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Austrian GP: FIA Thursday Press Conference

June 28 2019

 FIA Thursday Press Conference

DRIVERS Ė Sergio P…REZ (Racing Point), Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), Alexander ALBON (Toro Rosso), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas)


Alex, if we could start with you. Letís start by talking about the frustrations of entering a race weekend when you have an engine penalty. How does that affect your mindset?

Alexander ALBON: Yeah, obviously itís not the same as a normal weekend when you have to focus on long runs. I think it opens the margin, as a team we can focus a bit on the long-run pace, which maybe we struggled a bit in Paul Ricard with that. Itís not too bad, because it just means we can almost treat it like a test day, the first three free practice sessions and do stuff maybe we wouldnít risk on another weekend. So yeah, itís OK.

Q: I guess you take heart from what happened in China, pit lane to the points?

AA: Yeah, you could say that.

Q: Now, Alex, weíre one third of the way through the season or just over. How do you reflect on the early races and the whirlwind existence that is being a Formula One driver?

AA: Yeah, I think the beginning was quite a shock. I think itís like everything: you start to get used to it. The circus seems a bit more normal the more you do it. By this point now youíre in the rhythm, itís not so daunting all the press stuff. Itís OK.

Q: What about the car? How long did it take you to get comfortable in the car?

AA: Car-wise, relatively comfortable was straight away to be honest. These cars now they are so fine-tuned that you can get up to speed relatively quickly but then to find the extra bit does take a bit more time. But on top of that itís more about how you speak with the team, how you extract performance with the engineers, that kind of thing. That takes a while, and thatís something that Iím always learning really Ė what does the car need to get an extra couple of tenths on qualifying.

Q: And in terms of performance, what can you tell us about the development of the car?

AA: Yeah, I think like everything we are always improving and then itís a fight against the other teams. Obviously McLaren and Renault were very strong in Paul Ricard and weíre hoping to bounce back strong here at our home race weekend. Of course everyone is getting upgrades, so it feels like an upgrade chase at the moment. So weíll see.

Q: Sergio, in France you finished 12th for the third race in a row. You seem always on the edge of the points, just how frustrating is it getting?

Sergio P…REZ: Yeah, itís obviously very frustrating when you are not scoring points. Itís what you come here for and going home with no points hurts a lot. I think we have been going through a very difficult couple of races, the last three especially. But especially in the midfield itís so tight, so a little improvement will be a big jump. I know the season is very long and we are still there or thereabouts in the midfield, so Iím still confident that we can turn around the season.

Q: Do you feel the team is paying the price for the uncertainty of last season?

SP: In a way yes, because you know, these days every team is so strong in the midfield. There are not bad teams anymore or teams that are too far away. Everyone is really there. When you have such tight margins having an upgrade one or two races late hurts a lot. So, yeah, I think we are. But as I say, Iím still very hopeful that we can turn the season around.

Q: And whatís this yearís Racing Point like to drive?

SP: Weíre struggling a bit to try to pick up the best bits we have at the moment with the package that we have. It can be quite inconsistent, the car, at time, but nothing unusual, just normal stuff.

Q: Kevin, itís your 50th race for Haas this weekend and probably hoping for a better one that in France last weekend, which was described by your boss Guenther Steiner as the worst in the teamís history in Formula One. Is that a description you would agree with?

Kevin MAGNUSSEN: It was certainly very disappointing and I think itís because we have had very high expectations for this year. I think all the way from winter testing the car felt so good and looked so competitive. And also, at quite a few races weíve had a great car in qualifying and qualified easily best-of-the-rest but then weíve struggled a lot in the race. So I think in terms of it being the worst race in the history of Haas F1, I donít know. I think if you ask him now he may see it differently. I think we have had some tough races in Mexico. I remember Mexico is like a bad race for us historically and weíve had some really rough races there Ė qualifying on the back row and finishing almost the same. I wouldnít say it was the worst race but maybe in terms of feeling. It felt very bad, because two races ago we qualified sixth in Monaco and looked very good for a very strong best-of-the-rest position there and then suddenly you find yourself in a tough position Ė hard to get out of Q1 and struggling massively in the race as well. Yeah, I would say very disappointing and I can see where he is coming from.

Q: What is the mood in the camp coming into this Austrian Grand Prix? Is there a sense of frustration building within the team, both among the engineers and the drivers?

KM: There is a little bit of a sense of uncertainty, because we donít know what to expect. We know we have got a good car aerodynamically and a car that can perform well sometimes but then weíve found ourselves in situations where the car isnít performing at all and we canít really point at the problem. Itís very confusing. We all talk about tyres and stuff but it is a bit confusing as to why we are so strong sometimes and even on tracks that look the same as, you know say Barcelona, where we were strong, we struggle sometimes. Itís not like you can find a trend and zoom in on the problem. Itís a little bit confusing but we are working very hard to locate the problem and take a direction of where to look. Itís easy to say that the tyres arenít working but thereís got to be more to it than just temperatures and stuff. There are a lot of things to look at on a Formula One car so it is a bit difficult at the moment but this track has been good to us in the past, so fingers crossed itís the same this year.

Q: Whatís your gut feeling about this year, because you were fourth and fifth last year?

KM: The gut feeling is good. Itís been strong for us in all years I think. Even when I wasnít here they were strong soÖ I donít know if itís just a coincidence or if thereís something in the track that suits the way we design our car. Itís a bit difficult to say. But at least itís exciting to come here knowing that weíve had strong races here in the past.

Q: Charles, do you expect to give Mercedes a harder time here than you did last weekend in Paul Ricard.

Charles LECLERC: Oof, I think at the moment itís quite difficult. They seem very, very quick. They were extremely quick in Paul Ricard, especially on race pace. I think we are focusing on ourselves, trying to do the best job possible but to be honest itís quite difficult to be at their level.

Q: How much of a boost was it for you to finish less than a second behind Valtteri Bottas last weekend?

CL: I think he was struggling quite a bit on the second set of tyres with some blistering. We werenít, I think we managed quite well our race. So it shows that still everything is possible but itís just very difficult and if they donít run into issues it is a struggle for us to challenge them. So we are just trying to do our best in our races every time. On my personal side it was good to have a good weekend after a few where I have been struggling a bit more. So yeah, it was nice but now I just need to keep working and keep doing that.

Q: You said in France that you changed your approach to qualifying. Are you confident that whatever you changed will work here?

CL: Oh yeah, I think itís just a general approach. I donít think itís something that I only changed in Paul Ricard and I will probably change it for here. Iím pretty sure itís positive, so hopefully I can show it here too.

Q: And when you are at a track like this, which is the shortest of the year in terms of lap time. How does that change your approach? Does it put more pressure on you during qualifying because the grid is that much closer in terms of time?

CL: I love it. Itís one of my favourite tracks actually. I really enjoy having the short track, it really reminds me of the karting days, but no it doesnít put any more pressure for qualifying or less, I just enjoy racing here.

Q: Max, you won this race last year, what chance a repeat in 2019?

Max VERSTAPPEN: ermÖ not that much, I think. Yeah. Itís a bit difficult, I think. We need quite a bit of luck for that.

Q: Just tell us a little bit about the performance of the car Ė because youíve now had five fourth place finishesÖ

MV: Great!

Öhow frustrating is that for you?

MV: I wouldn't call it frustrating. Itís not that Iím miles off. I always haveÖ I donít know if itís a Ferrari in front or a Mercedes but theyíre not that far away. We just need to keep pushing hard to try to get more performance out of the car but also out of the engine at the moment. We are clearly lacking a bit of pace from both sides. But still, I always try to get the best out of it. And, of course, Iím not here to be fourth. I want to win races. Itís not nice to drive around at this fourth spot, always just missing out Ė but thatís how it is at the moment.

Q: Does the RB15 have a particular weakness Ė or is it just not quick enough everywhere?

MV: No, itís not that itís not quick enough everywhere. When you look to Paul Ricard, yeah, clearly lacking top speed Ė but also maybe two or three corners where, compared to Mercedes, we are lacking just cornering speed. If you compare to Ferrari, they are like a rocket on the straight but in the corners we are a bit more competitive. So, yeah, like I said, we just need to work on both sides to try to get back on to that podium.

Q: And youíre expecting a large Dutch contingent in the grandstands this weekend?

MV: yeah, there will be a lot of orange. Of course, itís always great to see and it always brings a smile to my face while driving Ė so hopefully I can give them a good result on Sunday.


Q: (Jonathan McEvoy Ė Daily Mail) To all five drivers. Today the mayor of London said that he would like a race on Londonís streets. How would you like a race on London streets Ė or would you rather stay at Silverstone if it was one or the other?

KM: I think generally Iím a fan of street circuits, but yíknow, I guess it depends on how itís going to look. Street circuit, to me, sounds like a good idea.

Better than Silverstone?

KM: Silverstoneís pretty cool, so it would need to be very, very good.


AA: I think Iíd like to stay at Silverstone. I think itís one of the best, if not the best track of the year. So, yeah, Iíd like to stay there.


MV: Yeah. I mean Silverstone is a great track, so, if they want a street circuit it needs to be an extra grand prix then.

Charles, your thoughts?

CL: yeah, city tracks are my favourites but Silverstone is one of those tracks where itís so enjoyable to drive in a Formula One car that I would not like to not see it on the calendar Ė so probably Silverstone.

And Sergio?

SP: Yeah, Silverstone is a fantastic venue Ė but at the same time, racing on the streets will be very nice, especially in London. It will have to be a very nice street circuit to put it in instead of Silverstone.

Q: (Flavio Vanetti Ė Corriere Della Sera) Charles, I just read the quote of Nico Rosberg, he says that Ferrari has no chance at all to recover the gap, looking at the Championship. Is it the case with 13 races left Ė or not?

CL: Well, weíll believe it until the end, of course. We are all aware that the gap is quite big and itís going to be very difficult to catch up Ė but we wonít give up until itís mathematically impossible. So, weíll give everything Ė but of course the gap is big.

Q: (Julien Billiotte Ė AutoHebdo) Max, you say youíre not here to finish fourth Ė so how long before you run out of patience and start considering options outside of Red Bull? Basically, could you drive somewhere else as early as next year?

MV: To be honest, I think itís more important to see what the team also will bring in upcoming races. Iím not too worried about whatís going to happen next year or even beyond that. At the moment I just want to focus on this project because I think there is still a lot of potential and we are just getting started. But like I said, of course, I donít want to keep driving until Iím 35 or 40, yíknow? So weíll see.

Q: (Pťter VŠmosi Ė Racing Line) Question to all the drivers. There were now some decisions from FIA which were really controversial and some part of the drivers said itís OK, some said not. How do you like the idea to have only ex-Formula One drivers as stewards Ė maybe even with always one ex-World Champion?

SP: I think that would be great. Weíve been talking about it for many years, to have the same stewards, to have that consistency throughout the races Ė but itís very hard. Itís been very difficult for the past years to make it happen. Hopefully in the near future itís something that will be in the sport because it will make it just more consistent and not rely so much on the stewardsí decision.

CL: Nothing to add.

MV: For me, I think itís not good to have the same stewards all the time Ė because itís the same in football: if you have a referee who doesnít like you, and you always have to play with that same referee, I donít think itís a lot of fun. I think itís the same in Formula One: if you always have the same stewards, itís not going to work out. I think the change of stewards is not too bad. But most of the time, itís a problem of the rulebook, where youíre sitting at the stewards and they have a view of things but they canít give a different penalty because itís written in the rules that they have to give this certain penalty. Then by just adding old Ė not old Ė ex-Formula One drivers. I donít think itís going to change a lot because, at the end of the day, they have to give the same penalty.

AA: Not really too much to say. Just, I think the experience of a racing driver always helps with regards toÖ they know when a driver is trying to do something or not, if itís on purpose or not. And yeah, in general I think it would be aÖ maybe not all of them but I do think the experience does help for tricky calls when itís always 50:50.

KM: Nothing to add. I agree with Max. On everything.

Q: (Phil Duncan Ė PA) Max, after the last race Lewis Hamilton was quite critical of Formula One, saying the set-up was in a bit of a mess and called the last race Ďboringí. Leading the new school of drivers, how would you sum up the sport and what do you think needs to change?

MV: I thinkÖ of course itís great to set lap records and stuff Ė but maybe if we are only going one or two seconds slower but we can at least follow each other a bit closer, that would be great Ė but I think thatís also not just purely car related, because I think also the tyres, if you are really close to someone for two or three laps, they overheat too much and you start sliding too much. So most of the time you also just back out because anyway, you know that if you stay there, you have to pit earlier and stuff. So, then it compromises your whole race. So, itís a combination of both the car where we need to find a different way of creating the downforce Ė but then running closer to each other. And then yeah, the tyres. I think we can do a better job on that. So, hopefully we can support Pirelli in that. And then, still the differences between the engines are still too big, so if you also close that up a little bit by making it not that complex. I mean, I understand we have to stay with hybrid engines but I think it can be done in a better way.

Q: (Arjan Schouten Ė AD Sportwatch) After the not-so-spectacular race in France, Ross Brawn was very clear when he said he hoped for some input from the drivers. Max already gave some input, but what do you think of the idea to involve all drivers in this and what will would you guys suggest right away when there will be some sort of meeting?

KM: I didnítÖ I wasnít listening. Sorry. (Question repeated) I think itís good. We have opinions and obviously good experience also. I think we could contribute in a good way so I think thatís positive. And I think generally we want to.

AA: Yeah, not too much to add to Kevin. I think we all sit in the same boat while we all want the racing to be more interesting so yeahÖ

MV: In the GPDA now, where all the drivers are together anyway, we do talk about it already and I think itís not necessary that all 20 drivers go in there, because at the end of the day, if we all share the same ideas, maybe we only need two or three to be there but yeah, like also Ross said with Lewis, of course, yeah, if he can represent all 20 drivers together maybe with two other drivers together then itís a good thing because at the end of the day we are driving the cars, so we actually really feel whatís going on while racing. The engineers, of course, they design everything but they donít get to feel what we feel while driving.

CL: Yeah, exactly. As Max said, we are in the cars so I think we have a pretty strong opinion on whatís to do and I think we have a few points that we are all agreed on which will be heard and I think thatís the point of us being there and I think itís a good thing.

SP: Yeah, as Charles said, I think we have a couple of points in the GPDA that we all agree Ė all drivers Ė and I think we are the ones who can give the best feedback because we are the ones racing the cars. It would be good if at least a couple of those points Ė they are not many Ė but if they can listen to us a bit more that would be great, to make the sport better.

Q: (Ian Parkes Ė New York Times) As was mentioned previously, Lewis was quite critical but he wasnít the only one, there was quite a considerable amount of criticism that followed the French Grand Prix, given that it was effectively, for anybody watching, quite a boring race. Itís also been suggested that the sport now is somewhat in crisis given that Mercedes, once again, are completely dominating, in particular this season especially with all their one-twos. As drivers, do you feel the sportís in crisis? And I know, Max, youíve kind of answered previously but what would be your answers and not just for 2021 but for anything early doors going forward?

SP: I wouldnít say the sport is in crisis but itís certainly losing interest from a lot of people. You have some races that are incredibly boring at the front of field but when you look at the midfield, I mean when you look at the last race, what happened at the midfield until the last lap, they decided who won the battle, so I think that was incredible. I think the problem is more with the top teams, the difference that there is. I think the whole pack has to be a lot closer together, give equal opportunity to everyone and have more teams capable of winning. The way you do that is by making the rules a bit more complex and not so much gap between teams. That will be the best way to create interesting races.

CL: Yeah, as I said, certainly the sport is probably is not in the best shape, there are a few things we can do to improve it quite significantly. As Checo said, already from having a closer field would help, cars that can follow closer to each other will help also for overtaking and these are done by a few things and these other points agreed inside theÖ FDA!? No?!

MV: Ferrari driver academy?

CL: Ö the GPDA and thatís exactly what we want to make here, to the guys at the top of Formula One.

MV: I agree itís not great but I think Formula One has always been like this because before this Red Bull was dominating the sport. Before that you had Ferrari dominating the sport. Before that, what was it? You got Williams, before that it was McLaren again. You always have those years of domination unfortunately. I donít agree with it but itís like it is, thereís always one team which gets the rulesÖ understands the rules better than others and does a better job so itís up to us, now, I guess, to find a way where not every team starts speaking for their own advantage, because at the end of the day, even with the new rules coming at the moment, everybody is just speaking for their own advantage. Maybe itís just better to leave out all the teams from the discussions and just say these are the rules and you deal with it.

AA: Very much what Checo said. I think the midfield has been quite good this year, itís just the top six drivers are quite routine and thereís quite a lot of consistency with us all. If there was a bit more unpredictability with it, it would definitely make for a bit better racing.

KM: Nothing to add.

Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber Ė Agencia EFE) Checo, scoring points again, would that make you happy enough or can you look further ahead? Or do you just not know where you are standing at this point?

SP: No, definitely scoring points this weekend would be a good step. Weíre finding issues with the car every weekend so we are gettingÖ I think in Paul Ricard we were closer to the points. I think without my penalty we should have just been getting into the points so weíre definitely making progress but I think that if we are able to score points this weekend it would put us back on track. Weíve got some bits coming for the coming races so it should be a good step forward.

Q: (Erik van Haren Ė De Telegraaf) Max, I believe youíre not the only Verstappen who is racing here this weekend. What do you expect from your father? Do you think heíll still be quick?

MV: Well I donít know if you can call it a race but itís good to have fun, isnít it?

Q: Max, can you just tell us what your father, Jos, is driving?

MV: Heís driving inÖ is it called the Legendsí parade? Yeah. So, many cars on track. Theyíve hired my Dad to drive as well. He likes driving. Like I said, a bit of fun. Wonít hurt.

Q: (Scott Mitchell Ė Autosport) Max, last weekend you obviously had the full experience of running Hondaís upgraded engine through qualifying and the race. Before the weekend, you and Honda had made it clear that it wouldnít be a massive out-and-out performance step but where do you see your deficit to Ferrari and Mercedes at the moment? Is it more skewed to qualifying than the race and is it still that balance of car and engine thatís holding you back?

MV: I think I explained that in the beginning of the press conference where I see Iím losing, compared to Mercedes and Ferrari. Probably somebody recorded it so you can look back at it.

Q: (Maria Reyer Ė Charles, you were talking about your qualifying performance and that you were working on Q3. Could you maybe elaborate a bit more on what youíre working on and do you feel more confident coming into this race weekend?

CL: Yeah, overall on the approach for the set-up, to try and anticipate the track evolution. On some tracks itís bigger than others and I think most of the times when the track evolution was quite big, I was not in the best place or not in the place I wanted to (be) for Q3. I felt quite good in Q1, Q2 was worse, Q3 was even worse so now Iíve just tried and analysed that, to understand what did I have to live with in Q1 to have the car I wanted in Q3 and it worked.


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