PART TWO: DRIVERS – Valtteri BOTTAS (MERCEDES), Esteban OCON (FORCE INDIA), Felipe MASSA (WILLIAMS), Lance STROLL (WILLIAMS)
Q: It’s been a Mercedes one-two here for the last two seasons. Presumably another one would suit you just fine. Is that why you made this move?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Sure, that would be a good way to start. Obviously we do need to see where we are standing against all the other teams. It’s a completely new season, a new era of Formula One, a new team for me but that’s always the ultimate target. I feel in a good place and definitely it’s always some kind of dream coming true, being part of a team like this that has pretty much dominated the last three years in Formula One. I feel very happy but just keen to get going.
Q: We could see from testing that you settled in during the first week and then managed to close up a bit to your teammate Lewis Hamilton’s pace at the second test so are you more or less where you expected to be at the first race?
VB: I feel well prepared, I feel definitely ready to race. I really think we made the most out of the short period of time I had to prepare with the team and get into everything perfectly. Obviously it’s been a massive learning curve for me, since mid-January until today and that is still going to continue but I felt testing was good. Every single time I was in the car I felt better and better and I’m sure that is just going to continue and I’m feeling more and more part of the team so happy to be here racing.
Q: Lance, welcome to Formula One, at 18-years of age, the second youngest driver after Max Verstappen to take part in Formula One. How’s the preparation gone and what would success look like for you this year?
Lance STROLL: Yeah, thank you. I think preparation has been going really well so far. We had a good test in Barcelona, the second week me and Felipe did all the running which was good. I think just a solid year, a clean year, obviously still a lot to learn so I don’t think putting a position or a number would be the right way to approach the whole thing. I think we’re just going to take it race by race. It’s still going to be a big learning curve for me, there’s still a lot for me to understand about everything but listen to the people around me that are there to help me and take it race by race. Looking forward to the whole thing.
Q: With all the rule changes that have gone on from last year to this year, is this a really good year to come in as a rookie or is it actually quite tough?
LS: I don’t know. It is what it is and I’m just going to have to make the best of it. I don’t want to look at it as a negative or a positive, it’s the way it is, it’s a new regulation and it’s for everyone. It’s my rookie year and I just have to learn what I have to learn and get on with it.
Q: Felipe, welcome back. Does this mean we get to have another party? How’s the surprise comeback worked out so far?
Felipe Massa: Well, first of all, I didn’t expect to be here on Thursday. Maybe I was planning to be somewhere (else), eating more, getting more fat, whatever, maybe not being here on Thursday which is an amazing day in Formula One. But things change in life – which actually didn’t change, to be honest but for reasons… Yeah, I’m really happy, motivated, ready for this challenge and I think everything I hear, when Claire calls me, and I said ‘I think we need to talk in a proper way’ so then we had a long meeting and everything that I asked, that needed to be different, especially on the technical side, so many different things that didn’t work in the proper way need to be better and everything she said and everything Williams is doing I believe is correct. So many new people arrived and are still arriving, so many things that we are working hard to make work in a better way so yeah, I’m staying in Formula One, I think to be racing for a team that I believe is professional and important, I feel important as well. Yeah, that’s why I took this decision to carry on. I feel really happy and yeah, so we will see. I think the real answer to where we are we will have here on Sunday but also during the championship. I had some good feelings in the Barcelona test and I’m really looking forward to having another great, competitive season and a nice job also, that gives me pleasure, so I’m really looking forward, really fit and ready for this challenge.
Q: Just continuing on the theme we spoke of with Lance a minute ago, the challenge of being a rookie. You made your debut when you were obviously very young as well back in 2002. What did you wish that you’d been told then and how did you handle coming into Formula One?
FM: Well, I am a rookie. I stopped, I retired! We start the first race, two rookies! No, I’m joking. It’s his opportunity, he’s allowed to learn, he shows that he has a talent for that, that all of us had the opportunity at the start and yeah, I met him when he was eight years old, one year more than my son which is really painful, to be honest, and here we are teammates. I have all the happiness to work with him but also to pass on everything I can. We are working for the team, together, both drivers so we need to score as many points as we can. It would be nice to work with him and to have a great championship together and for the team which is the most important thing.
Q: Esteban, obviously you were a rookie last year, now a move up the grid from Manor to Force India. It’s a team that’s been able to score podiums consistently in the last few years so easy question: is that the target for 2017 for you?
Esteban OCON: Well, I think it’s a bit early to speak about that at the moment. No one has done a race yet so we see where everyone is. I think in testing everyone had a little bit left in the pocket so you know it’s early to speak about that but I think to start the weekend here, the approach would be to do a strong weekend, to reach the finish line because in the past you always had problems for the other teams and for teams and if you arrive at the finish line you always have a strong result so I think that’s the way to approach it.
Q: You’re obviously part of the Mercedes Junior programme; do you feel that if you perform now for Force India there’s a real possibility of getting into a Silver Arrows at some point in the near future?
EO: I’m obviously a Mercedes Junior driver but at the moment I’m a Force India driver and I’m fully focused on this target, to do a strong job this season and I think it’s still early to speak about being a Mercedes F1 driver in the future, so no, at the moment I’m very happy to be with Force India and I’m fully motivated with them.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Esteban, where were you and what did they tell you about your car would be pink this year? What were your first thoughts?
EO: I was actually at home, I was just training when I had the call. No, I think it’s a really good thing, overall, for the team. BWT coming in to Formula One is a great thing as well, it also changes the perspective… a pink car – you don’t see one a lot of times so I think it’s a good thing but also a good sponsor like BWT makes money coming into the team and it can only make the car go faster.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Valtteri, so far you have been three times on the front row. If this is a winning car, would P2 be a satisfying or disappointing result for you?
VB: Well it depends if your teammate is P1 or… Obviously the result targets are going to be completely different now than what they have been in the past few years but as I said before, we still need to wait and see where we are, really. We will see on Saturday, we will see on Sunday. It’s only the very beginning of the year but for sure as a driver you always want to be on the front row and in the best place, P1, but let’s wait and see and go step by step and day by day.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Felipe, first question is how did you feel coming back into F1 because it’s like the Godfather, you tried to get out but they pushed you right back in again. And what were you doing when Claire did throw up the W and the symbol and you had to put your super suit back on and get back in the car?
FM: Well, for sure, things change for a reason. I had a lot of support from everybody to carry on. I have a lot of support from my family, a lot of support from my fans. It was really amazing to see everybody pushing me: carry on, carry on. We want to see you there and that everything that happens around the team that… maybe, we will see where we are now which I believe is correct what is happening so then we need to work to make it better. Yeah, to be honest, I had an amazing feeling when I decided to stop in the second part of the season and I didn’t have a reason to carry on. If I don’t have what I believe is correct, which maybe I have now. Then also the feeling that I had in Brazil, also in the last race which gave a lot of happiness in the way that I’m stopping, it’s fantastic you know, but also it was not easy for me to take the decision to carry on because everything was just beautiful. But maybe something has happened for a reason and maybe it was not the reason to stop. I’m ready, motivated and we will see where we are going to be and how the season will be. I’m really 100 percent ready to do it in the right way.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) Couple of questions for Valtteri: now you’ve had some time in the car in testing, do you feel that you’re at a stage where you’re able to get the most out of the car now. And second question, I know it’s still early days but assuming you’re sitting in a title-contending car, what’s your approach going to be: step by step, get that first win or do you feel under pressure to mount a fully fledged title challenge?
VB: Yeah, like I said before, I definitely feel every single time I was stepping into the car and out of the car in testing, I felt like I’d made progress and between the two tests as well. I feel I was getting very close to getting pretty much everything out of the car and being absolutely perfect. As always, it requires a lot of work, a lot of time in the car and a lot of effort, a lot of talent so as mentioned, I’m sure things will just get better and I will feel more and more comfortable every single day of the race weekend and every single race but I feel that I’m ready to race, I’m ready to bring the car where it should be, what the pace of the car, what the limits of the car is. I feel comfortable with that. About the second question, definitely… I always set my targets very high so from the first race, this race onwards, immediately, I want to perform where the car can be. That is my target. Of course I always go day by day and step by step but I want to start at a very high level and keep getting better from that .
Q: (Heath McAlpine – Auto Action) Valtteri, Paddy Lowe recently made some comments about Williams having some elements that Mercedes does not. Have you been able to make any comparisons between the teams, after moving in the opposite direction?
VB: For sure I see a lot of difference between the teams. Definitely there are some things very very good at Williams, some things have been massively impressive at Mercedes. Williams have a great facility, a good bunch of people, a lot of clever engineers so for sure both teams have a lot of strong points, definitely differences in the way they work, so it’s difficult to really point out exactly what parts maybe are better here or better there but overall, as the last few years have shown, Mercedes is a winning team, it definitely has this winning mentality at the moment. No one is standing still, everyone is pushing flat out – what Williams is also doing is definitely no bad, worse but you just sense that at this point, the group of winners know how to win at the moment and I hope that that can continue but the hunger is definitely still there at Mercedes. But I definitely agree with Paddy: Williams is a great team and has massive potential and it’s a shame that we couldn’t achieve the results together that I think the team deserves, but hopefully the future is good for Williams.
Q: (Kathy Watt – Inside Sport) I’m just wondering what you do in the off-season to prepare: is it on the bike or running or different other sports to get fit for the season?
Q: Esteban – you’ve been up a mountain or something?
EO: Yeah, I was up in the mountains at almost 2000m for almost two months. I felt this was the best way for me to prepare. When you get high in altitude, when you get down again it’s easy to breath so I was training there a lot. It was about nine hours of cardio per week, ten hours of gym per week and all the rest was reaction work, co-ordination work, visual perception work, how the detection is as well, balance of body as well so it was complete training. It was very tough, for sure the toughest of my career but I’m happy that I’ve achieved it now, looking at how the cars are tough to drive.
LS: I was just moving sports, some biking, some running, some gym work, some strength work, some neck work but just staying fit in all different areas and just gaining fitness by increasing the amount of training I was doing. Just moving and keeping active.
Q: How about you Felipe? You were eating feijoada and drinking beer and then when the phone call came: stop. Right?
FM: Which was pretty much straight away actually so I didn’t have enough time to drink and to eat feijoada, I would say, so yeah, I was definitely… most of the drivers didn’t know how the new car was going to be so I was definitely preparing myself in a much different way to how it was in the past, even if I was always training very hard but I took on a new trainer, a guy who is following me everywhere I go, training every day. I had to train more also, for sure cardio but also a lot more my muscles to be stronger, for these loads that we have in the cars now, so I was training in a very different way, to get a little bit stronger and training my neck a lot more which I think works pretty well because on one day in Barcelona I did 168 laps, which was my record in one test and I feel really good, so yeah, ready to start the season and really hope I’m totally fit to accept anything different that we might have this year compared to how it was up to last year.
Q: (Michael Lamonato – ABC) On a related question: how different have you found these cars in the sense of that strength component? What specifically have you changed in your training and in your first days in the car in testing? Was there anything in particularly that you felt a bit of pain or a bit of strain from the new cars?
VB: I think always after the winter, it doesn’t matter how much training you do and if you’re the fittest you’ve ever been starting the year, it’s so unnatural driving a Formula One car for the human being that the first reactions are always a bit strange but very quickly you get used to it, your body gets used to it. Obviously if you have a new seat as I did for this year, it’s tuning those kind of things and yeah, you might get some bruises and stuff but that’s part of the winter testing but specially with the new cars there’s more G-forces, more load going through your body which makes more fatigue and means being able to maintain the same level of focus and alertness – you need to be fitter than before and like every driver have a good preparation for that but the main thing is the G-forces, the cornering speed and that way you maybe need a bit more strength especially the neck.
Q: (Trent Price – SEN Radio) A question for Felipe and Lance. Paddy Lowe has already identified a few areas where Williams are stronger than Mercedes. What’s your first impressions of Paddy coming into the team. What has he brought in already and how is the relationship building?
FM: Well, as Valtteri said, Williams has many areas that work pretty well. Definitely we have some other areas that we need to improve, which is what I was saying before, things didn’t work in the proper way, as even Valtteri said. This are the points we need to make better, improving, as quick as we can, because it means results, it means performance, it means everything. But I am sure he is a very important engineer, manager, that he can help to improve things in the right way. Bringing some good ideas from other areas that we were not so strong as a team like Mercedes where he won the last three years the championship – they are really strong. Not only him, but so many people, engineers, people that are working in different areas. That is something we are working very hard on, so he has just arrived, but I’m sure he understands things pretty quick. We are the beginning of a very important work but I believe we can do it in the right way. I really hope that the car is helping, because the car is there; it’s ready. If you have a good car it’s helping the job in so many areas that it needs to be better, it needs to improve. That’s the way I believe it is. I was talking already with Paddy and I’m sure with all the important and very good engineers we have I believe and I hope we can do a very good job.
Q: Lance I believe you signed before it was clear that Paddy was going to Williams, so what did you feel when you found out?
LS: Yeah, Felipe said most of it. I’m obviously new this year, so I don’t have the experience that Felipe and also even Valtteri have of Williams, so a lot of it is just new for me. Starting with winter testing, I obviously went to a couple of races last year and I got to know some of the people but really, until you’re a driver and properly involved in everything that’s going on, you don’t pick up on everything. But for sure I think having Paddy in the team is positive for everyone. He’s obviously had great success in recent years and I think it’s just positive energy for the team. I think we have a great group of people at Williams and I think everyone is aiming for the same thing, which is achieve the best possible results we can achieve and Paddy’s here to help us do that. I think it’s all good.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Felipe, how tough an opponent was Valtteri in qualifying and in racing and how was it compared to your time with Kimi at Ferrari?
FM: Definitely different times. Different cars and everything. I think Valtteri shows his talent. He really improved year by year since he started. I think it’s a great opportunity for him to race for a team like Mercedes. I believe he’s ready for his job, he’s ready to show what he can do and definitely he has an incredible team to work with, very strong team-mate – but I think he’s ready to do a great job. I really hope the best for him. It’ll be nice if he’s behind me – but we will see.
Q: (Alex Popov – Match TV) A couple of questions for the young drivers. But different questions. Esteban, first of all, your target before the training was to gain 5kg of muscle, and you achieve it. And now I heard – I don’t know if it’s true or not – you have to go back 2kg. If it’s true, how difficult it will be now?
EO: Yes, it’s true I gained 5kg over the training course, which was very hard but I achieved it and feel good in the car. But then you know, all the teams are quite conservative with parts on testing, and they got heavy parts, and then once they see reliability is good they start to put lighter parts on the car. I think that’s what’s going to happen this race. On myself, I didn’t lose any weight and I kept my weight to feel fresh in the car.
Q: (Alex Popov – Match TV) For Lance, it’s more about a performance target. Another young driver will fight the team-mate from race one. You’re in the position of having like a coach in the team, like an elder brother. Will you try to not to lose too much or beat your team-mate from race one?
LS: Felipe’s not here to be a coach. He’s a competitor like everyone else and he has his helmet on racing like everyone else. Everyone sets their targets differently and everyone is in a different situation – but all the teams have two drivers competing for the same thing, which is to try and finish as far up the grid as possible. That doesn’t change – but my targets are obviously different to some other young drivers. Everyone’s in their own situation: I’m just going to focus on my stuff and do the best I can – which is what I always do. That doesn’t change.