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Australian GP: FIA Thursday Press Conference

March 14 2019

 FIA Thursday Press Conference

DRIVERS Ė Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Sebastian VETTEL (Ferrari), Daniel RICCIARDO (Renault), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), Robert KUBICA (Williams)


Weíre gathered under very sad circumstances, following the news that Charlie Whiting, the FIAís Director of Formula One died during the early hours of this morning. Iíd like to start this press conference by asking each of the drivers present for their thoughts and memories of Charlie. Lewis, could we start with you, please?

Lewis HAMILTON: Iíve known Charlie since I started in 2007. I made some comments this morning on my Instagram. It may have not worked, as I think itís down but obviously incredibly shocked this morning to hear the sad news and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. What he did for this sport, I mean, his commitmentÖ he really was a pillar, as Toto said, such an iconic figure in the sporting world and he contributed so much for us, so may he rest in peace.

Q: Sebastian?

Sebastian VETTEL: Well I guess I was as shocked as we all are still now, when I head the news this morning, especially because I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him. Difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there anymore. To add to what Lewis said. Iíve known him for a long time and heís sort of been our man, the driverís man. Obviously there are regulations and all that and then there is us and he was the middleman. He was someone you could ask anything of, anytime. He was open to everyone at any time. His door was always open. He was a racer. He was just a very nice guy. Shocked. I donít think thereís that much to add. I think all our thoughts, the whole paddock, the whole circus, the whole family of Formula One; all our thoughts are with him and especially with his family in these difficult circumstances.

Q: And Robert?

Robert KUBICA: Well, as Seb says, and Lewis, itís a hard moment. I saw Sebastian walking with Charlie yesterday and I thought I would not interrupt them because I would see him on Friday at the Driversí Briefing. Unfortunately this will not be the case. Itís very sad. He was kind of an icon of Formula One. He was, as Sebastian said, a racer, but also keeping up everything in the regulations. He was really the kind of a person you could always trust and commit. A very sad moment. My thoughts are with his family, but thatís how it is unfortunately.

Q: And Max, please?

Max Verstappen: I think as everybody said, I think it was a big shock, also because I spent the day with him in Geneva a few weeks ago and we had a good chat, just about a lot of things. When I left at the time, I was like ďsee you in Australia for another season of racingĒ and when you hear this news itĎs just unbelievable Ė just 66 years old. I guess we just have to appreciate every day and every morning you wake up and that you enjoy life, and that itís not only about Formula One but there are a lot of other things in life and this is just one part of it. And yeah, I think at the moment what is most important is that the thoughts are going to his family and friend and close ones.

Q: And Daniel?

Daniel RICCIARDO: I echo everything. Not the nicest news to walk into. Taken aback by it, for sure. Iíll try to make it slightly more positive. As Seb said, he was there for us, and we gave him a hard time. We would really press him and push him and make him work, but he was always really receptive and you always felt like he was on our side. I guess we were like a broken record with a lot of the things we would complain about but he never really shut it down. He was always ears open. I think he did a lot for the sport. Weíll have some very nice and positive memories of him. I remember my first Aussie GP, in 2012, going up. I remember we were with Franz and he goes ďgo and introduce yourself to Charlie; itís the start of a new seasonĒ and start the relationship on a good news. Time goes fast, but as Max touched on, itís important just to appreciate it, each moment. You do take it for granted. Iím sure weíll all race with a lot of passion this weekend and itís just a reminder as well that we are all very lucky to be in this position.

Q: Thank you all five of you. A couple more questions now to each of you, and Daniel, weíll stay with you. Your home race, itís always a busy build-up but how have the last few days been for you?

DR: Busy! But itís alright; Iím actually used to it now. Itís expected. But, you know, busy is good; it means people car and that theyíre excited about the start of the season. A lot of things have changed. Iíve changed team and thatís created a lot of other change within the F1 paddock and other drivers moving teams. Itís been a pretty cool and pretty busy off-season for sure. Done some activities Ė drove a V8 Supercar yesterday; Max was saying he was a passenger today in one, so just chatting a little bit about that. Itís fun. Itís fun when you can balance some of the not so fun media commitments with a little bit of enjoyment. But now weíre getting close. Weíre within 24 hours of driving the car, so excited to get on track, but also excited to see the pecking order. I think we could draw some conclusions from testing but not much, so weíll see where we stands.

Q: I was going to ask you about the conclusions from testing. How close are Renault to the top three teams now?

DR: Not sureÖ Not sure, so weíll see how we go. The second week, the last couple of days, we had a few new parts on the car and they seem more promising for our development, so that was encouraging. I think we left the test more encouraged. Weíll see. Judging the top three cars, I donít even know where they stand at the moment, but yeah, a few more days and youíll know.

Q: Thank you, Daniel. Robert, coming to you: itís your first race since 2010, can you describe your emotions heading into this weekend?

RK: Yeah, it has been a long time, a long time away from the sport. EmotionsÖ to be honest there is not really a lot of time to think about them, you are focused on the job, focused on the things to do. Try to learn as much as you can about new F1. Things have changed quite a lot since I was racing here last time. Just trying to prepare; trying to be ready. We didnít have a the perfect start to winter testing, so there are a lot of things to be checked, to see how they will be and yeah, letís see.

Q: As you said, it was a difficult period for the team in winter testing Ė the car arrived late in Barcelona. Whatís a realistic goal for you and the team?

RK: Unfortunately we were late for the winter testing and itís not like you recover this delay in one week, so there are still things being sorted out. The guys are pushing really hard, especially on track but also in factory. It is a difficult period but we have to make sure we are doing everything we can in the current situation. We cannot change it, so we have to make we concentrate on what we have. There is no point in wasting energy or time and then thinking of a difficult job. We just need to do our job and this is the approach of each member of the team we are having. We have to make sure we maximize our opportunities from what we have.

Q: Max, coming to you, the management at Red Bull Racing has been very bullish about the new package, what are your thoughts?

MV: I guess weíll find out, wonít we? I think so far, we had a good winter test, not too many issues, and I was just very happy about how everybody was working together, which I think is very important, and a good start. Of course, integrating the new engine into the chassis but it didnít seem like it was giving us problems, so very happy about that. I could do most of my running, so that was very positive but in terms of performance, I think itís a bit difficult to judge at the moment where we exactly are. I didnít have any time to do performance runs, or whatever but yeah, weíre happy with what we did. Of course, I think it can always be better, I think everybody has that thoughts. I guess here Ė but not only here in Melbourne Ė weíll find out throughout the beginning of the season where we will stand.

Q: Whatís the atmosphere like in the team at the moment, with the new partnership with Honda. Do you feel itís a bit more bullish that it was in the recent past?

MV: I think everybodyís just very motivated, very positive and very focused on the job as well.

Q: Sebastian, coming to you, fastest in winter testing. Do you feel youíre in a better position now than you were at this time last year?

SV: Yeah. Quite frankly because I think last yearís winter testing didnít go well for us and we actually had some issues with the car to fix and obviously we got a bit lucky during the race weekend with the safety car to grab the win Ė but yeah, I think in this regard we are more prepared. Our car seems to work fine: no problems at this stage. Having said that, obviously we canít do better than last yearís result. So, itís a tough weekend ahead of us. Always the start, youíre a bit nervous, you donít know exactly where you are. You donít know whatís going to happen but yeah, I think we areÖ yíknowÖ the spirit is good, the atmosphere is good, weíre happy to be here and start racing.

Q: And just a quick word on the technical regulation changes that have happened over the winter. Do you feel that itíll be possible to follow another car closer this year than last year?

SV: Well, testing isnít about following other cars and overtaking. So I didnít get much of that Ė but it didnít seem to make a difference. Hopefully it turns out to be better and easier this year. We will see. Obviously the DRS is a bit different. Itís a bit bigger delta Ė so letís see. I didnít have that much experience in testing to make a full conclusion.

Q: Lewis, difficult to read Mercedesí testing form. Whatís your take on it?

LH: I donít think thereís much toÖ itís not difficult to read it. I think it was quite clear, however itís difficult to know what everyoneís doing, so naturally we wonít fully know until we get out in the car tomorrow and, come qualifying you get a better picture, and usually, over the first few races is when you really start to get an idea of where everyone stands Ė but we said that we have work to do and we werenít talking BS. We have work to do.

Q: From an internal point of view, how important has continuity been Ė both stability on the driving front and the technical front?

LH: On the driving front, continuity is what works. We have a great pairing and I think the contribution Valtteri and I together, itís worked well for years and thereís no reason to change it. If it ainít broke, donít fix it. In terms of the team, weíve got so many incredible people within the team, and the energyÖ itís inspiring to see so many people so pumped, pulling together. The communication is better than ever. Just after the test I went back, and Toto rallied the troops and we all sat together and itís really impressive to see so many people so passionate about their jobs and so passionate about racing and wanting to do a better job and always wanting to improve. And knowing where they can improve Ė itís really, really cool to see. Really encouraging. I just know theyíre the soldiers. Theyíre the real, true fighters within the team, and I know theyíre going to be giving absolutely everything to make sure that we continue to progress.


Q: (Scott Mitchell Ė Autosport) Lewis, you talked about the need to improve after testing. Valtteri said heís already seen improvements from you guys. Do you share that confidence, do you think that theyíve already found gains? And for Seb, you talked about being more prepared this year. Does it feel different coming here, arguably as the hunted rather than the hunter?

LH: Well, naturally after a test, you always improve the next day as the car gets older and older throughout the test. It wears and then you go away, you analyse where youíve been. New information gets put in the wind tunnel, the engineers have new information and they work upon it. So, everyone takes a step after testing. The car will be fresher here, weíll have a much better understanding of it Ė but I think itís the same for everyone. We didnít bring upgrades. It will be interesting to see how the Red Bull upgrade works, and I know some other people, Ferrari usually bring an upgrade for the first race, so itíll be interesting to see.

SV: Well, at this point, I think we are all hunters and all hunted. We have zero points. At this point I donít feel like either. But hopefully going away from here weíll be in the position of the hunted. Thatís the target.

Q: (Andrew Benson Ė BBC Sport) Sebastian. Your team boss has said that, in particular situations, youíll be favoured. What do those particular situations mean? In what way will you be favoured at the start of the season?

SV: I donít think thereís much point in going into certain situations. I think itís very clear, and I think Mattia also made it very clear, we are free to race, free to race each other. I think Charles will do his best to help himself and help the team and thatís the same for me. I will do my best to help myself and to help the team. So, in the end weíre racing for Ferrari and that means we try to get Ferrari back to where weíve been trying to get it back to for the last couple of years. Thatís the main priority and the rest, itís a long, long season and I think itís a bit pointless at this point to start pointing out certain scenarios.

Q: (Dan Knutson Ė Auto Action / Speed Sport) If I could ask all of your briefly, what do you think of the new rule of a point for fastest lap?

MV: I donít know. I think it can be nice but it can also work against you maybe when youíre fighting for a title Ė but I guess time will tell how itís all going to work out Ė but for sure you can play a bit with it, as a team.

LH: Itís 21 extra points, so I think itíll be interesting to see how people try to get those points, so it should be interesting.

DR: Yeah. At first, when I just heard, I thought it was the wholeÖ itís good that theyíve restricted it to the top ten. So you do have something potentially to lose if you go in to pit for a fresh set of tyres to get the fastest lap. Yeah, weíll see. Havenít really thought that much about it. See how it plays out. I donít think it will decide a championship Ė could do, but I donít think it will.

SV: I donít know. I donít expect much change. Weíll see after a couple of races if there is actually a change.

RK: I think unfortunately it doesnít affect us a lot. At least for now. But yeah, extra point. It can unlock some strange scenarios at the end of the race with some cars pitting and it will open up. Weíll see three, four cars suddenly coming in. It will depend. It will be a kind of domino. But as I said, I was not really interested about it.

Q: (Alessandro Sala Ė tercerequipo.com) Talking about the hunter equation for Mr Crocodile Daniel. 1980, Alan Jones, the last Aussie to win in Australia. After 40 years, itís time to try, with the permission of some of the other guys, to win. We hope to see a good dive in the Albert Park lake. Do you?

DR: With myself, not with my car right? I might need some help from some others, probably, this early in the season Ė but yeah, thereís a chance of some overtakes. I think early on there wonít be too many front row starts. So theyíll certainly be some cars in front. The win might be optimistic in a few daysí time but yeah, being the hunter, thatís still going to be a lot of fun this year. Try to keep that up. More than ever with, I guess, probably the midfield battles weíll be in initially. Thatíll be cool. Does that answer your question? Iíll try to win, of course.

Theyíre already kind of crazy, Australians but yeah, if we could pull that off, lock your doors.

Q: (Joost Nederpelt Ė NU.NL) Max, you said some things could have been better. What could have been better?

MV: Some things. I cannot go into detail, can I? No, I canít.

SV: Otherwise what? Daniel comes after you with his knife!

Q: (Giles Richards Ė Guardian) Lewis and Sebastian, how important to each of you is it to stamp your authority for the championship early on this season, in these opening four races?

LH: Itís a long season, so I donít particularly feel itís the most important thing. I think itís really about finishing races and analysing and making sure you are getting as many points as you can, of course, but Iím not really one for needing to stamp authority.

SV: Yeah, pretty much the same. I donít think we will win it here, I donít think we will lose it here. Itís a long way. Hopefully we have a strong package, a strong team that carries us into a position at the end of the year to fight for it.

Q: (Stylianos Alepidis Ė F1fan.gr) Sebastian, the last couple of championships you did not reach your target. You had the weight on your shoulders from the Italian media about the expectations of the tifosi. Now under the new leadership of Mr Binotto, do you think that with the new attitude of the communications department towards the media that the more intense later stages of the championship will pan out somehow differently?

SV: Iím not sure the media is going to make a big difference unless you can somehow transfer points to my account. I think itís a new year, obviously (there have been) some changes. Of course we will be focused trying to do our job as good as we can. I think thereís a lot of passion inside this team thatís willing to get out and expressing ourselves, I think, through winning, is the best we can do so thatís the target but as I said, thereís so many races, such a long way, so many things we are depending on but as much as we can control things we try to take them in our hand and get our job done. As I said, so far the atmosphere is good, the spirit is right inside the team and yeah, we try to carry that into the season. In terms of expectations, I think itís normal when you finished second the year before that the way to look at it is that it is a disaster because you finished second so in that way, finishing second, third or fourth is all the same disaster. The winner takes it all, so in that case Lewis has been in that position the last years and we try to turn it around.

Q: (Rene Oudman Ė Racing News 365) The first Grand Prix of the season means the end of the winter break, a time in which you have more spare time. What was the nicest, funniest or weirdest thing youíve done in the winter of 2018/2019?

RK: Complicated.

SV: You had a longer winter break though.

RK: Yeah, I did have a bit longer than the others. Actually this winter was quite busy soÖ I think starting working with the team, knowing that you will be a race driver definitely makes a big difference to the past seven winters. The nicest one, probably, was a week of cycling, which was nice, combining a bit of hobby training with pleasure.

SV: I donít know. I guess just spending time at home, making my own breakfast which I quite enjoy. Yeah, pretty boring maybe but I enjoyed it. Went skiing a couple of times, the weather was good, the snow was good.

DR: Similar, just being home and itís summer for me soÖ yeah, Australia. Actually what was really nice as well was I didnít go to an airport for six weeks and that wasÖ I think that was the longest in ten years that Iíve been off a plane, so that was actually really pleasant. I enjoyed being outdoors. I got the bikes and mountains bikes. I feel like doing things that move fast, just that sort of stuff, hanging out with friends, maybe snapping the neck off a couple of beers but thatís about it. Makes more sense when you drink itÖ But yeah, just literally switching off especially after last year, that was important for me to wind down.

Can I just lighten things up as well? Robert mentioned that heís had a pretty long winter break. I donít think we all know to the extent of what heís been through to get back here, so I just think itís awesome to see him back. Iíve known him from when I moved to Europe back in 2007 which feels like a long time but yeah, just a testament to his character and I wonít ask for everyone to applaud but I really think itís awesome for him to be here. We can applaud, yeah.

LH: I donít really remember a lot of it. I mean the winter break finished quite a while ago, since we gotÖ February, once youíre back in the factory and working with the team, focused on making sure that youíre fit and ready for the first race ended a while ago so it feels like a long long time ago but thereís skydiving. Done some surfing. I wanted to do it here but I couldnít find a netted area to go to. I just canít go where there are sharks, man, and every Australian I meet theyíre like Ďnah, nah, youíll be alright. If a shark comes up to you, punch it in the face.í Australians are really kind of crazy, huh?

DR: Iíd like to say Iíd do the same but no, they scare me too.

LH: But yeah, otherwise pretty much the same as everyone else. The break is a really precious time you get to spend with family and friends and itís the time you donít get to think about racing and then once the season starts youíre on tour the whole year and you never really lose sight of your targets.

MV: I guess I like mid- to end-of December is a bit of time off and you can spend time with family and friends but from like January onwards itís just training so I donít feel like itís a break any more because youíre just busy. Some more exciting things happened, some less exciting things happened but should I share them? I donít think so.

Q: (Rebecca Clancy Ė The Times) Lewis, as has been mentioned, Ferrari have said they will favour Sebastian at certain times. Have there been any similar conversations at Mercedes or are you guys just free to race?

LH: Weíre free to race like every single year so that was even said at the beginning ofÖ back at the factory and itís repeated today and thatís how I like it. It means we both have a fair shot but itís been the same every single year and itís only to a point where one driver doesnít have the chance to win the champion any more if weíre lucky enough to be in that position and things shift but generally weíre always free to race so I think thatís great.


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