Max Verstappen, Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Ocon catch up with the press at Spa after the summer break.
PART ONE: DRIVERS – Esteban OCON (Force India), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), Stoffel VANDOORNE (McLaren)
Esteban, back to the scene of your Grand Prix debut where it all started a year ago. In what ways is the driver and competitor that is Esteban Ocon different today from that debutant of August 2016??
Esteban OCON: Yeah, it’s been one year already. It has been mega fast, but now I’m not a rookie anymore. What has changed? Not much, I would say, except that I have been learning massively since the beginning. I’m feeling just more comfortable with the weekends, with the races and just working with Formula One teams of course. And yeah, now, it’s just I hope going to be easier to race on the tracks that I have already raced last year.
Ten points scoring finishes out of 11 so fat this year. Your battle with team-mate Sergio Pérez is one of the stories of the season? Still, though, just the one occasion, at Silverstone, that you have beaten him to the chequered flag. How confident are you that you will start to turn that around in the second half of the season?
EO: Yeah, you know, in the beginning I had a lot to learn definitely. This season I was getting faster and faster in qualifying, I beat him in Budapest, at the last race before the summer break. I’m just getting closer to him all the time. Just giving him a hard time and that’s my target for sure. We raced really close now just before the summer break together. I hope that it will me that I’ve already raced some races last year for the second half and I will make sure I can beat him for the rest of the season.
Thank you. Stoffel, same question in many ways. There’s no getting away from the fact that at the beginning of the season the match up with Fernando has been very much in his favour. But just lately you’ve started to turn it around. Can you tell us what steps you’ve made to even things up?
Stoffel VANDOORNE: Yeah, for us it’s not been a great start to the season, especially with all the trackside problems we have. We missed quite a lot of track time, but lately everything has gone in a good direction. Felt more and more comfortable with the car, with the handling suiting a little bit better my style as well. The last races have been positive. I’m matching very close with Fernando in qualifying and in the races as well. I’m definitely sure that the second part of the season will go in a good direction again.
Well, congratulations on the contract renewal announced before your home GP. This season hasn’t gone as you expected in any respect, so was there any doubt that you’d get another chance?
SV: No, there never has been any doubt. The team has been really supportive in the difficult times. Obviously I’ve been with McLaren for the past couple of years as a young driver and then as a reserve driver, so they know my capabilities. They know the effort I’m putting in with the team and it’s good to see that the team is 100 per cent behind me and I’m definitely looking forward to the future with them.
Very well done. Max, coming to you: a front row qualifier here last season, still the only time in your F1 career to date, so long overdue another one. Is this more or less feasible this year than last year?
Max VERSTAPPEN: I don’t know. Have I been on the second row this year? I don’t know. I think it will be more difficult, but you never know. In general, Red Bull has always been quite OK on this track. We just have to wait and see. It will be quite a special weekend, with so many fans around, so I’m definitely looking forward to that.
And I see you’ve got the orange on the cap – nice touch. You and Red Bull Racing have made quite a radical tyre selection for this weekend, with only one set of softs and nine sets of ultrasofts – much less conservative than Mercedes and Ferrari. In light of the way things went at Silverstone, are you confident you have the right tyre options for the weekend??
MV: I’ll tell you after tomorrow!
Can you tell us a bit more, develop your thoughts on what tomorrow might bring?
MV: Yeah, I don’t know. We just have to go out there and see what the balance of the car is and then of course we try some different tyres and we know the degradation and from there on we’ll go further into the weekend.
But you would describe this a quite an aggressive selection, clearly?
MV: Looks like. Yep.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adrian Huber – Agencia EFE) A question for Stoffel. I would like to know if Fernando congratulated you, did he tell you anything and if you would like to have him as a team-mate next year ?
SV: I haven’t seen him yet. Is he here? Is he in Spa? OK, I’ll probably see him later.
Q: (Adrian Huber – Agencia EFE) Would you like to have him as a team-mate next year
SV: To be honest, it’s not up to me to decide who is going to be my team-mate next year. So far we have had a very good relationship together. We have been working very well and it’s up to the team to decide who it will be. We know that Fernando is out of contract at the end of this year, so he will make his own decision.
Q: (Frank Woestenburg – Der Telegraaf) Max, there will be approximately 80,000 Dutch fans here this weekend – a lot of orange on the stands. Does it give you extra pressure?
MV: Yeah, I think positive pressure. It’s always nice to see so many fans around, especially let’s say in qualifying. When you cross the line and you do your lap, hopefully they are cheering, last year they were, so it was good. For sure it brings more pressure but you have to translate that into something positive,
Q: (Walter Kosta – Saarbrücker Zeitung) Stoffel, the Belgian Grand Prix for you is a real home race. Are you a little bit envious, jealous, that Max, as no Belgian countryman, causes a hype with a [sic] inversation of his Netherlands countrypeople, who will freak out this weekend?
SV: First of all, I like the way how you got that question. I mean, I think we are in completely different situations. Max has been in Formula One for a while. He’s had some success in his career already, while for me I’ve only been half a year in Formula One and we’ve barely been fighting for points. I’m pretty sure in the future that when we will be competitive and things start to turn around the Belgians will be a lot of fans here as well.
And Max you were making the point that you are half-Belgian?
MV: Born in Belgium as well.
You were also asking if you qualified in the second row this year? You’ve done it twice this year: Monaco and Silverstone.
MV: I did? Oh.
Q: (Ralf Woodall – l’Equipe) Max, you raced with Esteban before in F3. He has been one year in Formula One. Can I have your opinion about Esteban and his year in F1?
MV: I think clearly everything is going alright. It’s a bit difficult for me to judge as I’m not involved in the team and exactly all that is going on but it’s clearly going really well. As a driver I always had good competition with Esteban so for sure he’s a good driver.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) This week Formula One has announced an e-sports championship for F1. How do all feel about that being that you have all had a chance to play these games – Esteban we’ve watched you on social media putting some lap times down – to have this championship, to have some young people in an untapped market step in and be part of the F1 community?
EO: Yeah, I thin it is a really good thing to give a chance to the people who play on simulators, to give some competition, and to give them a prize at the end. It’s something really cool I think. Those people are really talented. We’ve seen before in other categories that some simulator players they also race for real and they are quite talented. So I think it is a very good thing to show them in public and I’m quite impressed with their skills.
SV: Yeah I think it’s a very good initiative. Myself, when I was younger, I was playing a lot of computer games, a lot of racing games and I think it is a great way to get involved into the sport, a great way to develop your skills as well, even though you are not having the exact sensations of being in the real car. I think it is still something very positive for the people who do not always have the possibility to go out there and do go-karts and be involved in the sport. It’s a great way to do the sport.
Max, your thoughts. You do a lot of this stuff, don’t you?
MV: Yeah. Lately not that much in terms of racing any more but I think in general it took quite a long time compared to some other sports but it’s always very positive to have it. If you already look into some other sports at how big it became, it’s really interesting to see, so I’m looking forward to how big it can become.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – Ad Sportwereld) Question for Max. It’s not only the Dutch fans here, you also have a warm relationship with Spa-Francorchamps, just talking to the circuit. Can you take us through the most difficult and more beautiful part of the lap, for you?
MV: Most difficult… I think that changes every year with the car balance you have. I like the second sector where you have a lot of fast corners in a row. I think that’s definitely the most beautiful as well to take because, at the end of the day, Eau Rouge is very nice, the scenary is very nice but it’s easy flat-out at the moment.
MV: Sector Two. It depends on what car balance you have.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – globoesporte.com) Max, you have a new version of the power unit here from Renault. Do you believe with this possible upgrade from the power unit and the characteristics of your car normally very well adapted for this track, you can be very close to Mercedes and Ferrari or maybe even beat them?
MV: To be honest I think it’s just a bit of fine tuning. I don’t expect any miracles to happen here. I think like they said as well, it’s just mapping and controls, so it’s not like giving you suddenly a lot more horsepower.
Q: (Adrian R Huber – Agencia EFE ) Question for Esteban. Obviously you’re not here to make friends, you’re here to race and compete but after 11 grands prix together I want to know which are your feelings towards Checo?
EO: All our relationship has been good together. Even if we had some touches in a few races, we always had talks after the race. Yeah, at the moment nothing has changed since before, since when I started the season.
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday) Question for all three of you. For the start of the second half of the season, you’ve had four weeks off. What did the three of you get up to during that period of time and what proportion was training and what proportion was holiday?
SV: It was good to get a bit of free time, especially after the last month before the summer break was very busy with three races, even some testing in between as well. So yeah, it was good to take a little bit of a break. I had a good time off with some friends and really not thinking about the racing, doing what I wanted to do, and then yeah, the last week before Spa I started back into the normal regime: normal training and prepare as usual for a grand prix week.
MV: I had 11 days off, and even on the holiday, of course you do some training, to stay up to date. From there onwards you just do your normal thing again.
EO: Yeah, I was in Spain with friends. I had ten days off, everyone, I think, just having fun. Not to think about racing. Still training a little bit but then just relaxing and then I had eight days of training in the Pyrenees again to prepare and come back stronger for the second half.
Q: (Ralf Woodall – L’Equipe) Question for Stoffel, it’s your first home grand prix. How do you feel knowing you’ll have a grid penalty starting the weekend. And how confident are you starting the weekend with a new engine?
SV: First of all I’m very happy, extremely happy to be in Spa for the first time as a Formula One driver. Looking forward to see all the fans, a lot of family, a lot of friends will be here, so definitely excited for that. And yeah, on the racing front, the penalties were kind-of inevitable with the issues we had earlier this season. Every new part we bring to the car now is giving us grid penalties. It’s a shame to start the weekend like that but with the weather here there’s maybe a lot of opportunities possible. So, we’ll focus and try to make the best of it.
Q: (Angelique Belokopytov – Autodigest) Stoffel, so it’s your home race now, it’s nothing new, you have a big media schedule. Isn’t it sometimes too much? Are you too busy to be focussed on the weekend – is it not better to sometimes have a light schedule?
SV: I think I shouldn’t complain. It’s part of the job to do a lot of marketing, sponsor events with the team – but generally it’s very well organised. Obviously this is a special race for us. It’s normal I have a bit more work to do with the partners, with the media. In the end it doesn’t distract me. As soon as we get to the track on Thursday, it’s back to our normal schedules and really focussing everything we can on the race weekend.
Q: (Silvia Arias – Parabrisas) Max, when some incidents happen during the race, and there is a crash or something like what happened in Hungary, what are your feelings after that? Is it ‘I’m not doing that again’ or ‘I’m fighting like hell and these things can happen.” Which are your feelings?
MV: You try to learn from it and from there on, maybe you analyse it once to see exactly, also from different camera angles. You know that from there on you know you have to go forwards and you try to forget it.
Q: (Lennart Bloemhof – Volkskrant) Question for Max, also about the incident with Daniel. Did you speak with Daniel afterwards – or maybe recently about it. Is the air clear now?
MV: Of course. Already straight after the race we had a talk and cleared all the air. We shared our opinions, then we had our holiday. I saw Daniel again today. At the end of the day, we are racing drivers. It’s one race and we are not fighting for a World Championship. That’s a different story. We just go on and try to score some points.
Q: (Adrian R Huber – Agencia EFE ) Question for Max. From a very realistic point of view, what are your goals from now until the rest of the season?
MV: I think the approach it race-by-race and try to achieve the best you can. Especially after the first half I’ve had: you don’t look at the championship position or whatever. You just try to do what you can do every single weekend and try to be closer to the top two teams and hopefully that will also bring us into a better position for next year.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) Could you three in a row be the future of Formula One?
SV: Yeah, I think so! Hopefully one day we’ll all fight it out in the front. It would be nice. As long as I’m winning.
EO: When all the other guys retire, we’ll be in the front.
Does that history then, that you raced against each other, does that begin to count, or does it count already?
EO: We had good times together. I had good times with Max. Stoffel was a bit older, he’s already an old guy
SV: Time for retirement…
EO: … but no, I really want to race with those three in the future at the top. It will be something awesome. As long as I’m winning.
And Max, you feel like the future, right?
MV: To be honest, feel like the future? I just try to do the best I can every single weekend and hopefully that’s enough, of course.