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Australian GP: FIA Thursday Press Conference

March 12 2020

 FIA Thursday Press Conference

DRIVERS Ė Nicholas LATIFI (Williams), Sebastian VETTEL (Ferrari), Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Daniel RICCIARDO (Renault)

Q: Now, itís been a complicated build-up to this first race of the season, so Iíd like to start just by asking you about your preparations. Daniel, what have you been up to and why is it so difficult for an Australian at home. It seems that this race track, thereís not much love between Australian drivers and Albert Park?
Daniel RICCIARDO: I guess there havenít been many Australians, so like the statisticsÖ Itís a game of percentages, right? But anyway, I hope this one is good. I feel like one yearís good, one yearís not, but I think Iím due a good one. Iíve been preparing, been preparing well. I donít know how to sit; everyoneís trying to sit away from each other. Weíll get cosy. What have I been doing? I donít know, just the usual. Since testing: back in Europe, bit of simulator stuff, and then I was home for a few days. Itís good to be here.

Q: How about the motor Ė the new car? What did you learn about it in testing? Do you feel you can make a step forward from last year?
DR: Yes, I do. I think the test ended well for us. Day three of week two was a lot more promising and both my feedback and Estebanís, you could see our expression when we got out of the car, it was certainly a lot more optimistic, so that was encouraging. I just look back at last year, the whole build-up and everything. I was watching some onboards before and I donít know, I can just see me from the outside and Iím like, ďyeah, Iím a lot more comfortable in this car nowĒ, so Iím looking forward to seeing what I can do.

Q: Itís your 10th season in Formula 1?
DR: Yeah, someone reminded meÖ
Lewis HAMILTON: Jeez!
DR: I know, kinda old, huh!

Q: Itís your 14th, Lewis.
DR: Iím still a baby. Thanks guys.

Q: Letís move on to the baby, Nicholas Latifi, your first grand prix this weekend. Just describe how you feel? An emotional moment, I guess?
Nicholas LATIFI: Yeah, definitely very exciting. When I was first announced as the race driver last year this weekend seemed so far away. But day by day, going through all the winter preparations and everything, just kind of closing in on this weekend. Yeah, a lot of anticipation from myself and from the team as well, but yeah, really just happy and grateful to be here and just canít wait to get the weekend underway.

Q: And more nerves than last year when you were in Formula 2?
NL: Right now, no, I would say there are not really any nerves at the moment. Iíve kind of said that from already starting winter testing as the official race driver, for me it just felt like a continuation of the work I was doing with the team last year. I was already really comfortable in the team environment. To be honest, all the stuff that made it feel a bit more like I was the race driver was all the external Ė all the media, the fan interactions, itís just at so much more of a higher level. Right now everything is still calm. Maybe once Iím waiting on the grid and the lights are about to go out, thatís probably when Iím going to noticeÖ

Q: You make a reference to the work you were doing with Williams last year, you did six FP1 sessions, so you knew about last yearís car, you drove it. How much of a step forward is this yearís car?
NL: Itís definitely a step forward. Itís difficult to quantify how much, because itís always the same in winter testing, you never really know what people are doing with engine modes and fuel levels, but just from my first feeling in the car it was definitely much nicer to drive, giving the driver much more confidence to push and attack the corners, which is what you want. Weíre going to see come Saturday where we are in the pecking order. Weíre optimistic it definitely is a step forward but weíre just going to have to wait and see just how much.

Q: Well, good luck with that. Sebastian, talking about differences from last year to this year. From the outside winter testing back in Europe looked a little bit inconclusive for Ferrari. What can you tell us about it?
Sebastian VETTEL: I think testing is always inconclusive. You never know where you are and thatís the good thing about coming here and [we can] finally get going and racing. I think testing has, not a lot, but it does have its nice sides, aspects, but really racing is what itís about, so as I said, itís nice to come here and finally know where you are.

Q: But like Nicholas and Daniel, can you say that this yearís car is a clear step forward?
SV: It is but I think thatís probably true for everyone. Thatís the idea of having a new car, obviously learning from the experiences of the year before, so I think itís true to say that everybody had got a better car this year, but it always depends on where you are relative to the others. So I think our car is doing what we expected. It is a step forward, it feels better, but ultimately it matters where you are next to all the others.

Q: Well, youíve always gone well here at Albert Park, youíre going for victory number four this weekend. What is it about your relationship with this track? Why do you go so well here?
SV: I donít know. I donít know anybody who doesnít like the track. I think itís a fun track and generally it feels like the right place to kick it off, great atmosphere. Maybe my biggest advantage is that Iím not Australian. And Lewis as well. I think Lewis has done really well here as well. No, because you opened up by saying that Australians havenít done really well here!
DR: The irony is my best year was the year you had an Australian, but then that got taken away.

Q: 2014, the year you finished second for a bit.
DR: Yeah. Anyway, Iím still bitter.
SV: I donít know; I was trying to joke. I know, Iím German, so itís probably not what you expect. I think everybody just loves the track and thatís myself included. I think it has a nice flow to it, a nice rhythm. Itís good that they didnít resurface much of the track, keeping some of the bumps, some of the nature of the track. I think itís quite fast, considering itís a semi-street circuit. Yeah, I like it.

Q: Thank you. Lewis, coming to you, before we talk about track stuff, I just wanted to ask you about your detour on the way here to New South Wales. Tell us what you were doing up there and what you found?
LH: Yeah, I got here on Monday morning and went straight from the airport in Sydney out to the Blue Mountains and got to see... Through the winter I was watching the news and seeing the devastation out here and how it was affecting people but more so than anything how many animals that perished. That, for me, was too big a number to even comprehend. I wanted to get out here before that but it just wasnít possible and I was like Ďwhen I first get here I want to go and see it first-hand for myselfí. So, I landed, took a two-hour drive up to the Blue Mountains and slowly started to see a lot of the burnt trees, the forest, as far as the eye can see. A really beautiful place. There was already regrowth, but I went to visit an organisation, Wires, that was helping during the whole period, whilst the animals were suffering, while the fires were going on, and they are helping rehabilitate some of the animals. Itís all just people living in local homes around the area who volunteer and so it was really quite amazing, they are the heroes. It felt amazing to see it for myself and see all the hard work that has been done and it meant a lot to them, the people that I met, that we took the time to go out.

Q: Daniel, were you here in the height of summer when the bush fires were at their worst?
DR: I was. I was home, but home for me is Perth, so west coast. We werenít affected, nothing to the extent of the east. For me to be at home but to see the engagement from the whole world, from all over, that was really nice. It was affecting our country, my country, and to see the generosity from everyone, from all parts of the globe, that was a really good touch.

Q: And Lewis, just on the on-track stuff, you completed more laps than anybody else in winter testing, how confident are you coming into this race?
LH: I donít really ever use the word confidence. I think we just worked as hard as we could. The runs went well or the days went well in Barcelona. We did leave with reliability issues, which I know the guys have been trying to move mountains over the past couple of weeks so we arrive in the best shape possible. So I truly believe in all the hard work weíve done. Weíre hoping we start off on the right foot. I think we arrive here with two less days of testing compared to last year. I think weíve got quite a good grip on the car and we arrive as best prepared as we can be. As Seb was saying, itís going to be interesting to see where we all stand, but thatís the exciting part of coming to your first grand prix.


Q: (Frederic Ferret Ė LíEquipe) Question to Lewis: with the winter testing, is there some driver and some car you may see as your main rival for your title?
LH: Force India, maybe?
DR, NL: Racing Point.
LH: I donít call it Racing Point, because I donít like the name! I prefer Force India. No, I think itís the same Ė Ferrari and Red Bull. I think Red Bull have been particularly strong so I donít really know where they stand between them, but Red Bull were realty strong particularly at the end of last year. Obviously Ferrari have taken a little bit of a step, it seems they may haveÖ they have definitely taken a bit of a step back power-wise, but maybe the car is better, so weíll see tomorrow when we get in the car over the next couple of days how that plays into effect.

Q: Sebastian, do you feel like you have taken a step back power-wise?
SV: Well, weíll see. I donít know if othersÖ I think weíve focused on all areas and also on the engine in the winter and as I said we will find out this weekend, probably in qualifying conditions when everybody is trying to get to their maximum, and we finally see where we are, not just on power but also on the car.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas Ė Autosport) Lewis, regarding the Coronavirus situation, are you comfortable having travelled all the way to Australia and are you satisfied with what Formula One and the FIA have done so far regarding that situation?
LH: I felt OK travelling out here. Naturally, being on a flight with God knows how many people and then stopping in an airport full of so many people, I didnít really think too hard on it. I was just trying to make sure I was taking all the precautions I could in terms of not touching things and always using hand sanitizer. I am really very, very surprised that weíre here. I think motorsport isÖ I think itís great that we have races but for me itís shocking that weíre all sitting in this room. So many fans are already here today and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting probably a little bit late but already this morning youíre seeing, with Trump shutting down the borders from Europe to the States, youíre seeing the NBAís been suspended, yet Formula 1 continues to go on. I donít know: I saw Jackie Stewart this morning, you know, looking fit and healthy and well in the lift. Some people, as I walked into the paddock, some elderly individuals. Itís a concern, I think, for the people here. Itís quite a big circus thatís come here. So itís definitely concerning for me. So, no, is your answer.

Sebastian, anything youíd like to add?
SV: Not really. I think itís very difficult to have a fair judgement. Of course, you realise that a lot of sport, competitions, big events get postponed and cancelled and, like Lewis said, itís fair to ask the question: why are you here? Obviously we have to trust the FIA and FOM to take precautions as much as they can, but I think the answer that nobody can give you at the moment is how much you can control what is going on. As a matter of fact, we are here. You just try to take care as much as you can.

Daniel, while weíre on the topic, anything youíd like to say?

NL: Nothing really more to add. I think the guys summed it up quite well, just taking all necessary precautions and following the advice of the professionals.

Q: (Phil Duncan Ė PA) Lewis, just as a follow-up to that. Weíve seen several team members have gone into isolation because theyíre been tested for the Coronavirus. If any of those results come back positive do you think that the race should be postponed or called off on Sunday?
LH: Itís not for me to make that decision Ė but I heard that resultís not going to come back for five day or something. Coincidentally. SoÖ yeah. Unlikely.

Q: (Matt Dixon - The Times) Lewis, youíve been outspoken where others have maybe not dared to be about Corona. What do you think is the reason this race is still going on? Obviously there areÖ well, is it business interests? Why are we still here?

LH: Cash is king. Honestly I donít know. I canít really add much more too it. I donít feel like I should shy away from the fact of my opinion. The fact is we are here and I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be. Touching doors and surfaces, and I hope everyoneís got hand sanitisers. And, really for the fans, I really hope theyíre taking precautions. I was walking through and seeing just everything going ahead as normal, like itís a normal day Ė but itísÖ I really donít think it is. I just hope all the fans stay safe. I really hope we go through this weekend and we donít see any fatalities, or things that come along in the future.

Q: (Ben Hunt Ė The Sun) Lewis, thank you for having the balls to say your piece there and speak out. Everyone else seems to be hiding behind Ďwe trust the FIAí, which seems pretty mad. I want to know Ė this is all four drivers Ė how you would respond if the FIA, F1 decided to take the decision to suspend the first couple of races of the season, maybe start in Europe. How would you take that? Would that be welcome? Sensible? Whatís your opinions?

Letís start with Daniel.
DR: You really want me to talk? Honestly, from my side, I have to put my trust in the FIA and also, I think, we may all have opinions but at the end of the day Iím here to compete and race cars. Iím not really much more than that in this situation. Thereís people who are spending more time investing in it than I am and Iím kind of just following guidelines. I came here knowing we were going to compete so, to be honestÖ I donít want to say selfishlyÖ but Iíve just got my head down, focused on the race and Iíve been training and preparing and obviously getting a bunch of emails with guidelines and this and that but I honestly havenít spent too much time digging into details. There are certainly people around me doing that, so yeah, itís a tough one. I know itís real but, as maybe Seb touched on, I donít know who knows really, at least in this room, we donít really know the extent of it or how quickly it can spread, or what level itís at. Itís kind of left to the others for now. Itís mixed. The racer in me is happy that Iím here, for sure.

Sebastian, if the first couple of races were suspended, postponedÖ what would your reaction be?
SV: Well, one way or the other, I think you expect and you hope that we take the right decision, or the sensible decision. So, if thatís the case then thereís probably reason for it. If itís not the case then you rely on the fact that maybe thereís not enough reason for it. As I said, I donít think Iím the one to judge, and I think, to be completely straight, we are probably in a lucky situation, as in, obviously we are exposed to people, and so on, but I think we can largely control our own situation. Obviously in the car we donít even have a passenger. What I mean is, you try to control the situation for yourself first, as much as you can. Thatís selfish but I think everybody in this regard is selfish. You see some people being more relaxed about handshakes, others less. Now some laugh it off, some take it very serious. I think, as I said before, my stand on it is that itís very difficult at the moment to really categorise and say that it is great, I donít know, serious, or not serious Ė but thatís why you have to ultimately put yourself into other peopleís hands and trust them. I think we all did getting down here. The flights werenít cancelled, we were all allowed to travel, so we trusted whoever we flew with. We are sitting in this room. Within that, I think that you are within your own bubble and you try to control it as much as you can. I think thatís valid for us sitting here on the couch, thatís valid for people sitting opposite us and itís valid for people outside and around the globe. I think itís probably right to take care and take precaution. How much is necessary, and whoís responsible and whatever other questions, I think there are a lot of questions at the moment that are very difficult to answer.

NL: Obviously for me, it being my first race in Formula One, it definitely is a bit of a strange feeling to have it all starting like this but, again, me, nor any of us are qualified to really make that decision on if the race goes ahead or not. I mean, if the coming races, including this one, donít end up going ahead, then just have a bit of a holiday I guess. Thereís not really much more influence that Iím going to have on the decision. And, again, just following the advice of the professionals really.

And the debut would have to waitÖ
NL: yeah.

Q: (Giles Richards Ė The Guardian) To all drivers. We now understand that at least four team members have been tested for the Coronavirus and up to eight. Now, if one of these comes back with a positive result, given how close-knit, and how closely everyone works together in the paddock, is it not of concern to you that it will probably suggest that the Coronavirus has taken hold in the paddock already?
SV: I donít know. How can you answer that? You canít. You donít know. Maybe yes Ė and I think as far as, and Iím not an expert, but as far as I understand, some people will have it and you donít see anything. They show no symptoms. You might have it. Sorry, but who knows. Maybe to some degree you never know and to another degree you will. So, I think the precaution obviously, as far as I understood, that these people got checked. I donít know how long it takes, if it takes five days or shorter, I have no idea. I think you will probably have to cross that bridge when it comes to it. Then, thereís always an argument that we should have seen this before, we shouldnítÖ I think we are all here happy in a way to race because we all love racing. We want to race Ė but you canít ignore the fact that something is going on and you have to be aware of the situation Ė but answering these questions, I think nobody can.

Q: (Craig Slater Ė Sky Sports) Sebastian, the FIA have had this inquiry into your power unit. They havenít found the team guilty of any specific wrong-doing. Are you disappointed then that they didnít clear the team, could this have been handled better in terms of whatís been said in public? And to Lewis: itís been a friendly rivalry between Mercedes and Ferrari; are the gloves off now?
SV: I took the gloves out once to Lewis and it wasnít the right thing to do so I said it afterwards. Remember Baku!
DR: Well done Baku.
SV: Everyone remembers that race soÖ who won the race? Anyways, what was the question, sorry?

Q: (Craig Slater Ė Sky Sports) That the team wasnít cleared, Sebastian, given that they couldnít find a specific illegality with the engine.
SV: Um, well, I donít know. As far as I understand it was cleared so I thinkÖ For me itís very simple. Obviously I trust my team to do the right things, within the regulations, at all time. I think we all trust, all drivers, the governing body as in the FIA, to do their job for all teams on the grid. I think thatís probably the answer, so thereís not much else to add. If you have further detailed questions and so on, then Iím not the one to answer because I think the cars are quite complex now so probably Iím not the best person to give you enough insight. I think the other one, that I would like to add, which I think from your second question, I can smell might be a hint, is that for me it doesnít change anything in terms of the relationship that I have with other drivers and in this particular (instance) with Lewis. I think the respect that we share weíve grown over the years is untouched and I donít think is at threat.
LH: What was the question?

Q: Are the gloves off?
LH: Well, no. Firstly I think I repeat what Seb has just said. Between us our respect has continued to grow over the years and that doesnít change. I think that what goes on in the background between teams and the governing body, I think is a separate issue. I think it could have been handled better, for sure but again, thatís really something that should be directed to Toto. I think for us athletes, us drivers, we just want to arrive at the races. Naturally all the teams are different in their performance but you want to feel that youíre playing on fair grounds. Thatís the approach that we have and I thinkÖ I donít really know. I wonít add too much more to it because it will just cause more trouble.

Q: (Roger Barne Ė Beyond the Racing Line) Thereís a bit of talk about having some changes to the track in the next couple of years here in Melbourne. Whatís the drivers take on what would you like to see at Albert Park track changed in the next couple of years? Nothing, Seb?
SV: I havenít heard anything.

Q: (Roger Barne Ė Beyond the Racing Line) Possibly resurfacing, widening the track, possibly going on at 12 to lengthen that end to add another straight?
DR: Iím aware of some of it so I guess I can talk on it a bit. As a driver, I think as Seb touched on earlier, we do enjoy this track. I donít know any driver that doesnít. Itís fast and flowing. In a way, itís a bit like Monaco, like itís a pleasure to drive by yourself but for overtaking come Sunday itís not always the best track on the calendar. I think the overtaking average is certainly one of the lowest. We were asked our opinion - I guess a few of us Ė if we thought the track could do with some changes and yeah, we were told there were some areas on the track they could widen or try and change the angle of the corner, to try and open it up and create maybe bigger braking zones or basically more chances for overtaking. I think this is what is trying to be achieved. So Iím definitely for that because weíve also driven this layout for a while so with a few corners changed then if it did make the show on Sunday better I think we would all be OK with that.
LH: Yeah, no, I agree with what Daniel said. I think itís firstly, this is a fantastic place to come to every year, I think the best opening race in a country that probably Formula Oneís ever had. Itís such an exciting place to come to and the track is fantastic but probably a bit like Monaco, a little bit more so on a single lap for us in qualifying, but in the race I think itís the third or fourth most difficult track to overtake on so if they were to make some modifications, make it longer, particularly right now when weíre getting faster and faster, youíre probably going to see less overtaking I would imagine, potentially this year also being that we have more downforce, more drag which affects the car further behind even more so. So yeah, Iím definitely for them adding some really cool modifications. I just hope that we do stay, keep the race here. I donít really know what they would have to do to the actual current layout; just extending thatís going to make a big difference. I donít know the answer to that but Iím all for it.
SV: I havenít seen any suggestions. In a way it would be sad to change. I get the point but I donít know, obviously next year itís supposed to change a lot in terms of racing, so maybe itís wise to wait for that before you rebuild the whole track, might also be the cheaper option, let us spend the money on the cars before you spend the money on the track. I think itís probably best to wait and see what happens next year and then weíll see. If they make the track even nicer then go ahead but usually with those things they end up doing it not so nice.
Q: Nicholas, how was your track walk yesterday?
NL: Yeah, I was going to say, I canít really comment so much on that because I havenít driven it. We have been around the track four times already; I did come out quite early. It looks like a great track to drive; Iíve heard many great things about it. I ran twice. I came on Saturday; I was here quite early. Yeah, walked it twice. Iím just going to have to wait and see.

Q: (Inga Strake - Pole Position Reports) Lewis, your team press release said that at the beginning of the season you feel really fit, probably fitter or more ready than before. How much is that is down toward what youíve been posting over the winter, your vegan nutrition and what did the change in nutrition mean for you? And is it more about food and eating, what you take in or also about sustainability and environment?
LH: I think my health has just got better and better over the last couple of years as Iíve gone to the plant-based diet. It is not the easiest thing to straight away go to and youíre constantly learning about the foods and discovering more foodsÖ things that you probably would neverÖ no, things that I would have never really eaten before, to give you some variability. I focused on having consistent good solid meals; I had a chef during the winter so that was really why it was particularly a better period of time for me but I do feel a large part of the reason I have gone that way is because of the environment and for the animals. Itís a little bit difficult, sitting up here, because I know not all of us doÖ you know, vegan, not everyone continues but not for me, Iíve definitely felt the benefits from that on the health side of things and physically, itís just enabled me toÖ you know people do think youíre going to lose muscle if you donít have your protein, thatísÖ a lot of the time people say I need my protein but itís absolute rubbish. You just need to do some reading on line. Iíve managed toÖ last year I bulked up, I put a lot more weight on. This winter I trimmed down, like cut but have more muscle and Iím able to lift more weight than Iíve ever done before and I havenít been able to run further than Iíve ever been able to run before. Thatís just enabled me to train better. But youíve seen it in other sports, other sportsmen and women around the world are trying these things. Serena (Williams) has been working on it, Djokovic, youíve got a bunch of people out there that are doing it. I think itís a positive and important way to go for us all. I think there are lots of areas that need toÖ not just in food but thereís a lot of things that we all need to do better moving forward but one step at a time.
Q: Have you ever tried a 40-hour fast, Lewis?
LH: Why would you do that?
DR: Why do you ask? He asked me in Abu Dhabi. What was my answer? I was bored, wasnít I?
Q: You said youíd done a 40-hour fast.
DR: Yeah, so a bit of experimenting so I guess on the diet stuff so, lot of vegan stuff now you hear and fasting comes in. I guess Iíve stayed open-minded through it all so yeah, I tried a little bit of fasting over the last few years but yeah, Iím not going to go on a spiel and say I did it because of this reason, that reason. I justÖ a few people did it and said it was quite good so I thought Iíd try it. Did you do it?

Q: (Jon McEvoy Ė Daily Mail) Just to go back, obviously a serious subject, the coronavirus, would there be any circumstances if there were more incidence of people getting ill or, God forbid, someone involved in the sport, died, at which you guys would say weíd rather not race? You say weíre already here which we obviously are but there will be 100,000 in on Sunday and the day before and that could be alleviated if there were no race. Would any of you consider lobbying to go down that route?
SV: My stand, and I think I probablyÖ I hope others would agree, we hope it doesnít get that far. If it were to get that far then for sure you pull the handbrake and I think we are a group of 20 guys and I think weíve got together over the last years for various circumstances on various topics and I think we share common opinion on big decisions and that, I would qualify, is a very, very big decision and ultimately, as I said before, you look at yourself and we would, I think, be mature enough to look after ourselves and pull the handbrake in that case.


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