F1: Thursday Saudi Arabian GP Driver Q&A
DRIVER GROUP 1 – Valtteri BOTTAS (Alfa Romeo), Yuki TSUNODA (AlphaTauri), Alex ALBON (Williams), Lando NORRIS (McLaren), Carlos SAINZ (Ferrari)
Q: Carlos, you’re in the hot seat next to me. Let’s start with you. Qualified fourth, finished fourth in Bahrain. How do you reflect on that opening weekend?
Carlos SAINZ: It was a tough first weekend for the team but in general, I think we got out of it with a maximum that we could have done. Obviously the penalty of Charles coming into here is not ideal, but it’s only the first race. If something told us 2022 that it’s not how you start it’s how you finish so we’re going to try and build up from there on, especially now keep the developments in and try and improve the car as much as possible and try and improve from where we started.
Q: Just before we go any further, you sound like you’re misfiring a bit. How are you?
CS: I have a few misfires going on in my voice but I caught that at the weekend, now I’m feeling totally fine. It’s just that – I don’t know why but my voice decided to leave me yesterday morning and it hasn’t come back yet.
Q: Now, you mentioned Charles’s DNF in Bahrain. What are the reliability concerns at Ferrari?
CS: For sure we are relatively concerned. It’s not the way you want to start a season with a penalty in race two, and break in the battery, the ECU in the first weekend and clearly we are not happy with that and we identified as a weakness but this is the first time we’ve seen this failure in a very, very long time so it caught us by surprise. We’re putting things in place to fix it and I’m pretty sure that we are capable of fixing that in the short term. So yeah, it’s a bad, bad situation but now we can only look forward and improve it and make sure that we are also more competitive this weekend.
Q: Were there any issues at the Pirelli tests last week?
CS: No, no.
Q: Okay. Good. Look quickly, both Ferraris on the podium here last year, do you think you’ve got the pace to get at least one of you up there this year?
CS: I want to think so, yeah. I think the track is completely different to Bahrain: the tarmac, the high speed nature, the wing level that we will run, everything is just a bit different now compared to Bahrain, and I have the feeling that we’re going to be a bit more competitive; enough to beat the Red Bulls, given how competitive and how strong they were in Bahrain is going to be extremely difficult. But I want to be more optimistic after Bahrain and feel like this weekend, we have a good chance to get back on the podium.
Q: So Carlos is more optimistic after Bahrain. Lando, coming to you now, how are you feeling coming into this one? Are you more optimistic as well?
Lando NORRIS: I would say so, I think for what we believe we should have achieved last weekend in Bahrain and absolutely. You know, I believe we should have been in the top 10, scored some points in Bahrain, if we didn’t have the issues. So our plan is to limit that, not have any issues and try again and make up for (what) we lost.
Q: So the pace of the car is good enough for points and Q3, do you think?
LN: Q3 not yet, not possible to be in Q3 in Bahrain so we know, in terms of pace we have a lot of work to do. Some cars seem much quicker in qualifying and then struggle in the race and some vice versa. So I think we’re just a little bit in the middle there. But I believe we should have at least had a fight with Alex and Alex was just ahead of me before we started having some of the issues, so yeah, tough to say but it’s not the track it’s a very different layout, different tarmac and many things so hopefully that plays a little bit more into our hands.
Q: You talk about the differences with this track. Can I ask you just to elaborate on that, because there have been many changes from last year: improved sightlines, rumble lines, new kerbs? Just what are your thoughts? Have you managed to walk the track?
LN: Yeah, I walked this morning. It is reasonably different, I guess, from a safety point of view, that’s what most of the differences are. And then turn 20/ 23 has been made a reasonable amount tighter, so a bit of a slower corner. Probably from the outside it doesn’t look that different. It’s just little things here and there that can… especially for safety but not in terms of driving, it’s not going to be that different I would say. It’s a very fun circuit, exhilarating, fast, street circuit vibes, you know, it’s about the risk, taking it closer to the walls and find that limit: the best and the quickest. And apart from that, yeah, qualifying… Saturday’s normally a fun afternoon.
Q: Alex, coming to you now, what a difference a year makes. From what we saw from you in Bahrain, Williams have taken great strides. Is that the reality of the situation?
Alex ALBON: Yeah, definitely. I would say so. Look at where we were, coming into last year, our first race it was really tricky. And we did struggle out there. We made it into Q2, I believe, last year but that was a bit of a surprise back then. So coming into this year two weeks ago now, to be honest with you, we were slightly on the backfoot going through testing and Friday, but then we turned it around on Saturday and Sunday and to get away with a point. I think it’s the first point we’ve had for our first race in six or so years. That’s definitely something to be very proud of and yeah, it’s a great way to start the year.
Q: Were you surprised by your competitiveness?
AA: A little bit. In terms of a feeling with a car it feels quite similar to last year but we’ve definitely made some small steps here and there and as they’ve added up, it’s clearly much better so I’m feeling like we’re in a much better place and we know there’s room for improvement as well which excites me a lot
Q: Now, you’ve just completed your first race weekend with James Vowles at the helm of the team; what sort of an impact has he made so far?
AA: James has definitely got the knowledge from Mercedes. He’s obviously a smart guy we need right now. It’s something where of course I think we do a lot of things good and there’s obviously other areas we can do differently, long term, short term, medium term. There’s all aspects to look at so I would say he’s only been here for a short while but listening to what he has to say he’s bringing a lot to the table and hopefully that will keep on happening and I would say a lot of it is more long term than short term but I’m excited to see the progress
Q: Yuki coming to you now: the team has made no secret of the fact that the performance is not where you want it to be. Where do you need to improve?
Yuki TSUNODA: Well definitely I think compared last year we made a step, in places that we aimed to improve from last year, but at the same time the way we were kind of strong last year didn’t improve much, so actually slightly maybe worse. So it’s kind of give and take and the places we are losing is more towards slow-speed rather than higher speed. So yes, we just need more grip in those places. We achieved like the places… the higher-speed corners, we achieved a little bit better grip, but we just have to put it all together more and I think we are planning… yeah, we have to improve those places, so we will see how it goes. So a little bit more positive thinking to this Saudi, rather more than about Bahrain. But we have to see how it goes.
Q: There are fewer slow corners here, only five serious breaking events, as we call them. That gives you confidence coming in? The quicker corners will suit the car?
YT: Yeah, I think so, that’s what I’m thinking and I love this track, especially Sector 1. I always enjoy it here and yeah, just looking forward to it definitely. And hopefully the car will suit it more than Bahrain.
Q: Valtteri, thank you for waiting. I’ve always thought of you as a bit of an outlier. You’ve got your hat on the right way round compared to everybody else. Well done.
Valtteri BOTTAS: Thank you. I thought this is the way caps are supposed to be worn.
Q: Now look, Valtteri. Let’s throw it back a couple of weeks. You finished eighth in Bahrain, some people have said it was one of your best ever races in Formula 1. Would you agree with that?
VB: It’s too hard to compare. I think it was a good solid race for the first race of the of the season. I wouldn’t say it was my best but I think it was good, a good solid start. And yeah, especially the race start itself, which was a weak point for us last year. We showed that we probably made some progress, but obviously the consistency is going to be the key going forwards, but yeah, I think we made most out of the Sunday in Bahrain,
Q: Was that the limit of the car’s performance or is there more to come from the current spec?
VB: There’s always more to come in this sport and also, like Carlos said before, it’s such a different track this weekend, it’s not easy to predict how the performance is going to be. But at least last year we performed pretty similarly in Bahrain and in Jeddah but every year can be different. So still many, many question marks and see how the car behaves here.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Simon Lazenby – Sky Sports) Lando, you were accentuating the positives there but the fact remained it was six pitstops for you last week. Oscar’s race only lasted 13 laps. By McLaren’s high standards, obviously not where you expected to be. Is it too soon to call it a crisis? And how frustrated are you about the fact that apparent flaws with this year’s car were spotted so late in the development process?
LN: No, it’s far from that. Oscar’s problem, it was an issue that we’ve had the first time we’ve seen in years and years and years, so confident that’s fixed and from my issue, Mercedes are sure that they fixed that and it was, again, something which hasn’t happened for years and years. So both quite rare issues. And both things that we’re confident, both from HPP side and from McLaren side that are fixed. I don’t know, everyone makes it sound a lot worse than it is. And calling it crisis is far from that at all and it’s nothing close to it. So, no, we’re confident we can get some good points, I would say, this weekend. I think it’s a close fight for… with Valtteri, with Alfa and a lot of those teams. Towards the top four teams, it’s a very big jump. But I’m confident we can be in that fight. I don’t think we’re that far away. It was made very clear and very early on that we’re far from where we want to be. And like you said, for McLaren’s expectations and who we are as a team, we’re far from where we want to be. But we have a very clear plan. I think it’s very clear from everyone back in MTC and here what we need to achieve and want to achieve. It’s just going about setting it and achieving it, which is our next call.
Q: Lando, at this stage of the team’s redevelopment, where did you want to be in 2023?
LN: Where did I want to be? It’s clear, but where we all want to be is clear: we want to be towards the top. And I think that’s everyone’s dream, it’s every team’s dream in the whole grid but when you’re realistic, it’s between where we are now and those top four teams currently. So I think what Aston have done is this clear example and what Ferrari did between ’21 and ‘22 was a clear example of what we need to achieve and want to achieve. And it’s clear that it’s achievable. So we just got to go out and do it. I think we have the people, we have so many things that we need. We’re not doing a good enough job with what we have but we all know that and we know that we have some more things coming but at the same time, we have to do better than what we’re doing currently.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Carlos last time in Bahrain, it was a small niggle that prevented Charles from finishing, a small niggle again now. Last year there were small niggles all the way through the season. If we have a look at it over the last 15 years, Ferrari seems to have had these niggles all the way through, which is why they haven’t won a championship in that time. Is it a sign of a deeper systemic or cultural issue? Or is it just a number of small issues that are going to keep coming up?
CS: I think it’s simply a sign that there’s someone out there just doing a bit of a better job than us and that we need to raise the bar. But while we are raising the bar every year and becoming a stronger team, the others are doing the same, so it’s a bit like what Lando was saying about McLaren. No it’s not only how much you can progress from one year to another, it’s how much you can progress relative to the rest of the field. And I’ve been in Ferrari three years and the progress I’ve seen inside the team from 2021 to 2023 is huge. It’s just so far it hasn’t been enough to beat either Red Bull or Mercedes. ‘21, we were P3, last year we were P2. And now, obviously, the start of the season has been tough and we’ve faced issues with race pace and reliability that we honestly didn’t expect to face and it caught us a bit out of guard, but we’re putting everything in place to make sure it doesn’t happen. And I think the right exam has to be done a bit more later in the year and towards the end of the year, because also one other area where I think it’s important is development and the capacity to improve the mistakes that you do. I think we’re going to do a good job this year on development, that we have a very clear target of what we need to improve from the car, the car is responding exactly same as in the wind tunnel. So we know where the car is weak and on what we want to…
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Carlos, after Bahrain, tire wear problems, unreliability, the lack of pace, can you tell us what the mood is like in Ferrari, both with you guys as drivers, to the team and also how the mechanics are? That must be quite a quite a painful blow.
CS: It is a lot better than what the news make it sound like, because when you look back at this last week and how many rumours there’s been around it seems like the place is not in a great moment, but I can tell you, it is so clear to us what we need to improve, how we need to do it, and what are the short, medium and long term targets that I actually am very surprised how some people back at home have been trying to destabilise a bit the team. Because some call it crisis; we’ve only done one race. It’s impossible to judge the performance in this race. We are the first ones that are not happy with how this first race went and we are the most bothered about it. And we are the most affected by it. And we are going to try as much as possible to try and improve it. So yeah, I’m pretty calm about it and I see people at home committed, focused and with a very clear target in mind, and I include myself in it.
Q: (Marijn Abbenhuijs – AD Sportwereld) How do you feel about racing here again after last year’s missile strike?
VB: I actually prefer not to answer that question. Track is cool. I enjoy the track. But otherwise, I don’t want to really speak about those things. We’re here and here to race.
YT: Same as Valtteri.
AA: Oh, I’ll say the same.
LN: I’m happy. We’re racing here. I think Formula 1 and what we’re doing as a sport is a good thing. So yeah, not worried about anything.
CS: I think they’ve given enough reassurances and enough explanations to say that we are in a safe place right now. And as far as my understanding goes, I need to guide myself by that. Time will tell but I’m confident that they obviously are not lying to us and they are putting together a safe event. And honestly, I think it’s a great circuit for Formula 1. And every year the fan base keeps growing. So yeah, I think we need to try to enjoy our stay here and enjoy the race as much as possible.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Lando, you sort of hinted at this in one of your answers before but the step that Aston has made this year, do you see that they’ve done anything that McLaren shouldn’t be able to do in the short term? Obviously, there has been a lot of emphasis on ’25, having new infrastructure, but what about now?
LN: Yeah, infrastructure always helps but we should be doing better than we are now with what we have. That’s also clear. We’ll see. I think there’s things you can achieve during the season. Harder to achieve them during the season than during the winter but there’s no huge changes. It’s not like we need to change philosophy or change car or anything like that. A lot of what we have already is working well, as Andrea has mentioned, what we have in the wind tunnel and what we have on track is correlating well at the same time and we have obviously a lot of new things coming. A lot of it in Formula 1 is time. You’re always against it but at the same time you always need it and and sometimes you just have to be patient still. So that’s what we’re doing. Everyone’s working very hard from that side of things. There’s nothing that they’re doing that I would say that we’re not in terms of going out to achieve what we want to achieve. So we’ll stick to our plan and that’s good enough for me.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) For Valtteri and Carlos, you both did the Pirelli test in Bahrain last week, you drove the tires without blankets, obviously in warmer conditions, and the guys who tried them in in Europe. Any thoughts on them? How far away are they? And for all five of you, Zhou suggested that with the track changes, there might be places where track limits become an issue this weekend. Did you see that on your track walks? Is that Is that an accurate estimation?
VB: Pirelli test, there’s still work to do. I think Pirelli knows it as well and Formula 1 knows it as well. It’s quite a new concept for Formula 1 cars, with the amount of load we have in the cars, and having such a tire that works from low temperature to high is not easy to make. I think Pirelli is really working hard on it. And yeah, it was mainly gathering data, learning how they handle. Obviously, warm-up is a bit of an issue when you don’t have blankets. But Bahrain is probably the easiest track to get the tires to warm-up. So it was actually manageable. But at this point, which is, from the beginning pretty obvious, the pressure rise is then massive when you start cold and when you end up 100°C, so that obviously makes the tire drop-off significantly worse. Yeah. In my personal opinion, I don’t feel that’s the way to go but I think they’re working really hard and it’s obviously not up to us what’s going to happen in the future.
Q: While we’ve got you. Track limits?
VB: There’s few places that yes, it can have you over like, obviously with extended walls compared to the track edge. There’s opportunities to benefit but I think they’re pretty well policed nowadays. So, I think to any other track where there’s opportunities to go wide then I don’t personally see a big issue. Just need to be careful.
Q: Yuki, can we come to you now. I think you were doing the Pirelli test as well, so let’s start with that? What conclusions did you draw?
YT: Yeah, I was doing it. I don’t know what, to be honest. Yes, there has less grip than with a blanket tire. But actually, Bahrain was slightly easier because there’s already really warm temperature. So like, I didn’t struggle at all with the warm-up. But the question is: if we go to, like, Imola, low temperature track, especially Intermediate, get out from garage, damp condition. It will be a lot [more] difficult than they think, I think, because even the current tire with the blankets is very difficult to warm-up the tire. So I expect without blankets, it’s just really hard to imagine it’s going to be the same or easier.
Q: Alex, track limits?
AA: Possibly, yes. I think last year the kerbs were quite tricky and dangerous and they have done a good job to go around that – but it may open it up to track limits now. But we will see. I think there’s a lot of exploration. Some corners I think almost will be too quick to do it. But let’s… as I said, I think generally the circuit is better. I think that’s the main thing we should be focusing on.
LN: Copy Alex.
Q: Carlos, Pirelli test?
CS: I would comment but my voice is really struggling now.
Q: (David Schneider – Shiga Sports) Question for Yuki, your team-mate started last with Gasly being the last. How do you judge his performance in the last race, finishing 14th? And how much help does he need now with a new track like Jeddah?
YT: Well, I think he’s learning the new car. It’s hard to say for just for the first race, everything just second time for him. I had lots of experience, well I know where to push the limits, and especially like switches usage. It’s a lot different, I guess, to the other teams – but I think his feedback, about the cars and everything, he’s definitely helping the team, which I learn from him a lot. So yeah, I think like Saudi for him is going to be a new track. It’s not the easiest track to learn, but at the same time, this track is really, really fun. So if you enjoy it, your progress automatically, quickly. So I think he’s fast – definitely – so I’m sure he’ll do a good job this weekend.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Carlos, what can you reveal about the control electronics and the power unit situation? Or the reliability issues that you have had last weekend? And by when do you reckon this issue can be turned around?
CS: I am honestly not the right person to comment on the specifics of the ECU and battery unit. So, if you want more specificity on what’s going on and what is our plan, I guess, Fred, or Laurent Mekies is the right person to ask because, yeah, I’m more focused on the driving this weekend and obviously hoping that it doesn’t happen again. Thank you.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Question for you Lando. Carlos mentioned earlier about being frustrated with the destabilization that’s going on with all the stories about Ferrari. If you read all the stories that have taken place about you over these past few days since Bahrain, there’s an equal campaign going on for destabilization: you’re joining Mercedes; you’re joining Ferrari. How do you feel about all this? Is it frustrating? Is it… yeah, that’s if Charles goes to Mercedes should Lewis quit, obviously! – but there are just loads of stories about you and your future? Just how you feel about that, to be honest?
LN: Yeah, I guess I’m at a point where it doesn’t affect me in any way. I’m, I guess, fine with it to an extent, apart from when it’s just complete BS, that people try and come up with, and completely fake stories that people make up.I think, to a certain point, harsh criticism is acceptable. It makes sense: you don’t like it when it’s too much and people in the team start to get affected by it. Especially because maybe for some of them, they don’t understand so much… or don’t know so many of the truths, but I think we do a good job within the team, within McLaren explaining things to people, telling them what’s going on, explaining my side of the story and things that go on with me, things that go on within teams. So yeah, it’s tough, it’s the world we live in. It’s just media – maybe not you in particular – it’s just what you’ve got to deal with sometimes. So, I’m fine with it, the team are fine with it.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Sorry to circle back for the three guys that didn’t want to answer earlier. Lando and Carlos said that they’re comfortable with the reassurances they’ve had from Formula 1 and the FIA, coming back here this year. Are the three of you at least comfortable with what you’ve been told, returning here, compared to last year?
AA: Yeah, I think there’s been a lot of work being put into this year to try to make it feel safer for everyone. So yeah.
YT: Yeah, well definitely. First of all, I like this track so just enjoy the track. And actually, I was not thinking at all about those things until you said – or someone said. Still, so far I’m feeling comfortable.
VB: I agree with Yuki.
Q: Kevin, you’re in the hot seat. Let’s start with you. Let’s throw it back a couple of weeks to Bahrain, you said after the race that you were pleasantly surprised by the pace of the car? How much confidence does that give you coming to this race?
Kevin MAGNUSSEN: Yeah, during testing, we saw that high-fuel running was a weakness, and especially the tire wear. So, we expected the race to be really tough. And it was tough, of course, but my starting position made it very tough. And then the strategy that we ran wasn’t great, either. So, I think the positive that we took away was that we were actually reasonably competitive – and competitive enough to fight for the top 10. So that’s what we’re taking away and looking forward to see if we can challenge a bit more here. It’s a smoother surface; it’s not going to be as hard for the rear tires as Bahrain. So maybe that could help us.
Q: How much potential does this car have?
KM: I think it has good potential. The team is in a good position right now. There’s a lot of good things happening in the team. And we’re going to look forward to a development process that’s going to look a lot different than it did last year. So, we can actually work on a few things that we can change and look forward to.
Q: What sort of feeling are you getting from it? Did you feel as comfortable in it, as you did at the start of last year?
KM: No, I think that the cars have become a little trickier this year with the tweaks that that there was to the rules and the floor. They’re a little more sensitive in a few areas like wind: when you get a gust of wind, you can feel that a little more; in traffic with dirty air and stuff like that. So, there are definitely weaknesses that we’re working on. But yeah, I think it does seem like there’s some potential.
Q: Esteban, coming to you now. Definitely a weekend of two halves for you last time out. Let’s start with Saturday, qualifying ninth. Does this car have the pace to get into Q3 at every race? What are you feeling?
Esteban OCON: It’s definitely what we are targeting. And we’ve done that in Bahrain. It’s definitely not our best circuit as a whole. Last year was a pretty similar thing. We got P9 in Qualifying – but we qualified fifth here. And we’ve been recently very strong out on this track. And it’s a track that I’ve been enjoying racing at. So, hopefully we can repeat the same, be competitive and have a good race weekend.
Q: Let’s talk about Sunday. Bahrain, lots of penalties. How do you and the team prevent something like that happening again?
EO: Yeah, I mean, we admit our mistakes. In Bahrain, we clearly got it wrong. There’s a saying that when it rains, it pours. So that’s what happened to us in, in Bahrain, and collectively, yeah, we are usually very good on operational things like that. And this time, we were not. So, I had the meeting with the FIA, just to understand what exactly happened. And it’s clear now and we move forward.
Q: And on the grid, if you’ve gone too far forward, as you had, just for those…
EO: …no, that was not it. It was too much to the right basically. So that’s where it could get confusing. Because it was too much to the right and over the line.
Q: And were you aware at the time that you were too much to the right, and what is to stop you just reversing and getting straight? Time?
EO: No, no, unfortunately, you can’t see very well, in these cars, especially not when you’re on the grid like that. You can see the yellow line as a reference. But yeah, that’s up to me to fix that.
Q: Lance, can we come to you please. What an incredible performance by you in Bahrain, just first up, how were your wrists after the race? Painful?
Lance STROLL: Yeah. Well, pretty painful on the Monday after, but it was a good weekend for the team. So worth a bit of pain.
Q: And what difference does 10 days make how much easier and more movement do you have now compared to last time out?
LS: I’ve been getting better every day, feeling better every day. So, I think the worst part is behind me. Still not 100 per cent. It takes a bit of time for these things to heal, but I’m definitely feeling much better than I was 10 days ago, or whatever we were in Bahrain.
Q: And Lance, of course, you had no preseason testing. So, you were coming into that race weekend on the backfoot. How much better prepared do you feel here and how much have you learned about the car?
LS: Yeah, I mean, it was it was nice to get in the car in Bahrain, at least for the race, to get a few laps under my belt. Not ideal missing the test. But you know, Bahrain, the race weekend was almost just like, every lap was just more and more experience in the car and getting to grips with it and learning more about the car every lap. And yeah just in the race, that was you know, the first time I was on the C1 tire and, just things like that. So it was just a good experience to be in the car during the weekend. And, you know, I was happy to make it, really also just for that, for a bit of seat time and all that. So, yeah, getting more and more comfortable every lap in the car in Bahrain. So yeah, looking forward to this weekend.
Q: Now all eyes on Aston Martin people wanting to see if you can repeat the performance level of last time out. Are you confident?
LS: Yeah, we hope so for sure. I mean, the car was really competitive throughout the whole weekend in Bahrain. I think the guys have done an incredible job over the winter to build this car and I think we’re still learning about it. So, it’s still it’s still a work in progress and I’m excited to see how we how we go this weekend. It’s a very different kind of track. Bahrain’s low speed and here’s much higher speeds. So I think we’ll learn a lot more this weekend, and see how we how we go.
Q: Checo, coming to you, our pole-man here in Jeddah last year. Just how much confidence does that pole from last year give you coming into this weekend?
Sergio PÉREZ: It certainly gives me good confidence because I feel comfortable in the circuit. But every year it’s a new challenge. We come here with different car, different tires. So it’s going to be different challenges. The track, it’s a little bit different. I think is the beauty of our sport, that it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done here in the past. Every year, it’s a new challenge. So yeah, I certainly enjoy a lot the circuit, I think it’s a great challenge for all the drivers, especially on Saturday in Qualifying. So yeah, hopefully we can get a good Quali because it’s really important here.
Q: Just while you’re talking about the track, can we get your thoughts on the changes they’ve made since last year? The improved sight-lines, the different kerbs, the rumble line?
SP: Yeah, I actually going to have a look later on the circuit. I tried it on the sim but obviously, I have to wait and see once I’m on the track.
Q: Alright, you’ve said it’s a very different challenge here but in reality, is there any reason why Red Bull won’t be as dominant here as they were last time out?
SP: Yeah, I think it’s a very different circuit here. The requirements are very different, the degradation is not as severe as Bahrain. We certainly believe that Ferrari is going to be very strong around this place, so certainly Astons, Mercedes are going to be a lot closer to us because the requirements are very different here.
Q: So, can we conclude from what you’ve just said that your strengths are through the slow-speed corners?
SP: Yeah, and I think looking after the tires. I think we got we got it right in Bahrain, I think few teams probably didn’t optimize their cars or their strategy with the tires as much as we were able to do so. But here it’s just very different because the requirements are extremely different.
Q: Alright, Checo. Thank you very much. Best of luck to you. Lewis, thank you for waiting. Now look, fifth in Bahrain this year, having finished third in that race last year. Do you feel closer to the front this year than you did last year?
Lewis HAMILTON: No.
Q: You feel that the gap between your Red Bull is greater?
LH: Yep. It’s a simple answer!
Q: But having been through all that, having been through all the data, where do you feel you’re losing out to someone like Checo around the track?
LH: It’s not on the straights. I think last year we were very draggy. We were struggling not only on the straights, we had to take a much bigger wing, but we were equalling, or if not, losing in the corners as well. This year. It’s mostly through the corners. I think down the straights we’re quick. But exits – these guys have a lot of rear end through the majority of the corners. So, I think in the race they weren’t pushing. And so I think they’re a lot quicker than they even seemed. But we have it as them being a second and a half faster in the race per lap. Something like that.
Q: Given what you’ve just said, are you having to re-evaluate the year as a whole in terms of your own objectives?
LH: Already, once I drove the car for the first time, you kind of already start to do that, as you learn more about the car and you understand what the challenges are going to be that you’re facing. And we’re similar mentality-wise [to where] we were last year, where we’re just really working as hard as we can, staying one as a team, you know, trying to remain positive, as obviously it’s a shock when you find out that car’s not where you want it to be. But everyone’s working on the solution. And I have 100% confidence in everyone just doing their job. You don’t all of a sudden lose the ability to build great cars, it’s just, you know, we’re not where we need to be and where we want to be. And we just got to keep on working on it.
Q: But Lewis, given your level of success in this sport, and given how long you’ve been doing it, what does what you’ve just said, do to your motivation?
LH: Nothing really, you just redirect your energy. It’s just different. If you’re fighting for a world championship, which is what you prepare for at the beginning of the season, you realise that that’s not the case. And then you redirect the energy into building and strengthening the team, supporting everyone in the best way you can. And you continue to prepare the same for the races, in the sense of your fitness and the mental approach. But, you know, we’re not fighting for, you know… We need the Red Bulls not to finish the race, the Ferraris not to finish the race, and maybe now the Astons not to finish the race, for us to be winning at the moment. But that doesn’t mean we can’t catch them up. And so that’s what we… None of us at this team have ever kind of shied away from a challenge. We enjoy the challenge. We would much prefer to be at the front, but it isn’t the way it is, so…
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Simon Lazenby – Sky Sports) Lewis, you were saying after Bahrain that you felt like, last year, the team didn’t listen to you with regards to certain issues with the car. Can I ask you what specifically meant by that? What areas? Do you feel like you’re being listened to now? And also are you determined to sort this out and remain with Mercedes and get back to winning ways, or has your head been turned by the pace of others in? Would you look elsewhere?
LH: I mean, in hindsight, I think looking back, it wasn’t necessarily the best choice of words. I mean, there are, of course there are times when you’re not in agreement with certain team members. But what’s important is that we continue to communicate, we continue to pull together. I still have 100% belief in this team, it is my family and I’ve been here a long time. So I don’t plan on going anywhere else. But we all need a kick, we all need to get on. We’ve seen the proof is in the pudding and we’ve seen where the performance is and how people are extracting the performance. And we’ve got to now start making some bold decisions, some big moves in order to close the gap to these guys. Otherwise, they will run away with it most likely this year, unless Ferrari can stop them, which we’ll wait and see. But as I said, hopefully, at some point during the year, we’re hopeful we might be able to close the gap. But at that point it’ll be probably be too late in terms of fighting for a championship, but we could still turn some heads, hopefully.
Q: Lewis, you say bold decisions need to be taken. Have they already been taken since Bahrain?
LH: I think we’re in the process of it. Yes.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Lewis, Mercedes, Toto specifically, seemed to u-turn very quickly in Bahrain from the optimism of the year to ‘we’ve got to make changes, we haven’t got it right’. Was the team aware that by pursuing the direction it was in, that it could flip on a knife-edge like that, or was it a complete shock that this year was started so badly?
LH: What do you mean flip on a knife edge? Sorry.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Was the team aware, basically, that it was gambling with this concept, that it could be good or it could really not work out? Or did it have full belief before Bahrain that it had got it right?
LH: I think the comments that I would hear is that we probably won’t hit the ground straight away at the front but we should be there or thereabouts. So yeah, it was a bit of a shock when that wasn’t obviously the case. I knew that we weren’t in the right place. When you saw the car for the first time, it looks still so much different to those that that are our competitors. And it’s always nerve racking in that moment. But it looked nice. Obviously, the color looks nice, but I honestly don’t care what color it is as long as it’s quick. But we will hopefully mold it into a winning car at some stage.
Q: Checo what was the feeling at Red Bull when you first saw the Mercedes? Were you surprised that they’d pursued what they had last year?
SP: Not really. Because, I mean, it’s so hard to just look at a car and know how good they are. They obviously had more information than what we do on them. So it’s very difficult to judge I think. Us, especially as drivers, when we look at the car, we don’t know if it’s fast or slow. So for us, it was not really relative.
Q: (Michel Milewski – Bild) Lewis, your last win was here in 2021. If someone would have told you back then that you would have to wait such a long time for your next win, would you have believed it? And next question is, are you fully convinced that there are more wins to follow in the future?
LH: Yeah, I will win again. It’s just going to take some time. Of course in 2021 when we were here, we were hoping to be fighting for another World Championship. You know, you never know what’s up ahead. There will be things that happen in our in all of our lives that we least expect. But it’s not how you fall, it’s how you get up. It’s how you deal with it. It’s how you show up. It’s how you continue to remain positive and tackle the issues that you’re faced with. And so that’s where my energy is going into. And that’s where the everybody every single person in the team is focused on.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365). Lewis, you’re obviously aware about the letter the team published last week on Sunday. What were your thoughts when you read that letter, if you did read it?
LH: To the fans? I didn’t read it, no. Usually when I step away I’m in contact with my engineers and focused on the important topics, I don’t really watch the news and see all those sorts of things. So I only heard about it today. So I don’t really have anything to say about it to be honest. I really don’t know. I don’t know what the reason for the letter was or what it said, I’ve not read it. But all that I know is what I’m seeing within the team and just how everyone’s focused. There’s real accountability. And I think we are more one as a team than ever before. No matter what is thrown at us, we all manage to stay together and just everybody is just putting in extra work trying to find out what the problem is, how to fix it. What are the short-term fixes and what’s the long-term fixes?
Q: (Marijn Abbenhuijs – AD Sportwereld) Question to all. What is your opinion about being back in Jeddah after last year’s missile strike?
KM: Yeah, I mean, last year was pretty special, I would call it, and, you know, none of us enjoyed it. But I think it’s a different situation now. You know, there’s a different political… You know, there’s a ceasefire between the two parties that were involved as last year, and I think that gives some confidence. And I think, you know, anyway, from my part there’s not much to do. We go to these places and we just have to deal with it the best we can and I get through it.
EO: Yeah, I mean, obviously we trust FOM and the organization to keep us safe. Obviously, it was scary what happened last year and none of us wants to ever experience something like that. But yeah, I mean, we trust everybody around to put us in a safe situation to race.
LS: Yeah, I mean, more or less the same thing. You know, I trust the organization. I trust Formula 1, that they’re looking after us. I think this race has evolved a lot over the last few years. I think it’s changing. I think the country is changing, I think it’s evolving. And, you know, I’m confident that that Formula 1 and the organization is going to look after us and keep us safe this year.
SP: Yeah, I’m happy to be back. And as a sport, I think we are able to also help the country to evolve and for the people that that live here. So this is something that, as a sport, we can be proud of. And on the other hand, we also fully trust the organizations that bring us here to compete in a safe place.
LH: Not much really to add. All the opposite to everything they said.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) A question to Esteban. Since Fernando left are you the de facto leader of the team, given that it’s Pierre’s first season, or are the duties being split equally between the two of you?
EO: Well, I’m obviously focusing on myself and you know, the job I have to do with the team, in a way that we have to develop this car, understand the issues that we have, and I’m very focused on doing that. So I’m doing you know, the same job that I was doing last year, but obviously, yes, we are together with Pierre on most of the things that we do. And at the moment, it is going really well. And we hope we can keep working the way we are at the moment. There are some interesting topics when we are in meetings and we are discovering things every time that we that we are together at the factory and on track. So, yeah, it’s quite interesting, so hopefully it can keep going that way.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA). Lewis, just picking up on something you said there, ‘the opposite to what they said’. Are you unhappy to be to be back racing here? Is that what you mean by that? Could you just elaborate on the comments?
LH:. Well, I didn’t elaborate on it. So it’s open to interpretation.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) But are you happy to be racing here this year?
LH: Like I said, it’s open to interpretation. I’m looking forward to getting in the car, for sure.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun). Lewis. Is that the car home, I would imagine, or the car to the airport, judging by your reaction? I’m sorry to pressure you.
LH: No, no. I’m looking forward to driving the car here. The track is pretty awesome. And I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to figure out whether or not we are closer this weekend or whether we are further behind. So that part of my job I’m excited about.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Can I just can ask, is it the political side of things or is it the safety side of things that you have an issue with?
LH: That’s something I don’t want to get into either. So hopefully everyone has a safe weekend and hopefully everyone gets home safe afterwards. That’s as much as we can do, right?
Q: Lewis, can we just get your thoughts on the changes they’ve made to the track here? The improved sight lines, the curbs?
LH: I mean, I’ve seen the list of the things that they changed. I can’t remember, if I’m really honest, what the complaints were from all the drivers, but none of them look bad. I think on the simulator Turn 22 didn’t feel as good, but, I don’t know, we’ll wait and see tomorrow to find out if that is actually better. But it’s always been such an awesome circuit, it’s very fast, quite technical, and yeah, it’s awesome to drive. So I’m excited for that.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) Another for Lewis. Sorry about that. The question was already in my mind and I know the answer will be short, but it has it ever been in your mind after last year that you might decide not to raise again here?
LH: Well, the thing is, if I’m not here, Formula 1 will continue without me. So what I try to do is just try to learn as much as I can. When I’m going to these different places, I still feel that as a sport go into places with human rights issues, such as this one, I feel that the sport is duty bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact. And I feel like it needs to do more. What that is, I don’t have all the answers, but I think we always need to try and do more to raise awareness for things that the people are struggling with.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Checo, you had pole here last year. Do you think you can take the fight to Max better this time around?
SP: Yes, certainly that will be my target, to try to be on pole and try to win the race. I think it’s important. It’s only the second race weekend, so we are in very fine margins. Bahrain was really close between us all. So yeah, looking forward to that.
Q: (Marijn Abbenhuijs – AD Sportwereld) Checo, there is a Mexican artist at the top of the charts in your country, singing about you, and singing about you and your friendship with Max as well. He doesn’t understand that. Is that an issue for you? Is that an issue in your country?
SP: No, not really. I wasn’t much aware of it. But it’s not an issue.
LH: I’m sure I heard you playing it earlier.
SP: Lewis arrived to the press conference playing it. He was dancing to it. But no, I mean, it’s nothing to do with Max and my relationship.
Q: Checo, how does it feel to have a song about you?
SP: It feels nice. Sometimes I play those songs, you know, when I take my kids to the school, I ask them which song they want to listen to and I push them to say the Checo Pérez song and they always say no. So we always end up playing different songs. But I mean, it just feels nice.