Fernando Alonso headlined Thursday’s press conference line-up, joined by Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz for part 1 in Spain.
Q: Fernando, what are you hoping to take out of this weekend in Barcelona?
Fernando ALONSO: Let’s see what we can do here. Definitely our moment right now is not the best. We gave been underperforming in the first four races and we didn’t finish any of the grands prix yet, in my case, so definitely, you know, the first step is to improve, which is what we’ve been doing so far, which is not difficult. The second is to find how competitive we can be here on this track, which is quite different compared with the last couple of races. Plus, with the upgrades that everyone brings here, normally, things may change, we need to find out where we are, in which positions we can move this weekend. Second is reliability. We need to raise our game and hopefully finish with both cars this race and accumulate some mileage. Some things that we need to put in place, starting this weekend, for the rest of the season. So hopefully this is the starting point of a new championship for us.
Q: How have you and team dealt with the Did Not Start in Sochi and what news is there on the recovery programme with Honda?
FA: Well, actually I still don’t know what happened exactly in Sochi. We had problems with the ERS on the formation laps. I tried to restart the whole thing during the formation lap a couple of times, but on the last attempt the car didn’t start. Yeah, really, really bad for us, and as a team not being able to start the race with Stoffel’s car in Bahrain, with my side of the garage in Russia, so completely unacceptable and we need to, as I said, raise our game here in terms of reliability and hopefully finish with both cars.
Q: Two weeks to go until your Indy 500 race debut. You’ve had some practice at the Brickyard, how’s it going?
FA: Did you watch it?
Yeah, on the stream.
FA: OK. You really have nothing to do! I mean yeah it was different. Probably as I expected it to be. The car felt quite different. Running this asymmetric set-up definitely feels not normal to drive so you need to adjust a little bit your mind set going into the run, into the first corner, but yeah, at the end of the day I felt a little bit more comfortable. I was able to feel some of the set-up changes and things like that, because I think the driving technique is quite different, so step-by-step. I did the first one, which is just the first feeling with the car, but now, when, I think next week we start the free practice and you start running with other people around etc I think I will hopefully build a little bit more confidence and start understanding what the car needs and what I need as well to be prepared for May 28th. So yeah, two intense weeks ahead but pretty much looking forward.
Q: Carlos, you’ve scored points in three of four races this season, sometimes after qualifying outside the top 10. Is the battle with Williams, Force India and Renault one Toro Rosso feel you can win this year?
Carlos SAINZ: Definitely. I think as a target Toro Rosso was very clear at the beginning of the year that they wanted to finish P5 in the championship. I think it has been an interesting start to the season, having five teams fighting for probably P4 as a best result. In my opinion, at the moment it looks like Williams has the upper hand on every one of us, having a car that is closer to the Red Bull than to us. But we are definitely making steps, little by little we are taking our chances. We have 11 points from my side, 13 from the team. We are getting there and hopefully the upgrade this race help us to get closer to them because they are that tiny step ahead at the moment.
Q: And you’re happy with how you’re driving and the steps you’re making?
CS: Yeah, I think I can be pretty happy. It has been probably my best start to a Formula One season up until now. Extra year of experience is obviously helping but I think both qualifying and race have been quite good, so I cannot complain. Pretty solid start and we need to keep going like that.
Q: Red Bull has a heavily updated car this weekend. What are you bringing and how much of the key to your season lies in the engine update from Renault whenever it comes?
CS: Well, we are obviously bringing our upgrades, probably like any other team, we just hope that our upgrades are better than the others, particularly to those midfield [teams]. I don’t look to what Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull are bringing because they are obviously in another league, with totally different budgets and totally different performance on track. Probably my only concern is to make sure that those upgrades give us those tenths we need and the others don’t improve, like Williams, Renault and Haas, even McLaren, they don’t improve as much as we do.
Q: Sebastian, your best start to a season since 2011 I believe and you’re 13 points clear in the Drivers’ standings. It seems that this year the emphasis has shifted from Ferrari and the others trying to find a way past Mercedes to Mercedes trying find a way past you. Is that the way it feels?
Q: Sebastian VETTEL: I think we are obviously in a much better position this year than in previous years but it’s still fairly early. I think this will be an important race. As you touched on, it’s usually the time people start to bring a couple more bits, but then again, if you look at the last, I don’t know, 10 years, it’s not any more that fixed date where you bring a new car. The top teams tend to bring stuff nearly every race. I don’t know, to answer your question I don’t feel it’s like that. Mercedes obviously had a phenomenal run the last couple of years and they are still the ones to beat, not just race by race but overall they have been the dominant team and it’s difficult to break that but I think we are trying our best.
Q: You mentioned the upgrades. Obviously they are going to be crucial to you maintaining your challenge. Do you have as much confidence in Ferrari’s ability to deliver the upgrades as you have had in the car they built you at the beginning of the season?
SV: I think it was impossible to have any expectation going into this season because everything was so new – I think that’s fair for all of us. Plus, the year we had last year was a little bit up and down, a bit difficult, so I think we just looked after ourselves and tried to build the best car we can and I think there’s no doubt looking at the results now that we have the right group of people on board to be able to build the car you need to win races, we’ve proven that in two out of four races. But, as you said, it all matters what you keep doing. It doesn’t matter what you have done. I know that we have the same people and I believe that they will bring the upgrades we need to keep fighting.
Q: Pole position in Sochi. We all know that pole is crucial here in Barcelona. Is that where you’re going to put your focus on during the free practice sessions?
SV: Yeah, quali and race, so no surprises. Obviously this is a track we know very well but the conditions usually are very different when we come here in May compared to February or March. So I think you are always aiming for pole positions, so if I could choose then I would put myself on pole, but it would be fairly boring if you could choose on Thursday, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and then the build up through Saturday. Then we try to do the best quali we can and prepare the race as much as possible as well.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Sef Harding– Xero Xone News) A question for Fernando: You have an impressive collection of cars here in Spain that you had the pleasure to drive in. Will this Indy car be added to that collection in future at your museum?
FA: Yeah, it’s coming. After the race the car will be in the museum as well. Every car I jumped in from 2004 or something like that, it’s always in my contract that it will be in my museum afterwards. This one is no different.
Q: (Mike Doodson – Auto Action) Seb, those last 15 laps at Sochi were pretty exciting. I couldn’t help wondering if you had caught up to Valtteri would you have been able to go past him. And I’m wondering if because the overtaking this year is even less than last year, is there any value to increasing the DRS, either the distance or the gap between cars to improve the chances. Would you have been able to overtake more easily if that had been the case?
SV: I don’t think I’m in favour of increasing the DRS zones. I think we have been… a couple of years ago when we introduced it to some races where it was way too easy, which was great when you were behind because you just sailed past, but that’s not the idea of an overtake. I think it’s normal that you have races where there is more overtaking or less. But for many reasons in Sochi it was quite difficult to overtake. The tyres lasted fairly well, so you were able to push whether you were in front or behind, so there wasn’t much degradation helping you maybe to come with an advantage on tyres. The track layout doesn’t make it very easy to follow close, which we have seen in the past as well, historically here for example with the last corner, which makes it quite difficult to get close for the straight line. Personally, of course I would love to be close and try to do something, but then again it’s also a challenge, so you need to not just arrive and drive past or have some tool that puts you side by side. You have to work for it – try different lines, do different things. I think in Sochi I just arrived too late. Really it was the last two or three laps where I was maybe getting closer. But before that it was as exciting for me as well to try and chase him down and to try to do something at the end. Obviously it would have been great if it had worked, it didn’t, but I was looking forward to it maybe as much as you were and some days it works and some days it doesn’t. I think we shouldn’t get into a window again where it’s artificial. It is difficult to pass but equally if you make it, which maybe sometimes you will, or somebody else will, then you should get credit for it, if you don’t then you didn’t make it.
Q: (Flavio Vanetti – Corriere della Sera) Fernando, I read an interview in which you said next season for sure you will be in Formula One again, with McLaren or with any other team. Does it mean you will consider coming back to Ferrari as well?
FA: As I said at the beginning of the year, this is my last year with the contract I have now with McLaren. I will have to think a little bit after the summer, because now it is quite a busy period and now plus the Indy 500 thing, it will not be the time to think any further than this summer. But yeah, around September or October I will need to consider what I will do next year. If it’s time to find other challenges outside Formula One or if Formula One will be an opportunity to win the championship, which is my main goal. I’m very open to anything. I think with this year’s cars and the 2017 regulations, the cars are good to drive. I think Formula One is back in a way. We see this real power of efficiency, corner speed, things we were missing in the last couple of years. The cars look nice from the outside, with the big tyres, everything, so I like this Formula One. So my intention or my first priority is to race next year here and not only to race, I want to win. Now that I have not any more obligations with McLaren… I’m happy with the team, but we are not winning, so if from here to September or October we are in a position where I see clearly a possibility to win in 2018, I will be more than happy to stay with the team. If it’s not the case, I will be more than happy to talk to anyone.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Question for Fernando. Fernando, it’s been a few months now since Ron departed the scene and Zak came onboard. Can you give us some idea of the culture change that’s gone on behind the scenes over those few months, what Zak has bought to the team and what benefit you can see going forward to push McLaren back up to the front again?
FA: Well, I think they are very different and I think there is a not a magic solution, or a magic way to lead a team to success. I think, you know, Ron had a fantastic time in the past in McLaren with a lot of success and now with Zak things are a little bit more open, inside the team but also for you guys, outside, how you can approach McLaren now is different, on the commercial side, also in a technical side. I think also with Zak the biggest difference is the vision and the approach for the brand, for McLaren, which is a little bit different and wants to span the McLaren in different worlds and different categories. We’ll see with the Indy 500, I think it is not only this year: I think McLaren will be in the Indy 500 for the future. I think McLaren will be in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the future, as they were in the past, when they won the Indy 500, when they won Le Mans. So that’s the biggest change we can feel inside McLaren, that Zak will not only concentrate in Formula One, will concentrate in McLaren as a race team in different series and the most important thing is obviously to sell cars and to sell the McLaren cars you need to open to new markets and especially the US market is probably the biggest one.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Carlos and Fernando. Carlos, how do you live the difficulties Fernando has had this year in his car, and Fernando, how do you rate the progress Carlos made in Formula One?
CS: Well, I think obviously very similar to all you guys. I think that Fernando at the moment with the talent and experience he has, he should be fighting for world titles and he hasn’t had the chance for a lot of years now, so I really hope one day he gets back to those positions to be fighting because I’m sure he will do a good job, like he has always done, and I hope I can join him in those battles soon, and that’s it. Nothing really to say, I hope he gets back on top soon.
FA: For my question, Carlos, I think everyone can see the progress that Carlos made in the last three years. He started already impressing a lot of people because I think he has the talent, he won the smaller categories until F1 and I think this young generation, they are very well prepared and they arrive into Formula One with a lot of already practice, simulator, they follow a program in the junior academies, from the Red Bull academy or the Ferrari academy or wherever, so I think they arrive to Formula One and it is not a shock. They are ready. They are prepared. If you add that preparation to the talent that Carlos has, already in the first year he was at the very, very high level. Now with experience, I think he’s one of the best on the grid. Hopefully I can fight a little bit this year, like last year that he started well but then he dropped behind at the end of the year, so we’ll see this year.
Q: (Ralf Bach – Autobild Motorsport) A question to Fernando. If you had theoretically a free choice to get one of the four engines next year for McLaren, which would you take?
FA: I think Honda, no? OK, three engines. I cannot answer. You always want the best engine on your car and McLaren and Honda, they have this partnership, which is a long-term partnership with, I think, a very strong commitment from both. Now things are not going in the way they thought in the beginning but they are putting a lot of effort to improve the situation. So, I think the McLaren-Honda name and partnership will be for the long-term. So, I think they need to find performance and extract power from the engine. Hopefully we can see the progress in the very short term and this year fight for something big.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) Carlos, as you say, you’ve improved and you’re a better driver after another year of experience. Any specific areas or is it a case of little things everywhere?
CS: No specific areas, to be honest. I feel like since I arrived to F1 I have just improved in every single area that you can imagine. It’s just experience. It comes race-by-race. You feel also a bit more confident, you get to know a lot more your car, your team. The human side also, from the team. You have better relationships with everyone, you can optimise every single part of your car, of your personal performance. All of this keeps adding and you just perform a little bit better and better every race weekend and you are able to sometimes shine a bit more; other weekends not so much because you have a bit more bad luck or something but the importance is to keep learning – as I’ve been doing up until now – and when you have a chance, like in China, for example, try to shine a bit extra, to show a bit yourself. Yeah, I think that’s it. Experience… and more experience.
Q: (Pilar Celebrovsky – The Paddock Magazine) There has been some remarks in the Italian media saying that you may go to Mercedes for next year. Would you like to say something about it or is it something you don’t really care about?
SV: I don’t know! I don’t… I didn’t know. Is it coming from Italy then? Maybe you should ask the Italians; they seem to know more than I do. I think the situation is clear. Obviously, the main focus is on this year, that’s not a secret and it’s not a line that I drop, it’s a fact for all of us inside the team. Obviously, we find ourselves in a very good position this year and that’s what we want to keep and to use. Everything else is not that important. There have also been some rumours, I think, in previous years. I don’t know. Maybe some are from Italy, some are from Germany… in that case maybe you should refer to the Italians.
Q: (Ottavio Daviddi – Tuttosport) Question to Sebastian. Fernando talks about his future. My question for you, if you stay in Ferrari, are you open to have such a driver, such a personality, as Fernando as team-mate – or not?
SV: In general, you should be ready to race whoever comes along. I think Fernando has the reputation he has for many reasons, not just for two championships, for many other reasons, many races, many years he’s been around. So, y’know, I’m signing my contract, I’m not signing other people’s contract so it’s not my decision – but as I’ve said, I’m ready to race whoever comes along. I’m sure everybody is different: the team-mates that I’ve had, they were very different, not just as a person but also you can imagine as drivers: different styles, different strengths, different weaknesses. It’s all something that you share, a lot more open, and you can improve, probably make another step depending on who’s by your side. It’s always new input but I think the way we are setup right now, we find ourselves very happy and, as I said, the focus is on this year, despite the fact that for next year, there is nothing on paper but the mentality or the approach inside the team is that we want to focus on what we have in front of us.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Sebastian, on track battle’s one thing with Lewis, when it comes to psychological battle with him, do you think that you have the edge over him in that department?
Q: Why not?
SV: I don’t do psychological battles, so…
Q: But there’s no pressure on you really, when you think about it – you’re not expected to deliver so much so in the car, they’re defending champions, all that sort of stuff…
SV: It’s perfect for me then. If you don’t expect me to deliver anything, I can only win, so… I think obviously there’s some stuff that can be interpreted as psychological battles but I’m not into that at all. I love driving and that’s what I really care about. Whether there’s some signs or whatever that you pass back and forth. I think he has the upper hand, I’m not clever enough to interpret them, to read them.
Q: (Iolande Skinner – Motorsport Monday) This is for Sebastian. Who would you like to be fighting in the last corner of the race – and why?
SV: Well, obviously, I’m there…
FA: Fight with me… overtake on the straight.
SV: yeah, it would be great to see you. I don’t know, the race is far away. I guess you’re referring to who will win the race so if we can be in that fight, up to the last corner, then that would be great. You can pick one, I don’t mind, as long as you pick me as the second one or first one, whatever, it’s fine.