Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas are the last trio to take part in Thursday's driver press conference.
PART TWO: DRIVERS – Fernando ALONSO (McLaren), Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull), Valtteri BOTTAS (Williams)
Q: Fernando, let’s begin with you. Tests in WEC and more recently Daytona 24 Hours cars. How did they feel and how excited are you about the prospect of what you’re about to do with them?
Fernando ALONSO: They felt OK. They felt great. I’m behind a steering wheel, probably every week with different cars, obviously the last two were public and were probably a little bit bigger series. I was happy, first in Bahrain, I had this opportunity to test the LMP1, obviously different cars, some technologies that we don’t get have yet in F1, or that has been banned recently, like traction control and four wheel drive and things like that, that obviously required a different driving style. So limitations on fuel and things like that that were a little bit more frustrating than what we have here – but overall it has been a good experience. With LMP2 in Spain, testing for Daytona, it was also good fun. Cars again very different. More raw, a little bit and more simple and yeah, good fun and ready for next winter in Daytona, and not to have too much free time.
It’s been an amazing year really. Have you surprised yourself with how versatile you are as a driver or did you expect that, when you jumped into these different things you would be competitive straight away?
FA: No. I mean obviously, you believe in yourself. You believe that you can can adapt very quickly to things, so has been probably one of my strongest points in my career here in Formula One. Maybe I'm not the fastest in qualifying, not the fastest in the race, not the fastest in the wet but I’m quite good in everything – so I was ready to challenge on different series and compete against the best drivers in that particular series or that particular driving style, learning from them, taking all the advice that I can and that’s quite a challenge, so I study some steering wheels.
Q: Final thought. It’s the final race with Honda engines for McLaren, next year with Renault. Does that feel like a kind of a homecoming for you, given your history with them – and how much confidence are you drawing from what they’re telling you about the 2018 power unit?
FA: I think it’s good timing now, to change. I personally had a lot of expectations for the McLaren- Honda project, that was probably the reason I changed from Ferrari because the McLaren-Honda was a very attractive partnership after the success they had in the past, etcetera. We didn’t achieve the results we wanted in the last three years. We didn’t perform as we expected. So now I think it’s time to change for McLaren and join forces with Renault. I’m quite optimistic, seeing what Red Bull is doing right now with a Renault Power Unit. Obviously, it is still missing a little bit on things but overall you fight for podiums, you fight for race wills and that is a very different picture to what we have now in McLaren. So, optimistic for that, no doubts. Your question about Renault, yeah, feeling at home. Coming back a little bit, coming back towards my friends and what I consider my second family, so that will be great and they are a very good company and a very good engine, zero doubts.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you. What’s the balance sheet from the 2017 season for you looking like? You became a grand prix winner, you repeated it, you bagged ten other podiums. Do you take satisfaction from this season?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, I think the balance sheet is a bit up-and-down for me. There was for sure many good moments, and good performances but many disappointments as well. The main think I think from this season, for me, is the amount I’ve been able to learn. The amount I’ve been able to grow as a driver and things I can take for the future. That’s what matters, y’know? Lewis won the title, as my team mate, so we had a car to do it and he beat me this year. So, I’ve learnt a lot and that’s why I’m really looking ahead.
Q: Where you’ve had the more difficult days, what’s that been down to, can you give us some ideas – and have you been able to – and have you been able to work with the team to be confident that you’ll be able to avoid that next year?
VB: I honestly think I’ve been through some of those things already quite many times. But you know there are quite many things. This sport is all about details, and yeah, I’ve learnt a lot from those tough races and just need more consistency in different circumstances, different conditions and I know by working hard, I can do it.
Q: Max, two wins and you’re the top scorer in the last five races with 90 points, eight more than Lewis Hamilton’s scored. And a new contract in the bag. Is this feeling like the way Formula One should be for you?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Not fully because I’m not fighting for the championship. But it’s been positive, the last few races. I think Brazil maybe was not perfect but I think we know the reasons for that as well; when you lose performance from the engine as well to keep things alive but hopefully for this weekend we can change that and hopefully we will be a bit closer again. I think if we can be close in qualifying then normally in the race we should be a little bit better so I’m looking forward to that.
Q: Daniel said in the previous press conference that you’ve improved a lot this year. Would you like to give us some ideas of the way you feel that you’ve improved, how you’ve matured as a Grand Prix driver, some areas?
MV: I think I’ve improved but I think in general it’s all about experience and of course if you haven’t really raced a lot in lower categories and you make the jump to Formula One you have to learn it in Formula One and of course a lot more people are watching it but I think in general compared to last year, the speed was already there last year. Just sometimes – like qualifying for example, last year, at the beginning – was a bit more tricky but I think that’s quite normal when you jump into a new car which is not really made around you, or you didn’t really have a lot of time to get used to during the season. And I think this year with the winter tests, that helps a lot, just little details inside the car which makes you feel a bit more comfortable. Yeah, having more experience in qualifying, that helped me to have better starting positions and if you start in a better position, normally your race result is also a bit better, if you have a decent start, so I think all in all that just helps a lot.
Q: And do the dynamics of this 2017-type car – has that played to your strengths, do you feel that has been a good thing for you?
MV: I think in general yes, it’s been a bit more positive because it’s more like a race car. Last year’s was a bit more like a toy car for my feeling, and this year it’s a bit more rough and you know it’s harder to drive but in general it’s also just more enjoyable because you can go a lot faster into the corners without being too worried about locking fronts and stuff and I think that helped me.
Q: Do you both feel the same way, that this type of car suits your driving style more?
VB: It’s difficult to say. I obviously changed teams as well and different teammate to compare with. I can’t say but I’m enjoying it more for sure.
FA: Yeah, definitely it’s more enjoyable.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Beatrice Zamuner – Motorlat.com) Fernando, so this is the closing chapter for McLaren and Honda and amidst many difficulties you certainly had some positives, so what is your best memory of these past three years?
FA: Ummm. I don’t know. Probably on the performance side, in the races, difficult to pick up one race because obviously the performance was never there, even the P5 in Monaco I think last year is still not as fun as it should be. I think what I take from the last three years is the commitment, the spirit in the team which has been amazing. I did have some highs and lows in my career with different teams, with different performance but it was the first time that with the kind of performance we had on Sundays the team was full committed for the next race and the next step and the next aero update. There was not a single person giving up with the performance we had so that was definitely the thing I take in the last three years and the lesson that I will keep for longer.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Fernando, what is the most difficult thing you had to adapt to coming from a single seater to an LMP1 car? And were you happy by the first day of testing?
FA: I mean there are many things, you know. It’s a very different environment. You first need to sit in a different position and adapt a little bit and make some compromises for the other two guys who are sitting in the same cockpit, so everything is not perfectly made for you and for your comfort, like in Formula One. You share everything, you share the set-up, so even if you would like to change something in the car to make your speed a little bit quicker, it’s not helping the overall performance of the car in general for the race distance so there are things that you need to be aware of and you need to learn. I think driving styles are completely different, probably more biased to the most efficient way of driving, like they have there, just for the fuel economy, things like that so yeah, things to learn. I was happy with the first day of testing but I think that I need much more practice and I need much more time to get up to total speed with that driving style.
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agencia EFE) Fernando, whichever your decision is for next year’s racing and the competitions in which you’re going to race, Daytona will not be a problem but let’s imagine you start next year’s Formula One World Championship in a very good position. Would that make a change to you or not?
Q: (Angelique Belkopytov – AutoDigest) Valtteri, so he we are, last race of the season, some had some few good moments, others more difficult, so for you what could be your best achievement and your best lessons in 2017?
VB: Well, for sure for me the best achievement was of course my first win. It took for me more than 80 races in Formula One to achieve it so something really unique, something very special that you will remember always but a moment that also makes you more hungry for the future and yeah, I think those difficult races have been the races where I have been able to learn the most so I feel this season in general has given me a lot to work on and that’s always positive. I’m always willing to try to improve and trying to be better person to myself as a driver. That’s why, like I said, I can’t wait for the future.
Q: (Silvia Arias – Revista Parabrisas) Max, you have a lot of fans all over the world, particularly in Argentina. I would love to know in which way, in a good way, does this affect you and which is the message for them for next year?
MV: Yeah, it’s always good to have a lot of fans. I think it brings positive pressure with you and also when you are driving it’s just great to see so many fans next to the track and even off track. I don’t know how many fans I have in Argentina, I’ve never been there but it’s always good to have and to have them on board. And the message? Well, keep supporting and I will try to have some good results for you.
Q: (Dominik Sharaf – Motorsport-total.com) Liberty Media is considering making some changes to race tracks to improve overtaking, maybe changing the layout, changing the surface. Do you have any certain corners, certain sections or certain tracks in mind that should be changed to improve the overtaking?
FA: I don’t have anything.
VB: Well, there are so many tracks, so many corners. Well, of course there are always things that could be changed but it also then completely changes the track. Every track is unique in its own way. You can always modify the tracks or you can try and modify the cars.
MV: Yeah, I think we first have to focus on the cars, not the tracks. I mean some tracks are known for that but I think this year you can already see – compared to last year – that it’s more difficult to follow so I think we first have to address that, then normally overtaking should be less of an issue.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, more than a question, it’s a clarification – maybe I lost something in the last few weeks – about the Le Mans project. You have already decided to do that and you have already decided to do that with Toyota?
FA: No, no I didn’t, I didn’t decide yet on that. For sure I will do Le Mans in the future. It’s a race that I feel very attracted to but I don’t know if that’s going to happen next year or the following or in the long term.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – Ad SportWerld) Max, twelve months ago was the period of the year that you received some awards, like Sportsman of the Year in your own country. Do you think this season was also of award-winning quality and why or why not?
MV: Well, I think in general that prize is always very difficult because to be honest, they should give that to a lot of sportsmen and I think especially in Holland, with ice-skating for example – they are very successful – so for me they all deserve that because they work really hard for it, they achieved great things, so for me I am not really into those awards too much. I prefer to win here in Formula One and get that award and at the end of the day of course – or at the end of the season – to win that championship, for me that’s a lot more important than what happens in your own country because there are so many different sports involved. I find it really difficult to judge that anyway. So for me, this year, I honestly don’t really care if I win it. Normally you don’t really win it twice in a row anyway, so I hope it then goes to someone else who really deserves it because at the end of the day I didn’t win a championship. I won two races but it would be better if you win it after a championship.
Q: (Frank Woestenburg – De Telegraaf) Max, you had many overtakes in the season; which one was the best for you and why?
MV: I don’t know. I felt last year was more enjoyable to overtake. I don’t know why. So, no clue, to be honest. They were not as exciting as last year, I think. In general. I think last year was still more enjoyable than those.
Q: (Darya Panova – F1only.ru) Question to all three drivers: in Austin, before the race, Michael Buffer introduced all the drivers. Did you like it and would you like some races starting with the same show? Or is it too much for you?
FA: I didn’t like it. I said that already after the race. For me it was a bad joke, bad imitation of Indianapolis. It was a little bit… makes no sense to be there, waiting for that long and have two drivers in the middle of 18 bodyguards, that we were there just to make sure they were happy. I’m used to having 20 drivers, maybe the trophy and pay tribute to the country you are in, not pay tribute to 20 drivers.
VB: I think… it was in the press conference after the race, I already answered that question and I agree with Fernando that it was an extra thing for us before the race. It’s not like we are not so busy on raceday anyway. We are quite limited with the time we get to ourselves and prepare with the team and being in a right state for the race and focused but it’s part of this sport and I personally liked the fact that there was so much positive feedback from the fans. If fans enjoy it and if they’re happy, that’s always a bonus for this sport and for the future of the sport.
MV: Yeah, I didn’t even think about what Fernando said but yeah, it actually makes sense because at the end of the day there are 20 drivers on the grid and I think you should treat that equally. Maybe for America it works but definitely not for all the Grands Prix so I hope it will not influence too many other Grands Prix and that at the end of the day it’s about what’s happening on track, not before the track or like before you go to the track.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) What result do you need on Sunday to leave this country in a happy state?
MV: First, right?
Q: (Thomas Lund Hansen – Morgenavisen Jyllands-Poste) Max, you had one full season with Daniel. What influence has Daniel had on you personally?
MV: Really bad! He keeps farting. It smells so bad in our hospitality all the time! No, he’s a great guy. Of course, on track you always try to beat each other but off-track we can have a great laugh. I think we really respect each and to be honest, I’ve never really experienced something like that in racing, to have such a good teammate, to really have fun with. So yeah, I hope we can be teammates for a long time.
Q: He was asked in the first conference whether he thought that would last next year, if you were fighting for victories in the championship and he said yes. What do you think?
MV: Well, I think so because we respect each other. For sure when you fight for the World Championship it will get a bit more tense, I think, on the track but at the end of the day, you always come back to where you respect each other and you have to accept if one guy is faster than the other and I think that’s what we can do. And also, when somebody has a good race, we can really say to each other ‘well done’ and ‘you really deserved that’. And I think that’s also very important.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Mid-day) To all three drivers: a follow-up from an earlier question actually. In the Austin introductions that we spoke about, they were part of something Liberty Media tried and this is the first season that they’ve been in charge. What do you think the changes they’ve made… do you think overall Formula One as a package is in a better place right now? What have you noticed in the differences?
FA: Yeah, I think apart from Austin I think it was good initiatives and a good step forward. I’m happy with the things that they are doing, the things they are thinking of also for the future. I think the fans get a little bit closer to the sport and to the teams, to the fans, you know and they can touch the cars, a little closer, they do the F1 Experience. There are a couple of things that are quite cool so I think it’s going in the right direction.
VB: I agree, I think there’s many positives, especially bringing the fans, in a different way, a bit closer to the sport and having more access. I think that’s always positive and for sure time will still show what kind of direction the sport is actually taking but from what I’ve seen, the best thing, for me, has been seeing so many grandstands full this year, especially the European Grands Prix. They were pretty well all sold out and that’s a good sign.
MV: Yeah, I agree with them. I think it’s always good to get the fans closer to the paddock area instead of just in the grandstand because then they don’t really know what’s going on or they don’t really get the feeling of Formula One in general. I think they are going in a good direction and they keep thinking about new things so let’s see what happens in the next few years.
Q: (Silvia Arias – Revista Parabrisas) For all three: how much do you like this track and in a realistic way, what can you expect for the race on Sunday?
VB: Well, facility-wise it is definitely one of the best. Everything is just perfect, you know: our garages, hospitality. For us, plenty of good hotels around and all that is nice and I like evening races, I like the timetable of the weekend and also how it is on the track with the lights. That’s all nice. As a track, my honest opinion is that it is quite average, it’s not one of my favourites, not one I hate.
MV: Yeah, like Valtteri said, the facilities and everything is amazing, it’s great, the hotels are great. The track itself is actually quite interesting because a lot of corners, they follow up on each other so if you miss one you’re not well positioned for the other one so it’s quite technical in that way. I would have liked it to be a little bit faster, those corners, but it’s a bit like in Mexico, you know, there are quite technical areas where you have to be well positioned for one corner and then the next. But yeah, that’s also, I think you have to master, to hit the apexes all correctly.
Q: Would you go along with that Fernando?
FA: Yup. The same.