Thursday’s FIA press conference part one
PART ONE: Fernando ALONSO (McLaren), Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), Jolyon PALMER (Renault)
Q: Fernando, if we can start with you. It seemed like a great experience at Indianapolis. How was it to learn a completely new way of driving, of racing after all these years? And has it relit your competitive flame after a tough few years here in Formula One?
Fernando ALONSO: It was a great experience, obviously very new for me many things there, so yeah very intense because as you said I had to learn many things from zero, so it was definitely a good way to stop this year in Formula One for a couple of weeks and start from zero in something and learn from the beginning. That was the first thing that I wanted to try. Try to be competitive in a completely new car, new series. I am always searching for this kind of motivations and this year it was a good decision to go there. The race was amazing, the experience of qualifying already started to be an amazing experience there – four laps on the limit and try to not scrub the speed in any place and obviously the race strategically very different compared to F1, a very long race as well – three hours and a half, or three hours and forty-five minutes in the car. It was just you know a new thing for me but I felt competitive, I felt good in qualifying, I was leading the biggest race in the world for a while, so really really happy.
Q: So what happens next? Has the experience helped you to make any decisions or resolutions about where you take your career from here?
FA: Not really. I’ve said many times in F1, a third world championship is still my biggest priority. I think I developed my skills to drive F1 cars for the last 16 years, so it’s the best thing that I can drive. The best car that I can drive is still Formula One. It’s another time that I jump in any car in any categories with any tyres, with any rules, that I go there and I’m competitive, so I’m not afraid of the future. If I cannot succeed here and win this third world championship, I’m still loving motor racing and I will race in any series. I know that I can win any series.
Q: Lewis, coming to you. Five poles, five wins. Montreal is a great place for you to come to bounce back from your disappointment in Monaco last time out. Toto Wolff’s pre-race notes are interesting: he said that it could be a tricky race for Mercedes in terms of the layout of the track. How positive do you feel about the weekend?
Lewis HAMILTON: I think Toto mentioned that he thinks Ferrari… We’ve obviously seen that Ferrari are quickest at the moment, so they’re the favourites, but we’ve worked very hard to rectify the issues we had in the last race, and after the weekend… Attack this weekend. We’ve got some unique bits on the car I think which will work well this weekend,but it doesn’t mean we can’t take the fight to them.
Q: It’s no secret that the Mercedes car has a few issues with the softer compound tyres this year, getting them into that sweet spot and then keeping them there. How much work have you been able to do behind the scenes to fix this problem up to this point?
LH: Not much at all.
Q: Just what you can do on-event with those tyres when you get them?
LH: Yeah. We’ve definitely done some analysis, but we’ll find whether or not there’s new things we can improve on this weekend.
Q: Coming to you, Jolyon. Best result of the season so far last time out in Monaco – P16 on the grid to P11 at the flag. How much of a confidence boost is that?
Jolyon PALMER: It’s been a confidence boost. It's been obviously a very tough start to the year. There’s been some positives recently, but it doesn't necessarily show on the results sheets. Monaco, at least we did race distance and we were pretty competitive in the times as well. Obviously when you start 16th it’s difficult to make any overtakes or do much else. Running around in the traffic, but at least with a better pace and we can take a bit of confidence in that.
Q: Cyril Abiteboul, your team boss, in his pre-race notes has said that you now have a more robust engine and gearbox and the team can fully focus on maximising performance. Tell us about that.
JP: That sounds good! Well, we'll see – we’re always pushing. This is obviously a big power circuit, difficult for the drivetrain as well; it’s an important area so we’re always making progress there. I think it’s now time – especially for me – to start delivering and get some points.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Lewis. Can you tell us how difficult is it to make the tyre work and how you heat them during the pre-laps?
LH: You just drive it the same. You push or you drive slowly, depending on the temperature of the circuit, and when you come to do your laps sometimes they’re ready and sometimes they’re not. It’s difficult to… It’s kind of an unfeeling – sometimes the tyres feel exactly the same when you leave the garage, and sometimes they grip up. It’s the same for every tyre.
Q: (Sef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Lewis, I want to talk a little bit about here, as it’s a very special place for you. Obviously this is where it all began, and this is where you started to build your legacy. You posted a picture on Instagram that was very nice, it was a young you in your karate uniform and your father was with you. Fathers’ Day is this weekend, and I wanted to know – when you come here, does it still… Do you still have those good memories, do you have that positive feeling, those feelings when you first won the race? It’s been ten years now, and I just wanted to know: do you still feel that positive energy going into this weekend?
LH: Montreal’s been… Obviously, having the amazing experience I had in 2007; I remember standing on the podium and looking down at my dad and just seeing the biggest smile I’d ever seen in my life on his face, which was a very proud moment. And then, since then, just every year I come, I’ve just grown a lot with Canada and with Montreal, and the following has grown along the time, ten years, and so a lot of my time when I see get here is spectacular. You definitely feel the energy. Here is such a great race; the weather’s generally really good, the circuit’s incredible and unique to its own, the city’s one of the greatest cities. I’ve not been here when it’s not been a grand prix, but there’s a huge buzz here. I love being here. I try and get here a bit early, because the food’s great, the people are great, and I generally get left alone, so it’s a good weekend.
Q: (Ralf Bach – Sport Bild) Question to Fernando. Fernando, would it help you to learn for your decision for next year that you maybe get the same engine next year as Lewis has this year?
FA: I think it doesn’t make any change to my decision.
Q: (Bruce Schoenfeld – Sports Business Journal) At this point in the season, from a driver's perspective, has much changed with the change in administration of the sport? Have you noticed anything heading in any direction in terms of commercial opportunities, of the way the sport is run, or when you wake up in the morning is it business as usual, with no noticeable differences?
LH: Very very small changes. At the moment I think they’re in planning, so. Coming into this track today, I don’t know if you know where the bridge is? Normally they stop the traffic to let the fans walk through. After ten years or 15 years or whatever, they’ve finally built a stairway to go up and over the road. I don’t know who did that, but otherwise there’s not really other changes so far.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Lewis, it is said that a driver gets stronger after winning for the first time. Have you noticed any change in Valtteri after Sochi? And did you notice any change in yourself here ten years ago after your first victory?
LH: I’ve not noticed any difference in Valtteri – he’s still his calm, composed self. But definitely for me when I won my first grand prix it was definitely a huge boost, confirming what I knew in my heart I could do. So I can only imagine that it’s the same for anyone else, it’s just that some people show it more than others.
Q: (Helmut Uhl – Bild) Question for Fernando. I have read that you said in Spanish TV that if they announce 25 races you would quit. Is that right?
Q (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Fernando, looking at it from a distance, in Indy you appeared to be quite different – there was a kind of lightness about you. Skateboarding down the paddock, or Gasoline Alley, attending press conferences with Indiana farmers, and all that kind of thing. What made that change, and are you going to bring it to here as well?
FA: Well, the skateboarding I think here you are not allowed to bring those kind of things. The farmer thing, they give you money if you are the fastest rookie. Someone give us money here, I will attend, no worries. The whole atmosphere is just different there, I think everyone is more relaxed, is happy, you know. Even the way of the events we had, it’s all about… Everyone is proud of that race, that event. They've been for many years there, you know everyone that comes to the race they are just proud. They expect to have fun in that race. I don’t say that here is different, but here with years with all of the business that is around F1, you know everyone is trying to find some word, some thing you say or you do that creates maybe a theme behind, for more on the news. That is just about, you know, 33 drivers doing the race and just enjoy racing. Here, it’s more. Formula One is bigger in every sense. It’s bigger, there are other things, you know. But this in all kind of sports it happens the same. In tennis when you start and when you play Roland Garros there are many details that they take care of, the players. In football the same thing – when you start, you have fun, you just enjoy the sport. And then when you go to the champions’ league final a small comment before the match maybe creates a polemic and afterwords or something like that. You are more relaxed, the environment is more relaxed. There’s not the pressure and everything that Formula One has here, so it’s just different.
Q: (Simon Lazenby – Sky Sports) Fernando, just to follow that up, how do you feel coming back to Formula One? You were promised an engine upgrade for here in Canada; it doesn’t look like that has materialised. Zak’s come out again and been critical of Honda; he says the next 90 days is important. What has to change to keep you at McLaren?
FA: We have to win. You know, if we are winning before September or something like that I will make a decision and I will stay.
Q (Guillaume La Francois – La Presse) My question’s for Lewis. I know you mentioned enjoying your time in Montreal, which we all really appreciate, but as far as when you're on the track, what is it about the track that suits you well, that enables you to have all that success here?
LH: It’s been ten years, I think it’s just a bit like once you get to the corners it’s a bit like a go-kart track, and long straights added to that, so it creates lots of opportunities for overtaking, you can follow here a little bit better than perhaps at other circuits, it’s a lot more of a mechanical, technical circuit, and it suits well an aggressive driving style I guess I would say. So all of that means you have to be generally more aggressive than we can be at other circuits.
Q: (Jeff Pappone – Inside Track) This year is the 50th anniversary of the first Formula One race in Canada. I just wanted to know from all three of you, what is the significance of this race to Formula One and personally, is there a significance of this race to you?
LH: The significance of this race? Well, Formula One is obviously made up of a lot of great countries, a lot of great races, but there are the exceptional races and there’s only a few of them. This race is in that few.
JP: Personally, there’s not anything special for me, but I think it’s always a great race. There has been a lot of action here in the past, and it’s a different market here – it’s North America, so it’s always interesting to come.
Q: (Jon McEvoy – Daily Mail) To Fernando, if they add five races to the year, you say you won’t go on. What are your objections to that – and what would you do if you stopped doing Formula One for that reason?
FA: I think, y’know, I started when the calendar was 16 races, plus the tests, and now we keep on increasing the races year after year and I think we are in a number that is quite demanding already: the life you have, y’know, between the preparation, the sponsor events, the tests, the commitments you have plus 20-21 races, I think is already enough. If there are 25 or 26 races or whatever, I think it’s good in one aspect but in other aspects, in how demanding becomes your life, at this point of my career, I consider that a good quality of life is more important than to do more seasons in F1 – so if the calendar stays between 20-21, so this range that we know from the last couple of years, I’ll be happy to continue. If it’s increasing, like NASCAR, that they have 40 or 50 races, it’s not for me. It’s better for other drivers.
The second part is, if you did leave for that reason, what would you do?
FA: I don’t know. In September I will think about it.
Q: (Silvia Arias – Parabrisas) Jolyon, there are some rumours about your future in Renault. Does it put some pressure on you and what are your feelings about it?
JP: What puts pressure on is not putting in good performances. I’m aware that the start of the year has been pretty disappointing. I’m working hard and I’m ready to turn it around. In terms of rumours, there have been rumours since my third-ever race in Formula One, so it’s nothing new for me. The way to stop it is to do well on track and hopefully I can do that this weekend.
Q: (Ralf Bach – Sport Bild) Question to Fernando, again. You went to Indy, you were one of the quickest guys from the beginning, you nearly won the race. Do you think in the opposite, one of the top American drivers from the IndyCars, they could do the same in the Formula One?
FA: Depending on the car, I guess. Yes.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Fernando, I have to ask you to follow-up your answer to my original question where you said if McLaren aren’t winning by September you’ll leave. They’re not going to be winning by September: you know that; I know that; everyone in the room knows that – but you don’t have that many options for next year it would appear. Are you saying definitively, one hundred per cent, if you don’t win a race by September, you’ll definitely leave McLaren? Can you just clarify that?
FA: You never know. You cannot be 100 per cent now in June about a decision for next year that I don’t even start to consider. What we all want is to win and, related to the answer before, what Zak commented yesterday and the Honda thing is probably what you will expect Zak to say. He wants to win; he wants to put McLaren again on a contender position for the championship. So, y’know, after three years we are not in that position. Things have to change, I guess, for the team. And the same with me. I want to win, and I joined this project because I wanted to be World Champion and we are not in that position. So, if you don’t see things changing and you are not in a competitive position, maybe you change projects. That’s the only think that I can say now, until I sit down with myself in September, October or whatever – after the summer as I always said, I cannot say 100 per cent about anything now. The best decision I will take after summer.
Q: (Flavio Vanetti – Corriere della Sera) To Lewis, is there any major, urgent upgrade you need to be more competitive against Ferrari?
LH: Not that I know of. Not that I know of. I don’t have that information to say.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, you said you were going to go into the factory after the last race. Did you go in and what did you learn with your engineers?
LH: We were just focussed on this race, and it was shortly after the last race, so after the last race there was lots of information for them to be working on. So, we didn’t have all the solutions and the answers at that point.
Q: (Silvia Arias – Parabrisas) Fernando, which were you feelings when we saw on the replay the Dixon accident – it was so spectacular and the cars are as strong as Formula One, of course.
FA: Well, obviously it was a big accident and we saw this in qualifying, another one with Sébastien Bourdais, so, you know, when you’re running at 380km/h every single thing will be big. There are some risks when you race the Indy 500 but it has always been like that. It’s part of the race – but obviously it was red flagged, I was in the pitlane but you don’t have the communication with the team as much as you have here, you don’t have the mechanics, you cannot jump out of the car, so I was there and just asking if everything was OK and what to do on the restart – because again the procedures are different: here you can change the tyres, you can prepare the car, whatever, under a red flag and there you cannot do anything. We were planning to pit on the next lap after the pace car was on the track, so you just focus on the procedures and the race restart, you are not concerned too much about the accidents – but from the first minute that I decide to race there, I knew about the risk, and I knew also about what was that race. I was happy to take those risks.
Q: (Helmut Uhl – Bild) One more question to Lewis, going back to the 25 races, how do you think about that and would this be just a case for you to think about backing out also, like Fernando said?
LH: I haven’t really given it any thought but I understand what Fernando’s saying and tend to agree with him.
Q: (Sef Harding – Xero Xone News) Fernando, to go back on a question earlier where you said the atmosphere here is the way things are. Isn’t that the issue? That we’re in a wash-rinse-repeat situation where it takes all of us to start to develop and change that atmosphere so we can be more relaxed, so that it’s a better relationship between you, between us, between the fans and to make it a more positive, more relaxed environment?
FA: There are definitely things that are difficult to change, so difficult to consider if they are good or bad. Formula One is the biggest motor sport category in the world for a reason. Whatever that reason is, maybe it’s all about this thing as well. An example is this press conference: there has not been one single question about this race weekend. Not for me, not even for Lewis, not for him. If the future will be OK, if the upgrades will be OK, or not. There is always thinking forwards too much: about next year, about September, about whatever, so, there is not enough focus on this race weekend, because also, the positions, more or less, we know. We can put in a paper the first 15 positons for qualifying and the first 15 for the race. 99 per cent we will match ever single position. This lack of unpredictable racing, generates a lot of… too much thinking forwards, too much guessing. Obviously, it’s a good for some part of the sport that will benefit from that, because we will generate a lot of talks in the media and a lot of fan-interaction – but you miss a little bit what is going to happen this weekend. So, y’know, it’s not being more or less relaxed in the weekend but when you come here you focus with the engineers, you prepare the race, you prepare the strategy, the tyre temperature, whatever, you come to the press conference and it’s all about next year, about what Zak said, about Toto said, you freeze a little bit the emotions that you have about racing this weekend. It’s probably what it is.