Valtteri Bottas, Stoffel Vandoorne and Pascal Wehrlein faced the media at Suzuka on Thursday.
Q: Valtteri, if we could start with you, it hasn’t been the easiest for you since the summer break and you said on Sunday evening in Malaysia that this might now be the most difficult moment of your career. Can you elaborate on that? Why is that?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Well, I think the main thing is just because, the only thing I want to do is to perform and to try and meet my goals what I set for me personally. I definitely haven’t been achieving those lately, so that’s why the feeling wasn’t so positive after the race. So, for sure it’s tricky because now, y’know, having such a good car and with potential for such good results, I just want to perform. So, that’s why.
Q: Has the car become harder to drive than it was earlier in the year when you were winning races, getting pole positions?
VB: I think the compromises we’ve been needing to do in some circuits to get it into the right window has been quite a challenge sometimes to drive around. I think Lewis has been able to extract a little bit more sometimes with a more tricky set-up. Some things with the driving style always makes a difference and to understand those, you always kind of need that bad weekend to learn from it – otherwise you don’t know these differences. It’s not massive things, it’s small things but this sport is all about details and changing some things in your own driving, then it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge and then that way the driving maybe doesn’t feel quite natural at times – but that’s how it is. I see things positive because I think from all those difficult weekends we’ve had there’s been so much to learn from, so much to get better from. Like the race in Malaysia. I’ve had so many answers to my questions from that race. We’ve been trying to work out every single detail with the engineers and trying to understand, so I’ve learned massively again from last weekend. That’s why there’s always a positive.
And talking about those details, is there anything when you look at the data that you can learn from a guy like Lewis Hamilton?
VB: Yes, of course. From every team mate you can always learn something. From every single one. From every circuit there’s always a thing or two you can pick up, especially from an experienced, extremely quick driver.
Q: Stoffel, tough times for Valtteri at the moment but you’ve had a cracking couple of races, seventh in Singapore, seventh last weekend in Malaysia. You must be feeling pretty good about things.
Stoffel VANDOORNE: Yeah, lately everything has been going very well for me. I think it shows all the work I’ve been doing with the team – with the engineers, back at the factory as well – is paying off. And yeah, obviously feeling more and more comfortable with the car. It was great to have those two seventh places in Singapore and Malaysia – I don’t want to get used to being happy with seventh but I think considering the package we have it was definitely the best result possible, so very pleased with that and, yeah, five races left this year, which is hopefully five opportunities to make something good of it, so shows we have to keep pushing, keep working as hard as we can and who knows what is possible for the last couple of races.
Q: You’re now ahead of Fernando Alonso in the World Championship. Can you share with us just some of that work you’ve just referred to? What have you been doing? What areas of your job have you had to focus on to turn things around?
SV: It’s only my first season in Formula One so there were a lot of things I had to get to grips with, learn. I think definitely the troubled start to the season didn’t help with that in terms of the amount of track time we missed and, yeah, lately everything has had a much better run. The relationship between my engineers has developed massively as well and yeah, I think we go into every weekend very positive, very comfortable as well, knowing the areas we have to focus on. It’s very nice to see the results are paying off as well.
Q: You won a Super Formula race here at Suzuka last year. How important is local knowledge? Is there something you gain from your year in Japan last year that might help you this weekend? Is there a trick to this track that you might know that the others don’t?
SV: I think it’s always very good to know a circuit. Like you said, I have a lot of experience around this circuit. Done a lot of testing, a lot of racing in Super Formula here, and obviously have a win around here as well – which was a special moment. So looking forward to this weekend again, to discover this circuit in Formula One. I think with these cars especially it will be a very exciting track for everyone to drive around.
Q: Pascal, now unlike these other guys, you don’t yet know what you’re going to be doing in 2018 yet you’ve out qualified your teammate, Marcus Ericsson, nine times, you’ve scored all of Sauber’s points this year. Are you confident that that will be enough to keep you in Formula One next season?
Pascal WEHRLEIN: I hope so. My focus is on driving. This weekend – or every weekend – is another opportunity to show something. The previous races have been quite difficult for us and Malaysia was a bit better so hopefully we learned something from there and can have a better weekend this weekend.
Q: How dependent on Mercedes are you to place you somewhere next season?
PW: I am a Mercedes Young Driver so of course Mercedes is doing all the talks for me.
Q: And looking ahead to next season, specifically with Sauber, obviously it’s been a tough time for the team this year but judging by what you’ve seen of next year’s car, how do you rate their prospects going forward?
PW: For Sauber, you mean? So definitely a step forward is the engine, that they are running the current engine next year because now, especially, in the second half of the season we are struggling a bit with the performance there and definitely this is going to be better next year and then also hopefully with the car they are doing some steps forward.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Tatsuya Otani – Car Graphic) I have two questions for Stoffel. How do you look back at the development of the car during the season, for the chassis and the power unit respectively? And question two is: you raced for Honda last year here in Japan in the Super Formula championship; after your experience in Formula One Grands Prix, your image or your feeling of Honda has been changed or not?
SV: As a team, I think we’ve progressed a lot since the start of the season. Obviously everyone knows the situation, how it was back in Barcelona during winter testing, when it was obviously a very tough time for everyone, even getting the car out on track was difficult. The first few races were complicated as well and I think every weekend there were positives to take; every week has been going better and better. We’re still not at the point where we are happy about our performance. We still know it’s a very long way to go but I think lately we’ve been able to score a couple of points which are definitely very valuable for the team. But like I said, there’s still a long way to go to compete with the top guys so plenty of margin.
Q: And Stoffel, the second question, can you relate the two experiences of Honda last year and this year?
SV: Well definitely my year in Super Formula helped me to work with Japanese people. I think the culture especially was very different so to come out here and discover something new, to work in a completely Japanese environment was not the easiest in the beginning, but I think it was a big challenge for me as well to kind of transform a team around me, to teach them some European lessons as well and to guide the team in a certain direction and then seeing the results of that was a nice challenge for me to do.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Hallo Valtteri; you have been very open and honest, talking about your current problem. Aren’t you afraid that at that the same time you have been playing yourself down in public?
VB: I don’t really… I’m not really interested about what people say in public. I know, like I said before, I know just my own targets, my own goals and if I don’t meet those, if I’m far away from those I’m not happy and then it’s tricky. I’m always very honest with myself and if there’s any single little bit I can improve myself and if I can look in the mirror and I can say I can improve something, normally I will improve it, one way or another. It’s been a very difficult few races that I need to learn massively from and especially from Malaysia but that’s now history. I’m now here and I’m looking forward. There’s been weekends when I’ve learned massively so looking forward to the next one.
Q: Valtteri, to go public on those thoughts as Heikki just referred to is a surprise to some people.
VB: Normally I just say things how they are and how things were. I was not happy, that’s it.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Pascal, this weekend will mark the ninth race since the big management changes earlier on in the year, so effectively almost half a season ago in terms of race count. How much has the team changed in that time and in what areas and does it now have a proper foundation for the future, do you believe?
PW: About the foundation, I don’t really know. But definitely it has changed in the team, with Fred coming we have a very experienced guy and also some other guys joining the team so for next year’s car everyone can expect a good step. Then one of the first things he did of course was to re-sign the Ferrari deal and to put the current engine in the car which will be better.
Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) Valtteri, you’ve talked about what’s happened since the summer break but whilst your teammate’s been on the podium, you haven’t got within half a second of him in qualifying, it’s been a bit difficult. You said the compromises you’ve made but is it time to ask for a new chassis? Would that actually help some of your problems?
VB: Well, if the team would find a problem with the chassis, with nowadays technology, before going just changing the chassis, you can find out if everything is alright and I trust the team as always, doing everything to make sure the car is in a good condition and well set-up. I trust the guys on that and who knows, maybe I’ve already asked before.
Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) I’ll take that as a yes, you have.
VB: Erm, no, not really, directly. I think… what was the first one after the summer break? It was Belgium. I had a poor performance in the beginning of the race and also the qualifying wasn’t great so I asked a lot of questions, you know, I just wanted to kind of take off any things that could affect… I always want to make sure the machinery is good as well. So, like I said, I completely trust that the team is giving me a good car.
Q: (Shigenori Ogura – Tokyo Sport) Stoffel, welcome back to Suzuka. I would like to know how do you feel now to be back in Suzuka and racing in front of your supporters in Japan?
SV: Yeah, obviously very excited to be back in Japan in general, back in Suzuka. Obviously some very good memories from last year, racing here. I always had a lot of support from the Japanese fans and this weekend will be no different. If anything, it will be more. They always turn up with great surprises, great presents for all of us and it’s just great to see the atmosphere so I’m looking forward to this weekend. It’s a great circuit and just a great event for all of us.
Q: (Gaetan Vigneron – RTBF) Stoffel, could we say that your improved results in so few races could be related to the fact that at one point you could choose your own set-up with your engineers?
SV: Yeah, I think – like I said before – I think it’s just the way I’m working with the team, working with my engineers has developed a lot. I think having had the opportunity to have a bit more track time enabled us to kind of see what I needed from the car, for the engineers as well to understand exactly what I needed from the car. At this point we’re perfectly up to speed with that. There are no doubts any more. I’m very, very comfortable as well. Every time I go into a weekend I’m just confident that things will work out, things will go and that’s a nice feeling to have when you jump in the car, to feel comfortable and the car will do what you want it to do.