Fresh from announcing his new McLaren deal, Fernando Alonso attended part two along with Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Q: Let’s start with Fernando Alonso. Two-time Formula One World Champion who’s just announced a new deal with McLaren that I think will take you to 17 seasons in Formula One. Tell us your feelings, and also what remains for you to achieve here?
Fernando ALONSO: Well, the feelings are great, obviously. It’s a good day for me, announcing next year, I will be back here with McLaren and obviously happy and proud to continue this relationship. It has been three difficult seasons for us, we are not as competitive as we wanted and now I think it’s time to change this situation and hopefully next year to be back in the positions that McLaren belongs and hopefully give something to our fans that have kept supporting us for the last three years. That will be the main thing for next year. As I’ve said, happy to arrive to this agreement at the end.
Q: On that topic, obviously you’re switching to the Renault engine for next year which has this season so far won two Grands Prix and had ten other podiums. Is that the kind of thing you have in mind from McLaren-Renault next season?
FA: We’ll see. I think every years the projects are a little bit different. You never know what you can achieve with the new cars. Sometimes you go to the first winter test and have a nice surprise and are quicker than you expect; sometimes you have bad surprises and you are a little bit slower and something is not according to plan. Let’s see what we can do next year – but definitely very happy again to have a Renault engine on my car. I have a very strong relationship with Renault from many, many years now. I’ve been working with them since then, even on my karting school etcetera, so extremely proud to also drive for a Renault engine.
Q: And a final comment on the colour of your cap, all part of the Susan Komen initiative this weekend.
FA: Yes. Obviously I think the whole of Formula One is given big support to all the women that are fighting constantly with breast cancer. I think we want to pass the message that they are not alone, they have a lot of support. With all the necessary things and controls they can make in advance, I think there are many, many hopes and they are not alone.
Q: Romain Grosjean, on home soil – kind of – with Haas, off the back of a double-points finish in Japan that moved you up in the Constructors’ Championship as well, what’s the mood like in the team at the moment, going into this weekend.
Romain GROSJEAN: The mood is pretty good. It has been since the first day, to be fair, even through the highs and lows. It was really good to have a double-points finish in Japan. Japan and Monaco, which are two very difficult tracks. So, it shows the team is doing great progress. We’re coming here of course very motivated as always. Pretty special Grand Prix because it’s the home race for the team. We just need to keep our feet on the ground and start from zero every weekend and build up from there but you know it’s only the second year of the team and we are fighting with Renault, Toro Rosso, Williams in the Constructors’ Championship – and they are teams that have been here for a very long time, so you can be very proud of that. We know where are our strengths, we know our weakness and we are working on that for the future – but I think there is a lot of potential in the team to move up the ranks.
Q: On that subject, Fernando’s planning on moving up the grid next year, Nico’s definitely planning on moving up the grid next year. How are Haas and yourself going to move up the grid in the face of that competition?
RG: Well who isn’t? That’s the real question! For sure McLaren is going to be a competitive team next year. We have less experience than others. I think that year was a really good test for us and knowing that we were coming with a change of regulation, to see what we could do. We’ve done pretty well. I’m thinking that, I’m hoping that next year we go up another level, which everyone obviously does – but I think, as I say, we’ve got more potential to unlock and we’re going to try to do that. We know where we’ve been good, we know where we haven’t been good and obviously now the key is to work on where we’ve been weak.
Q: Nico, a new team mate in Carlos this weekend and going forward. Do you expect him to give you a hard time this weekend in Austin, or indeed in the last four races or is that more likely to come next season?
Nico HULKENBERG: No, definitely a harder time probably than so far this year. Obviously he’s got a few challenges on his plate, changing team at the back end of the season is not the easiest situation. There are a lot of new things that he has to get used to: car, team, people but I’m sure he will be on a decent level straight away. I look forward to working alongside him. Obviously four important and intense races now ahead of us so yeah, we need to focus and do a good job.
Q: Do you know him much already?
NH: I’ve known him obviously from this year and last year, the time that he’s been in Formula One but probably get to know him a lot more in the next couple of weeks.
Q: Obviously the Renault’s been quite an interesting story, the way it’s developed this year; pretty much since Silverstone it seems to me you’ve generally been the fourth fastest car in qualifying at most venues; where has that come from?
NH: Well, it’s come from hard work, good development, everybody back at the factory has done a good job during these last couple of months and that’s it pretty much. We’ve brought updates for the car and transformed the car into a much better performing car on all sorts of different tracks so we’re in a good position. As we say, we still obviously have quite a bit to do this year. We want to not finish where we are now, in terms of team championship position, so it’s important for us to do a good job in the last four races.
Q: So based on the growth that you’ve seen this last few months, obviously you think you’re going to be able to race Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull in 2018? Is that too much to expect?
NH: I think that’s asking a bit much if you see the gap and the advantages they have at the moment. It’s a pretty difficult task to close that gap. I think if we can halve that gap, we’ve already done a very good job. It’s not that they’re not doing a fantastic job so TBC but obviously we will make up as much as we can.
Q: Kevin, four points finishes in 2017 with a best of seventh, how would you sum up the season so far in terms of your own satisfaction?
Kevin MAGNUSSEN: I think it’s been an up-and-down season with a lot of potential and perhaps also some missed potential at times this year but we’ve still had some good races and the potential seems to be good in the car. When we’re quick, we’re very quick and competitive but our lows have perhaps been a bit too low. That’s something to work on for next year, consistency, and getting the car more regularly at its best. I think we can move towards that; whether we can be constantly fourth best team, I don’t think so. It’s not realistic at least but we will do what we can and see.
Q: Now you and Romain are now noticeably more close together more often, starting to become a bit of a Force India scenario. How much are you enjoying that?
KM: Well, we haven’t crashed into each other this year so it’s not like that but we’re enjoying it and it’s good that we’re both getting the most out of the car and just shows that we’re fighting hard and doing our best.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Fernando, I believe it’s a one year contract extension you’ve signed; is that correct and if so what’s the thinking? Are you looking beyond next year, do you want options open?
FA: We don’t talk too much about the contracts, the inside but no, it’s not one year.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Fernando, just following that up, I’m told it’s a multi-year contract but presumably that’s got options in it. Do you then foresee potentially at McLaren if things go well next year and then maybe into the future Le Mans, Indy 500? Are these things that you’re talking about with McLaren as well?
FA: We’ll see, I think it’s just talking too much ahead. We have enough to do for next year, to put McLaren again at the top of the grid and that’s the first priority right now. I think on my personal side there are no other priorities than Formula One at the moment but with a door open for different series and different goals that I always believed that you need to win in other series if you want to be a more complete driver, a better driver, because motorsport is not only Formula One. Even if it’s still the priority, we will see what the future brings.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Romain, you and your wife recently worked on a cookbook together, Cuisine and Confidences. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and what went into it, the journey that you take because it covers two things you love aside from Formula One, cooking and your family?
RG: Yeah, it’s been great fun. It was just through meeting people and we met a guy called Patrick Rougereau and he’s been voted best culinary photographer in the world last year and he actually made my plate look pretty nice which it wasn’t always, so it was a good job. And it was basically… it was basically just a way to share my passion for cooking and every recipe has a story behind it for which my wife writes the text, so it’s all cooking that we do back home, either with the kids, with friends and so on. It was just a great thing to do and I thought it could be fun to see that a Formula One driver can actually do something a bit different than an autobiography and having a cookbook that can give a bit of an inside of our lives through recipes.
Q: Do any of the other drivers have a passion for cooking? Nico, do you enjoy cooking?
KM: Just eating.
Q: (Lennart Bloemhof – Volkskrant) Fernando, as somebody who now has experience in Indycar and also Formula One, how do you think F1 can win over American fans? Is the passion for racing different around here?
FA: I think here it’s a little bit more relaxed; you know the atmosphere in the race, in the weekend… The races here are much more unpredictable, what the result can be on Sundays so that is quite attractive from a fan point of view. In Formula One, we know the starting grid on Sunday, we can write a paper now and sign and we will maybe miss one or two positions, maximum, and that’s the worst thing that we have and hopefully we can change that.
Q: (Geoff Gluck – Geoff Gluck.com) Fernando, you’ve seen a lot of teams come in over the years but Haas F1 team has had pretty good success in their first couple of seasons. Have you been surprised at how well they’ve been able to do as a start-up team?
FA: Yeah, definitely, it definitely has been a very good thing for the sport. I think what Haas has managed to do in the last two years is quite impressive. I think the first year we could argue that with the help of Ferrari or the agreements that they had, we will see a competitive team already from race one but I think with the changes of regulations this year etc I think they did an amazing job again, so two consecutive years in a very demanding sport like F1, competing at a good level is a great achievement so hopefully we will see more teams coming with this commitment and with this kind of result and also with Haas with better results in the future will be great as well.
Q: (Joey Barnes – Motorsports Tribune) Fernando, five months ago, you running in the Indy 500 got a lot of people’s attention obviously. When you reflect back at that time, what are the biggest moments you take with you and are you looking to potentially doing something like that again in the future?
FA: Well the moment was… it’s difficult to pick up one moment of that month. If I had to choose one, it would be Sunday: the drivers’ presentation, the drivers’ parade ten minutes before the race. That was an amazing moment: 250-300,000 people in one venue was very impressive, the atmosphere there. But I think the whole months was very unique and opened the eyes a little bit of what I said before: Formula One is just one more series in motorsport, probably the most mediatic one, it’s a fantastic show and we all are very proud to be Formula One drivers and we dream from a very early age to become Formula One drivers but there are other motorsport series that are as good as that and you know I’m a fan of this one, so that was a good discovery for me. Obviously now, with the new McLaren deal for next year I can confirm that I will not be at the Indy 500 next year because there is Monaco Grand Prix on the same weekend and priority next year will be to perform well in Formula One but at the same time I can confirm that I will be in the Indy 500 in the future. I don’t if it will be ’19 or 2020 or whenever but it’s a race that I definitely will experience again.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) For all drivers: Austin will stay on the Formula One calendar probably but if there will be a second Grand Prix in the US, what circuit or what city would you like?
NH: I’ll say Miami, because I think it’s a fun, cool town and to host the Grand Prix there woul be quite cool and spectacular I think.
RG: Well, I think there would be many many places to get a great Grand Prix. Laguna Seca is a pretty cool track, I love Long Beach, Miami would be nice. Why not Las Vegas, so I think it’s such a big country that there are opportunities in a lot of cities.
FA: Yes, the same. There are many places that could host a race. Even Indianapolis on the old circuit.
KM: Yeah, Laguna Seca would be awesome, Watkins Glen, a city race in Miami or New York would be cool as well, so more races would be good.
Q: (Jim Virtuno – Associated Press) Romain, you’ve driven for Haas now for two years; what’s your sense of Gene’s patience or impatience of the development of the team and do you sense that he’s in this for the long haul?
RG: I think he’s the best team owner I’ve ever had. He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent and that makes the whole team just very enjoyable to work with. I think Gene was initially surprised how competitive and how complicated Formula One is but he’s now got it and he knows that what we’re doing is pretty good. Of course we always want more and if Gene is in Formula One it’s not too… I believe in the long term fight for eighth or sixth in the Constructors’ Championship but try to go for podiums or one win. We know the gap is big right now but that’s where the patience is. But again, as I say, he’s super passionate about the team, the racing, the whole Formula One and that love that he’s got for the race just goes through the whole team and makes it, as I say, a very, very good team to work with and I believe a very successful team in the future.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Nico, you’ve obviously got used to having Jo in the car next to you throughout the season and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses against his. Does it refocus you at all when you get a new teammate, that sort of fear of the unknown change your approach at all?
NH: You probably would have thought a little bit but then I think then on the other side I’ve done pretty well this season so far so I think I just need to keep doing what I’ve so far this year, that worked pretty well for me and I’m in a good spot, I’m confident, I like where I am so I won’t get distracted too much. I just need to focus, to get the best out of myself and my car and my crew and I think then I will be fine.