Lewis Hamilton headlined the first of Thursday’s two FIA press conference in Austin, joined by Carlos Sainz, Brendon Hartley and Marcus Ericsson.
Lewis, five-time US Grand Prix winner, three-time F1 world champion, US Grand Prix always a big one for your, personally and for the team, no doubt many commitments in the run-up to the event, but I just wondered how much you enjoyed your hours spent at NASA yesterday?
Lewis HAMILTON: Good morning everyone, super happy to be here of course and had an incredible day yesterday, having a bit of a comedown today. I was just buzzed all day yesterday because it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. It’s always something I’ve been fascinated about, space and space travel particularly. So to actually go there… and I had a million questions. I’m sure the guy got fed up with me. I asked a lot of questions and I got to see a lot of great things, some of the new technology they are working on and yeah, I want to go back.
You stand on the threshold of your fourth Driver’s world championship this weekend, but does a part of you regret that the fight has sort of gone out of it now with all the misfortunes that Vettel and Ferrari suffered on the Asian leg in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan?
LH: No I don’t feel any type of way about it.
But obviously you’ve got such a massive margin now. There was such a tension throughout the season up to September but there’s much less tension now from your point of view, approaching the races?
LH: Nothing has changed for me, man. Everything is exactly the same as it was going into the last race, going into the second half of the season; it’s exactly the same mentally for me. Maybe it’s changed from your perspective, but for me it hasn’t.
Fair enough. Thanks for that. Marcus, the seats are filling up now for 2018. Are you comfortable with the position you are in and do you have any guarantees about next season?
Marcus ERICSSON: I think in Formula One when you don’t have a contract signed you can never be comfortable, so it’s important for me to push hard now in the last few races to show that I should be on the grid for next year.
You’ve never been out-qualified I believe by a team-mate here at Austin, what do you like particularly about this track?
ME: I didn’t know that but that’s good. I enjoy this track. I think it’s the best one of the new tracks on the calendar. It has a good mix of very fast corners. The first sector is really good fun to drive and really challenging and I look forward to driving it with these new cars as well. I think it’s going to be quite impressive. It’s a good mix of corners on this track and it’s enjoyable to driver.
Turning to Brendon Hartley, 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours winner, welcome to your Grand Prix debut. Tell us, who called who, what part did Porsche play in it all and where is it all leading?
Brendon HARTLEY: Good questions. Actually, when it was announced that Porsche would stop endurance racing in LMP1 for next year, I called Helmut Marko and I said: ‘Look, I’m a different driver than I was 10 years ago, I’ve learned a lot, and if there is ever and opportunity I am ready.” He didn’t say much, he just said he got the message, and three months later he made the call. This happened very quickly. I didn’t know about it much sooner than the press did. It’s been quite a whirlwind of a couple of weeks to arrive here. Yeah, I’m pretty relaxed at the moment, all things considered. Really looking forward to getting out on track. Obviously I’ve had quite a bit of time to chat to the engineers, to go through some data, a little bit of time on the sim. But I’m looking forward to free practice one and see how comfortable I feel and working towards the race start on Sunday, which is a big moment for me, so yeah, really excited.
When you say you are a different driver from 10 years ago, what was wrong with you as a driver 10 years ago that made it go wrong with Helmut and how have you changed?
BH: I guess I wasn’t ready. I had some success in the early days, I won the Formula Renault championship, I became the reserve driver, had my first F1 test at 18 years old and I guess I just didn’t deal with the pressure. I stopped enjoying it, I wasn’t happy; I was pretty young and away from home. When the Formula One dream, so to speak, stopped in 2010, I picked myself up, I found endurance racing and yeah, I have learned a lot from that experience. Being in the LMP1 programme, a high-profile category, where there is a lot of pressure, probably not that dissimilar to Formula One in some ways, in that respect, in development of the race car, and working with team-mates has been great. I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now. I’m not very prepared for this weekend, I haven’t the car, I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.
Excellent. Thank you very much for that. Carlos, splendid in yellow. You’ve made your move to Renault this weekend. Why? Why is it important to do four races at the end of this season, to get your head around the new team ahead of next year? In what ways will you benefit from this?
Carlos SAINZ: First of all, I think that 2018 cars will be an evolution of this year’s cars. So every input I can have regarding this year’s car, every feeling I can get from every single area of the car, I’m sure it will help me for next year. On top of that, it’s always better to meet engineers, PR people, team bosses… start working along together with all of them four races earlier that gives us a bit of an advantage for 2018 rather than going straight into winter testing in 2018.
So I think the thing we all want to know is how close can you expect to be to Hulkenberg’s pace in qualifying, your new team-mate this weekend, given the amount of time you will have with an unfamiliar car on Friday and Saturday in practice? What’s your goal?
CS: Let’s wait and see, no? I think my main target has to be to go session by session. I’m the first one who wants to be on the pace straight away, but I cannot get too excited about that. I need to cover all the procedures, all the steps that I want to take, little by little, to get to know the car. I need to adapt myself to the car and I need to adapt the car to myself at the same time. That takes a bit of time and I’m going to go step by step and hopefully get there as soon as possible.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frédéric Ferret – L’Équipe) Lewis, do you have any explanation of your strengths in qualifying, even when your car is not as good as you would like?
LH: I think it’s just about know the car and knowing where you can push at those areas. Of course there are weaknesses but still you can find a way to exploit those weaknesses and just about get by. It’s been a fun car to drive because it’s not been perfect. So it’s then relied on a lot of your ability to balance it in uncomfortable scenarios or situations, which is something that I’ve always loved doing. It’s how I started in life, with not such a great go-kart when I was young, so that’s about it really.
Q: (Joey Barnes – Motorsports Tribune) Lewis, the fun exchange with Takuma Sato on the podium got a lot of buzz here in the States. Talk about your interest, potentially, in the Indy 500 after getting a chance to have that exchange with him?
LH: Honestly, it hasn’t inspired me to do the Indy 500. I’ve always respected it and appreciated it and I got to watch part of it when Fernando did it, which was super exciting. I love the idea of drivers being able to do more than one series. Just the other day I happened to get to drive a Formula One car on an oval, which was interesting. I have a huge amount of respect for those drivers; it’s quite scary when you approach those banks at the speed that they do. But I personally don’t have any particular desire to… maybe one day I’ll day I’ll have some fun and go out. Obviously I get lots of opportunities to do those things but I have no plans to go there and do anything serious.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Brendon, what have the team have said to you about their expectations for this weekend and longer term what may come after this weekend?
BH: Actually, there have been no expectations set. To be honest, some of the team members I’m just meeting for the first time today, and yesterday during the seat fit. I made the seat yesterday. Nothing has really been said yet. Obviously I want to do the best that I can. I’m trying not to put to many expectations on it. In some ways I’m underprepared but obviously I want to do the best job I can. Nothing has been said by the team, and also, going forward nothing has been said yet.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, you’ve talked about being on another level since the summer break. I was just wondering, what’s changed for you within the team, and maybe for you personally, over that break and into these races that’s allowed you to operate on that higher level of consistency?
LH: I think it’s really just been that confidence of understanding the car a lot better this year, particularly in the second half of the season; knowing it’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, I would say that we are constantly evolving the process in which we work together, myself and my engineers. So we’d often hit the ground running with a balance I’m more comfortable with, which then naturally helps you easily step forward throughout the weekend in the right direction. And otherwise, just on my driving side, I don’t know, I think there are a lot of positive things happening in my life. There are a lot of interesting things forecast over these next 18 months, so I guess that’s an exciting and uplifting thing. So I’m arriving at these races, generally, with an abundance of positivity; it helps keeps your mind in the right place. Obviously, Toto and the team, Mercedes, have been incredibly supportive of all the different things that I’m into and the things I do and the way I move, which enable me to be in that position, and which are much appreciated.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Lewis, there are reports in some of the media that you might be considering taking a knee on Sunday during the US anthem. Can you clarify that? What is your position?
LH: I don’t really have a position and I don’t have any plans.
Q: (Joey Barnes – Motorsports Tribune) Brendon, looking at this track, in 2013, I go back to your event in the Grand Am endurance race. How fitting is it to have this F1 start here and how critical is it to come here to a place where you have all this track time?
BH: Yeah, it’s definitely nice coming to my Formula One debut at a track I know very well. Like you say, it dates back to 2013 and I think I’ve driven here almost every year since. Actually, as a racing driver, learning a track, when you have enough experience, it can happen quite quickly. I think learning the car will be the bigger challenge. The big tyres, the big downforce that these Formula One cars have at the moment, obviously they are setting lap records at every track they go to. Yeah, I’m going to have a bit on my hands tomorrow and the track is only a small part of it. But yeah, looking forward to it.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Brendon, what have the team told you about the chances of you continuing for the rest of the season?
BH: Not much, actually, so I’m trying to just focus on the weekend and see how that goes and see what comes from it.
Q: (Frédéric Ferret – L’Équipe) Brendon, have you asked Sébastien Buemi or Mark Webber for some advice on how to drive a Formula One?
BH: Yeah, I’ve obviously… all the friends I have in the sport I’ve been asking for a bit of advice. I saw Mark this morning for breakfast. I saw Daniel, who is one of my best buddies as well, Daniel Ricciardo, I saw him two nights ago, I asked him for all the advice I could manage to get out of him regarding tyres. Yeah, some of it is going to come down to, like I say, driving free practice one, seeing how I go and then asking some of those questions. A lot of them aren’t really relevant until I’ve actually experience the car.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, just following on from the question about the protest take the knee, I’m just wondering if anything had changed, you’d spoken to anyone, or anyone had spoken to you about not doing it, because you said you have no plans to do it on Sunday?
LH: Of course there has been a lot of mention of it – not of the kneeling, but just of the whole situation here in America, so I get to speak to a lot of… I know black and white people that live here in America, so I get quite a view of what’s happening here in the States and opinions from Americans here about the movement, which I think is pretty huge, and which you’ve seen that I’ve posted about it, because I respect it highly, and I found that the movement that [Colin] Kaepernick started is awesome and I’m very much in support of it. But I’m here to win and that’s the top of my priorities at the moment and I’m not really focused on anything else at the moment.
Q: (Luigi Perna – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question for Lewis, Ferrari seems to have fallen into a technical crisis in the last few races. Do you expect them to react here? Sebastian could be a strong fighter at the end of the season as well?
LH: I think he’s been a strong fighter all year and just because he’s obviously had a few issues technically, but I think still the car is as good as it’s always been. For sure they’ll have some sort of upgrade coming into this weekend. They’ve definitely had a couple of hiccups but I anticipate they’ll be very strong this weekend and for the last four races – so that’s why nothing changes for me. I’ve still got to continue to keep the pressure on and there’s no reason to back out, just got to keep pushing forwards.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Lewis, you’ve been a sheriff here the last four years. How would it feel to take this win, this Championship, a fourth World Championship here in the United States again, for the second time, in front of many children who look up to you or are inspired by you, by your story and would love to see you win here?
LH: Honestly I think the talk of the Champion win this weekend I think is silly really. I mean, Sebastian is going to be… you can’t expect them to have a difficult weekend again. They’re going to be quick, they have an opportunity to win. The Championship, as long as it’s done in the next four races, that’s my focus. I honestly couldn’t care less if it’s here on the last race, as long as it’s done. I think winning here is the most important thing for me, particularly in the midst of all that’s going on in the country. I think that is a priority for me. You know what I’m talking about.
Q: (Oliver Brown – The Daily Telegraph) Lewis, you spoke quite tantalisingly just then about exciting things happening in your life over these 18 months. I just wondered if you could flesh that out at all, whether there was anything in particularly helping to lift your spirits for race weekends at the moment?
LH: I can’t tell you what it is, all top secret stuff but just positive things. When you’re a racing driver often you’re put in a box and there’s talk of you not doing much but being a racing driver and there’s a lot more to me than being a racing driver and I have a lot of great things that are happening. So, it’s just, after a lot of work, a lot of trial and error, a lot of pushback over the years, to see positive things starting to happen, things starting to move in the direction I was hoping it would eventually move – which you’ll see come to fruition in the next 12 to 18 months. That’s allowing me to take the pressure off and enjoy what I’m doing here, more than ever before.
Q: (Kevin Lyttle – Austin American Statesman) Carlos, I wanted to ask you, your thoughts on COTA as a race track, and also on Austin as a Formula One city.
CS: I’m actually particularly excited to make the debut with the Renault car in a circuit like Austin because you have every single kind of corner that you enjoy in Formula One in this kind of track. You have a long straight and then a big braking zone, you have a lot of long high-speed corners, high-speed changes of direction, medium-speed, high-speed. Because of that, I think it’s a great circuit for me to get to know the car in all these areas. Apart from that it’s one of my favourite Grands Prix of the season in the end. You know you have great vibes surrounding the whole Grand Prix, with the concert, with the fans here are particularly special and I’m going to enjoy the weekend because of that.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) To Lewis, two things to clarify. There was a bit of a smile then, you said winning is the most important thing and you know what I mean. I’m not entirely sure I understood the end of your answer to that question. If you could just explain what you mean. And, forgive me if I’m reading too much into this but you said winning is the most important thing, and when we spoke in Malaysia you said about taking a knee, it wasn’t your anthem, there was plenty to consider. So would you therefore consider maybe staging a protest during your own anthem if you do win?
LH: Like I said, I wasn’t even looking far away into it. I’ve not given it that much thought. And when I said ‘you know what I mean’, it wasn’t to everyone, it was to the gentleman at the front here. Yeah. As I said, I’m here to win. That’s my focus. I don’t really plan on allowing all the BS that’s surrounding the topic pull me down in my strive to winning this world title. I’ve worked hard to be where I am today and whilst I do have opinions and feelings towards the whole situation, as I’ve said, at the moment, no plans on doing anything.
Q: (Mariana Jiménez – Récord) Lewis, you’ve said that you don’t have the title in your head right now but wouldn’t it be nice to wait until Mexico and get your first title there in front of the crowd?
LH: I’m looking forward to going to Mexico, as I always do every year, I have a lot of support out there, I have a lot of love for Mexicans and… yeah… it’s just an awesome event to anyway, so to go there again, particularly after the last couple of years. I think every year it seems to grow in its attendance. I guess the organisers learn so much about how the event goes and improve it for the following year. Winning the World Championship is obviously the goal and of course I think about it every day. I think my drive naturally is to winning that World Championship so every bit of my energy goes towards that mission. Honestly, wherever it happens, I don’t mind if it happens in Mexico, I don’t mind if it happens here, I don’t mind if it happens in Abu Dhabi, as long as it happens. But definitely Mexicans know how to celebrate so, if it does happen there, hopefully I’ll get one of the sombreros and be in a party.
Q: (Simon Lazenby – Sky Sports) Lewis, if you’re to win this championship, would you say Ferrari have blown it. They’ve handed it to you on a plate.
LH: If I was to win this Championship I think I would say that I’ve earned it.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Another question for Lewis. You’re going to be the only British driver on the grid this weekend, which is the first time in your career. I was just wondering what you thought about that, the state of play in motor racing in Britain and whether you’re quite surprised you’re the only guy racing from Britain this weekend?
LH: I don’t know how it is for the other drivers here but when you arrive you don’t think I’m here surrounded by members of… from where I’m from. So it makes no difference to me. I still work to raise the flag, and you do it as an individual, not as a team with other racing drivers, so yeah, that’s how it is.
Q: (Jim Vertuno – AP) Brendon, there’s been a lot of expectation, speculation, that you were heading to Indy Car next year. Does this weekend change your plans there? What’s your future look like.
BH: Nothing’s been confirmed for me for next year, so yeah, like I said before, I haven’t asked too many questions and have just been focussed on trying to do the best I can this weekend because I’ve got a fair amount on my plate to figure out and do a good job. So, I’m trying not to think further forward. But yeah, I was looking at Indy Car and I still am. Nothing confirmed for next season yet.