully we are in front of the others.
But as I said it’s still very, very early. We try to do the
best job for ourselves and the team and we go from there.

Q: (Andre Leslie – DPA) Question for Daniel. Daniel,
this week in Australia – I’m sure you’ve been here longer than
that – how has it been with the pressure and the reception that
you’ve received around the country? Is it something that is a
weight on your shoulders or is it something you look forward
to?

DR: It’s not a weight on my shoulders. It
means more work, for sure. This week is easily the busiest F1
week of the year for me. But it’s all positive support. It’s
kind of overwhelming actually. I’m surprised that so many
people are getting behind me and the event but it’s obviously
cool. It’s nice and encouraging to see. I hear that ticket
sales and everything is up quite a chunk from last year. I try
to enjoy it. I appreciate it won’t last forever. It’s
demanding, it’s a tiring week but it’s pretty cool to see so
many people supportive of me and the event. I don’t see it as
pressure in terms of, if I don’t win on Sunday, they’re all
going to leave the track and say I’m hopeless and never come
back. They want to see me do well and that’s how I see it. It’s
just a bit of extra motivation for me and I think the drivers’
parade on Sunday I’ll see that and feel it and get me jacked up
for the race.

Q: (Abhishek Takle – Mid Day) Question for Fernando.
Fernando, you’ve spoken about how much you’re enjoyed driving
these cars, this new generation of cars, despite all the
problems in testing. I just wanted to ask you, does the joy of
these new cars take away some of the pain – or is it a case
that if you’re not competitive then it’s no longer fun? Thank
you.

FA: No, I think they are two separate things.
One is how you enjoy and how much adrenaline these cars are
giving to you on the cornering speed. Comparing with the last
couple of years I think it’s a good step forward. Not only for
us drivers but also for the spectators: for the people here in
the grandstands and watching on television they look
spectacular and that’s a positive thing. And then, yeah,
naturally I think all sportsmen, we are competitive and y’know,
when you arrive to race like we are doing now in the first
grand prix of the year, you know that joy is together if you
are competitive. Let’s see how competitive we can be this year.
At least when you are driving alone, you are enjoying. Then
when you have a car close to you and they go much faster than
you, that’s a little bit less enjoyable.

Q: (Jerome Bourret – L’Equipe) Do you think that the
new regulation can stop Mercedes’ domination or do you expect
Lewis to still be the man to beat this weekend and this year?
And Lewis, do you consider yourself the favourite for the
Championship?

SV: Well, I think he must be. Mercedes
obviously has been in very, very strong form the last three
years and even though we changed the regulations, if a team is
strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no
matter what you do with the rules. I think it’s very clear who
is the favourite. For all of us sitting here, we are trying our
best to catch-up. How much we have succeeded, we will see and,
as the season goes on, I’m sure the cars will have big
progression and all the teams will bring lots of stuff to
develop the cars. So, whoever’s in a good place in the
beginning and still in a good place at the end will have a
chance.

DR: I think for everyone, it’s like when Red
Bull were dominating a few years ago, everyone wanted to see
someone else win. So it’s natural. People like change. And for
us drivers not being in a Mercedes, we want to see change as
well. I think even to have more cars fighting for a win, it
makes it more exciting. I’ll let Lewis answer but I think if he
wins a race against four of us as opposed to just maybe his
team-mate, I think that reward is bigger as well. So, I think
if you can win against more, it’s not only good for the fans
but that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. We’ll see.
Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can maybe take a
few points away as well, it opens up the Championship over the
long term.

See it that way Lewis?

LH: I see Ferrari being the quickest at the
moment and I think they will definitely be the favourites but
we’ll find out more going into the weekend. It’s interesting to
see Sebastian’s usually a lot more hype and I can tell he’s
trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great
in testing. I’m very keen to see what Red Bull bring because
they were quite far behind through testing, at least compared
to Ferrari and didn’t see them bring many upgrades – or an
upgrade as far as I could see. So I’m assuming they’re bringing
something here which I’m excited to see what they do bring. And
I agree with Daniel in the sense of having more teams and more
drivers up at the front fighting for wins, that’s what racing
is all about. I’m hoping that’s the case. We, as a team, I
don’t believe, as far as I know, no team has won back-to-back
through rule regulation changes, so that is our goal as a team.
We’re here to win, we’re here to do something no-one else has
done. Whether or not we’re in the right place at this moment in
the season, we’ll find out. But I have every belief in my team
that we can do that.

Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) Can you remember how many cars
were on the grid during your first grand prix weekend. And the
real question is, is 20 enough to keep the public
satisfied.

FA: Yes. Enough. Obviously, it’s nice to have
many cars on track and many teams in Formula One but at the
same point it’s a sport that’s quite difficult to get in, quite
difficult to stay for many years. We see with some of the
smaller teams how they struggle to keep their financial
situation healthy in the year. I think to have a good ten teams
and 20 cars on track is more or less the number that we see in
Formula One for many years. I think it’s OK.

Q: (Giles Richards – The Guardian) You just touched on
this. The last three years you’ve been fighting for the title,
just between you and your team-mate. Would this year be more
significant, would you enjoy it more if it was a two- or
three-way fight with Ferrari, Red Bull and other drivers. Would
it mean more to you?

LH: Well, as I just mentioned, every year your
goal is to beat everyone, of course, and the more of a fight
you have, the more satisfying it is when you are victorious, so
we’re fully up for a challenge and for a fight. So, that’s what
I prepare for. I think it’s not a bad thing. I can’t remember
the last time we had three years and then a rule change – but I
think they should probably shorten that, maybe, and do more
changes. Because there can often be dominance for a certain
team and it’s hard to catch up. There’s a limit to how much
development you can do through a year, and the top teams can
generally develop at a similar pace. If you’ve got a gap
already at the beginning it’s hard to squish that gap being
that there are rules in terms of how much investment and time
you can put into developing your cars. Doing drastic changes
kind of spices it up. I’ve never seen the fans so excited about
the season as they are this season, being how that it is we
don’t know where the cars and the teams are. So, more of these
kinds of experiences would, I think, be welcome.

Q: (Shane McInnes – Radio 3AW) Just about the length of
the season, we know it’s 20 races this year but new owners have
suggested they might like to see it get out to 25 races. Is 25
too many, and do you think 20 is the right amount or even less,
going forward?

DR: I think it depends on how they structure
it. It’s not too many. NASCAR do 36 or something. It’s a lot
but the travel’s a lot less because they’re just in the US. So,
I think it depends on logistically how they do it. It’s all… I
don’t know. I like racing. If it means just racing and no
testing and less other stuff then… maybe. We spend more days in
front of cameras and other things than actually behind the
wheel of a racing car. I’d be open to the idea.

SV: I think 25 is too many. I think 20 is
enough. We don’t need more. I think anything between 16 and 20
is the right number. Also, thinking of the efforts going in
from the team point of view. For us it’s fairly easy, arriving
more or less with hand luggage, doing the job and getting back.
I think we’re on the better side. For a lot of the team, for
the staff, it’s hard work. So, I think we are having enough
races.

LH: I think if you asked any member of my team
whether they’d want to do more races or less, they’d ask for
more. It is definitely tough on the guys that are travelling
but they love it. They’re-addicted to it. They love motor
racing and, of course, they love time at home but… I’m like
Daniel, I love racing so I’m not opposed to more races but I
think they’ve got to change the structure, at least on
different weekends. If it’s the same four days for 25 races, oh
my God I think that would be too much. If they spice it up and
make it more… a period during the season that’s perhaps more
exciting than another, I think there’s a lot they can do. As
long as they are in countries that have a good following.
There’s no point in going to a country… for example Turkey,
which was a beautiful place but there was no-one that turned up
to a race. But if you go to places where there’s a real great
atmosphere then you can create a great event, then I think that
would be awesome.

Fernando, any thoughts?

FA: The same. We all love racing I think so
more racing will be always welcome – but in a couple of years’
time.

Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, how excited are you about
the prospect of taking on Seb, a driver that’s won four titles.
Obviously, you have three. Do you think this could be the start
of a great rivalry that Formula One needs with arguably the two
best drivers of their generation going for the title?

LH: Yeah. I’ve not had a lot of battles with
Sebastian on track so, of course, would love to have that. I
think the fans want to see that but even between all of us. We
need this guy [Fernando] to have a good car so he can get up
there and fight with us as well – before his time’s up. We got
a hint that it’s another couple of years at least, so that’s
good. I feel we’re yet to see the best of Fernando. The sport
needs that and he deserves to be able to show that. So, yeah,
you want to be racing against the best. I think that’s what the
fans want to see. That close racing and sheer competitiveness
and see the ups and downs of the best doing their best. I’m
definitely looking forward to racing with all these guys and I
hope there’s lots of close racing.

Q: (Andrew Tate – The Age) Lewis, does part of you wish
you were racing the reigning champion for the championship this
year.

LH: Not really. When I walked in here I was
thinking it was kind of neat because I have a champion here, a
champion there and a potential champion here as well.

DR: Thanks!

LH: …so it obviously doesn’t make any
difference if the reigning champion’s here or not. At the end
of the day every year it’s a brand-new year, a brand-new start,
it’s a brand-new challenge and a brand-new championship to win.
So, I think we’re all out there to beat each other – but as far
as I’m aware you don’t say ‘that guy over there’s the current
World Champion, I want to go and beat him’. You just want to
beat whoever it is you’re up against.

Click HERE for Part 2 of
Thursday’s FIA press conference.

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