Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen were in the hot seats for part 1 of the drivers’ press conference in Abu Dhabi.
Q: Charles, if we could start with you, please. We’re going to take a look back at the last race in Brazil, to begin with. Having had time to review the video footage, what’s you analysis of what happened in the incident between you and Sebastian?
Charles LECLERC: Yeah, we looked at it and I particularly looked at it, obviously, to try to understand how we could have made the things better. I think it was very unfortunate, first of all, because the touch was extremely small and it had a big drama after that, and that was a bit unlucky. But as a team we should probably try to be a bit less aggressive in between each other, for these things to not happen again. For the team it’s not good. For everyone supporting us it’s not good, so we will try for it to not happen again.
Q: What has happened since the Brazilian Grand Prix? Have you guys all met up in Maranello and had a chat?
CL: Yeah, I was there for the simulator, so on this occasion we also took the day to discuss a little bit and yeah, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again.
Q: Seb is still on your Christmas card list?
Q: I was joking: Seb is still on your Christmas card list.
CL: Oh yeah!
Q: Charles, if we can look back at the season as a whole now. Your first with Ferrari. A lot of headlines that you can very satisfied with on a personal level – the wins, the seven poles, including being the youngest ever Ferrari pole sitter. But in terms of the team’s performance it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. How would you sum it up?
CL: It’s been a bit of a weird season. We started definitely not where we thought we would start after winter testing. Winter testing was very positive and we arrive at the first race and we have been struggling quite a lot. After that I think the progression was very good. Austin was a little bit weird too; we still don’t really understand why we were so off the pace. Brazil we were back to where we wanted. But overall we progressed quite a lot, which I think is the most important [thing]. Now I’m really looking forward to keeping this momentum for next year. It’s the first time in my single-seater where I stay in the same team from one year to another, which also should be an interesting challenge to develop a car. Let’s see, but overall I think it has been a positive season, apart from the first race, which has been very negative.
Q: Thank you Charles and good luck this weekend. Max, a question about this year for you too. It’s the team’s first season with Honda. Has it exceeded your expectations?
Max VERSTAPPEN: I don’t know. It’s been very promising and I think also we had some good results. For me, what was more important was reliability. That has been very strong throughout the whole year and also the progression we made with the engine itself. Yeah, that has all been going really well. But we always want more, so we will never be satisfied with what we are doing. It’s been good and I think it is a good, let’s say, basis for next year as well. We learned a lot throughout the whole year and I feel confident that we can have a positive to next season.
Q: Dominant win for you last time out in Brazil. Which team comes into the Abu Dhabi with the fastest car?
MV: I don’t know; we’ll find out. Still, looking at the season, you’d have to say Mercedes. We’ll see how the weekend will progress. It’s still also a lot about just finding the right set-up. I think the last few races the three teams, the three top teams have been really close to each other and I hope it’s going to be the same here.
Q: Thank you Max. Kevin, for your 2019 started strongly, but it tailed off quite dramatically. Why did it go wrong?
Kevin MAGNUSSEN: I think there are a few different reasons, but it became very clear in Bahrain that we had a problem, which was really strange because in winter testing and in the first race the car was really good. Even in Bahrain in qualifying we qualified… I can’t remember, sixth of something, up there. Then in the race it just completely fell apart. So from there on it was a little bit of panic in the team. We couldn’t really focus on… kind of find the real root of the problem. We were looking a lot at tyres and blaming the problem on tyres issues whereas in fact it was a little more simple, I think, just aero issues, unstable aero and the whole platform just not being strong enough and consistent, stable enough. It’s a very, I would say, frustrating problem, because we have able to qualify well but in the race we just have not had any strength. That’s very frustrating as a driver, where you start in a position and then you’re just fighting to try to hang on to your position rather than attacking the guy in front. In that way it’s been pretty frustrating, but on the other hand, we are a very young team, it’s only our fourth year. Last year we got P5 in the Constructors’ Championship. I think that’s pretty impressive. I don’t think many teams have done that in their third year. So we’ve got to take some confidence from that as well and just build on the experience that we have had this year and the learning that we have done and then just come back stronger next year.
Q: You say it’s been frustrating for the drivers, but how have you progressed as a driver this year?
KM: Well, you always learn in any situation but especially when it’s difficult you learn different things and you just have to approach your problems in a different way and I think that gives you strength and some experience that you wouldn’t necessarily have gotten if you were just cruising and driving in a perfect car. So in many ways it’s also been positive, both for me, as a driver, and for the team as well.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Question for Charles. You say you are pretty sure that an incident like that won’t happen again, but how can you be so sure. Was blame apportioned by the team in the meetings you had? What guidelines and rules have been laid down about racing together in the future and are you even allowed to race together in the future?
CL: No, I think this doesn’t change. We will be able to race together. Obviously, Seb and myself are very competitive, we both want to win, but we also need to find the right compromise. We are also racing for the same team. As I said earlier, we need to be lees aggressive towards each other and give us a little bit more space for these things to not happen again. Of what I know, that’s the only thing that will happen for the next races, but maybe Mattia can go a bit further into that. Apart from that, I don’t think there is much we can do. Obviously, as I said, the consequences were huge in the last race but if you look back at the contact it was very, very small. It was unfortunate but we will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Q: (Jon McEvoy – Daily Mail) Charles, just to go back to what Andrew asked before. Did either driver do as was suggested and say “I was to blame for that”, you or Seb? And b, are there now sort of new arrangement that if you do have an accident for example that you might be fined or banned or sacked or is it just sort of idle hope?
CL: On the second question there’s been nothing said on that. We called with Seb and we tried to understand both of our situations. I think probably Seb shouldn’t have gone to the left and he knows it and I probably could have done a better job of avoiding him going to the left. So yeah, both of us have a bit of responsibility, but the most important thing is that everything is clear with Seb and we move forward.
Q: (Walter Koster – Saarbrücker Zeitung) Charles, before I start my question, I have to remind you of high praises – no doubt you have had more good races than bad ones, but if we stick to the less good races with bad luck and mishaps, such as Baku, where the Ferrari hit the barriers, in Bahrain where you lost the lead due to an engine problem, in Austria where you were caught by Max and Monaco, your first home race, was very disappointing with last place and probably the low point, in Hockenheim, it was a mistake of the driver and last in Brazil, the finish after a hard battle with your team-mate. Now, my question to the pop star of Formula 1: what was your best race among your worst races? Can you give us, please, a ranking regarding your five not so good races, starting with the worst? I’m a polite person or man, please excuse this question, but I still hope for an answer.
CL: That was a long question. Congratulations. Kevin, you can start.
KM: I’m in a trance.
MV: Well [Charles] you are the pop star, so first of all, can you sing?
CL: Yeah, I can sing. I won’t sing now, but I can sing. I don’t know…
MV: I lost you after a few sentences.
KM: You have to rank your five worst races.
CL: Worst races? Five worst? OK, that was a simple question. So…
Q: (Walter Koster – Saarbrücker Zeitung) What was the best race among the worst?
CL: So the top five best and the top five worst?
KM: Take your time.
MV: We’ve got a lot time.
Q: Your five worst races, please?
MV: Are we going to make it more complicated? Like, this year or in his career?
CL: My worst race this year was probably Brazil, second one Monaco, third one… Third one? That’s two. That’s good. No?
KM: He’s had a good question.
CL: That was a question only for me? OK, thank you!
Q: Unless, Max, you’d like to offer your worst of the season, or Kevin?
MV: Er, no – save the time.
Q: (Joost Nederpelt – NU.NL) Question to all drivers. If you were the director of the Drive to Survive documentary on Netflix, what moment of the season would you definitely put in?
KM: I don’t know. I don’t know what… I have a thing in mind but we’ll see if it’s made it into it. It’s a surprise. Watching the next Netflix season two and you’ll find out.
Q: Nothing else you can offer us now?
KM: No, it hasn’t been that exciting from our side, so…
Q: What bit of Hockeheim exactly?
MV: I think they were following Mercedes closely in Hockenheim? I would like to see that episode. It’s a bit of fun, right? I mean, they can laugh about it as well: they still won the Championship, so a bit of drama involved in the series is good. If I would be the director – because you have to create the hits.
CL: yeah… I would not choose the last race but probably the Monza victory is the one I would like to see on the documentary.
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agencia EFE) Question both for Charles and Max. I can imagine you being young and very talented drivers, you’re focussing on winning your first world title but do you every focus yourself like looking at Lewis, maybe winning six?
MV: I was thinking about ten. No. You don’t need to think like that. It just happens or doesn’t. It’s 50:50. You just try to do the best you can, personally. You also need a bit of luck. You need to get into the right car at the right time and you need a dominant team as well for a few more years in a row. At least… it depends on how long your career is lasting. No, personally I don’t think about it too much because, as I’ve just said, it happens or it doesn’t. At the end of the day, I think already winning one title would be a great achievement.
CL: Yeah, I personally don’t think about it too much. I believe that with work, anything is achievable, so I mostly think about how I can do my job in the proper way. Then, of course, the choice you make in a career are very important. It not only depends on yourself but it also depends on luck but I’m mostly focussing on work more than thinking about the title.
Q: Kevin, I feel we should ask you as well.
KM: I need to try to win a race first and then I can start thinking about championships after that. So, y’know… the ambition has always been there. That’s always been the dream since I was a little kid: to be Formula 1 World Champion and y’know, that ambition and that dream is still there but obviously I’m in a slightly different position to those two guys.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD Sportswereld) Two questions for Max. What’s the importance of the third place in the Drivers’ Championships, and again, you’re on the long list for Dutch sportsman of the year election, together with six cyclists, three speed-skaters, a darts player, a world champion in chequers, a windsurfer, judoka, and the Champions’ League winner Virgil van Dijk, so I presume you’re going to win this one – what do you think?
MV: First one, I think it’s always nicer than finishing fourth or fifth – but yeah, looking back in 20 years’ time and seeing that you were third in the Championship wouldn’t really make me very happy. I think we’re all here to win and, of course, fight for the title. So yeah, I think it would be nice after this weekend to be third but in 20 years’ time, I don’t think it will do much. And the second one, honestly, yeah, I have my own opinion about being nominated but I prefer not to comment on it.
Q: Charles, can we get your thoughts on third place in the Championship?
CL: It’s always nice to finish a season on the podium. I’ll give it all. Now, 11 points are quite a bit to recover in one race, but we’ll give it all and it will be a nice thing to finish my first season with Ferrari on the podium – but yeah, we’ll see what will happen.
Q: (Lennart Bloemhof – Volksrant) Question for Max, you’re nearing the end of your fourth season at Red Bull. Regarding your dominant win in Brazil, and you’re fighting for pole positions now, do you believe you’re closer to having a Championship-winning car more than ever at the team right now?
MV: Yeah. I think we do. Also, looking at the plans for next year – but of course you still have to wait and see what the others come up with. But we are of course… we want to fight for the title, so we’re going to give it everything we have to be competitive from the start next year.
Q: (Milan Klemenc – Avtomanija) I have one question for all three: what are expectations for next year. We know new tyres 2020. I know you were interested after the last race. What’s your opinion?
KM: I don’t even think the tyres have been chosen yet, have they? And then the aero is the same. So, on personal side, I’m hoping we will get a better car – but in terms of regulations and the racing itself, I don’t see it changing too much. It’s more 2021 I’m looking forward to: to see how that performs.
Max, do you see it changing much next year?
MV: Well, I hope we can fight for the title. That’s it.
CL: Yeah, not much. I think we’ve been working pretty well, as I was mentioning earlier, with the car, so hopefully we can continue with the progression and start from a better place, the season, to be fighting for the title.