PART TWO: DRIVERS – Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Q: Marcus, Sauber’s announced an engine partnership with Honda, are you pleased with the Honda deal and does it push you towards a long-term commitment with the team?
Marcus ERICSSON: I think looking at it right now, it’s obviously not maybe the best decision because Honda is struggling quite a lot at the moment but I think in the longer term for the team, I think it can be a very clever decision because I’m sure Honda sooner or later will get it together – but yeah, let’s wait and see. At the moment, it’s maybe not the best one.
Q: And what impact does it have on this season in terms of preparation for next year. Does it impact the way you approach things? Does it impact you as drivers?
ME: No, not really, I wouldn’t say. We have the engine we have at the moment and we need to maximise our season and focus on that. And then, as every team, at some point you need to start looking at the next season and focus the development for next year but at the moment all our focus is on this season and trying to catch up that midfield group.
Q: Lewis, you’ve been very consistent for so long, it seemed odd that Sochi went the way it did – have you figured out what happened?
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, it was just a bunch of small things all added up in one pot. Nothing in particular, no single one thing that was bigger than another, that just led us in slightly the wrong direction. Should be better this weekend.
Q: The team was talking about the difficulty of getting these tyres into a particular window. Is that a contributing factor? Is it less likely to be a factor this weekend, for example?
LH: It’s a tyre issue in the sense that the tyre’s working range is quite small, so yeah, the whole weekend I generally wasn’t in the right window with it.
Q: Obviously if you couldn’t win, it was a good job that your team-mate Valtteri Bottas managed to finish ahead of Vettel. How pleased were you personally for Valtteri and what do you expect from him now that he’s got that first win under his belt?
LH: Well, I’ve said from the beginning of the season that he was in competition, so it’s no surprise that he would eventually get a win. But I was actually very happy. You saw at the end of the race I could at least be happy and share in the glory of the team beating the Ferraris still and keeping us in the lead of the Constructors’ Championship. I was proud of what we had achieved – I just wish that I could have backed him up, in the sense of getting a 1-2, but we can work on that maybe this weekend.
Q: Max, it’s 12 months since you sat in this room, having just made the switch to the Red Bull team and what a weekend that turned out to be for you. Your learning curve has been more or less vertical since then, but I wonder in what areas do you feel that you’ve made real improvement, from 12 months ago to now?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Difficult to say…
LH: You’ve got your driving licence now!
MV: I already had that back then.
LH: No you didn’t!
MV: Five months already.
LH: I was saying he’s got his driving licence now. It’s a big step.
MV: Yeah, I think it’s just general experience, both in life and in racing but nothing major, I would say, in terms of driving the car faster or anything. It all adds up to little things and if you feel better in the car, you understand the car better.
Q: What about the way you deal with these guys and particularly the ones at the front?
MV: Well yeah, you’re driving more amongst them compared to what I was doing before but that was always the aim and the target once I moved into Formula One. Natural process, I guess.
Q: So we know you have a heavily updated car here. Can you put in context for us just how different it is and what were the key areas for you that needed to be addressed in how it handles?
MV: I think, first of all, everybody is bringing quite a few updates. Hopefully our updates will bring us a little bit more to the front but I think in every area we can always improve so I think that’s what we are aiming to do with the car. Yeah, you see a few differences on the car and hopefully we can close the gap a little bit here already and then go on from there.
Q: And in terms of what you wanted to fix and how it handles?
MV: Every area, it needs to be faster everywhere.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Sef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Lewis, you’ve often been referred to as the Jedi Knight of F1 and it is Star Wars – I refer to you as the Jedi Knight of F1 – and this is the month that we celebrate Star Wars so the question to you is what colour Lifesaver would you chose? This is a very important question because it’s going to go on social media because it determines what side of the force you are on?
LH: Well, firstly it’s kind of exciting to have a lot of different questions, much nicer different questions! I want to be purple but I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, obviously good friends with George [Lucas] and a huge admirer or what he created, Star Wars. I think it’s frigging amazing, excited for the… seen every one. I’m excited to see what comes next.
Q: (Oana Popoiu – F1Zone.net) To all of you: Kimi Raikkonen drove half of the Russian Grand Prix knowing he had Valtteri Bottas behind and not Lewis Hamilton. How important is it for you to know what driver is behind you? Do you drive differently, knowing it’s one or another?
ME: No. Usually you know who is behind you if you’re in a close fight with them. If there’s someone who is not that close then it doesn’t really matter but I would say there are some drivers who are maybe more aggressive than others but then in the end we all respect each other and race in a good way.
LH: I always know who’s behind me but it doesn’t really make any difference.
MV: Yeah, I think it shouldn’t make a difference and if you don’t know, look at your pit board. It’s standing on the pit board.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, this is obviously the first year you’ve come back to Spain since your crash last year with Nico. I was just wondering firstly what you drew from that experience as a driver and as a person and secondly of the subsequent reports that you threatened to… or you offered to quit Mercedes after the crash? So did you offer to quit Mercedes after the crash with Nico last year in Spain?
LH: I did not.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) And secondly what did you learn as a person and as a driver from that experience?
LH: Not much really, it was a racing incident. I’ve had lots of crashes during my career and that was just another one. We got through it pretty smoothly or as smooth as it could be, I would say, and yeah, went on and won many more races after that.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – GloboEsporte.com) To all drivers, starting with you Lewis, you said that the main problem you had in the last race was to take the tyre in the window temperature and here you have the hardest tyres that Pirelli supplies in Formula One. Do you think it can be an issue here?
LH: The tyres are definitely… there seems to be quite a small working window and it’s a new tyre for us also. I think we are all learning as we go from race to race and I think for some cars perhaps it works immediately than for others. There’s different preparations. If you look at Bahrain, for example, the Red Bulls drove as slow as they could on the laps to prepare for qualifying but still had the tyres ready whereas the Ferraris were flat out through the warm-up laps so there’s a different approach for everyone. It’s a new tyre which is exciting. They are very very hard tyres so a hard, safe tyre basically. It’s going to be interesting this weekend to see how they work.
MV: I think in general in Sochi it’s not a lot of grip and then combined with a tricky warm-up, it just makes it a bit more difficult. It was quite difficult to get the tyres in the window and you could see a lot of build laps or second timed laps which were faster so I think that will be a little bit different here where the tarmac is a bit more rough so harder on the tyres. But yeah, we have quite hard compounds so we’ll see. I think in general you always try to go for the softer compounds, also here but yeah, I think the warm-up is still critical.
ME: I agree with the guys but the only thing really apart from that I could say is that I think this weekend we could probably live with another step softer. I think the hard tyre is not really useable. I think a supersoft for qualifying would be quite nice.
Q: (Sef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Max, there was a question about there was some disappointment in Sochi about the race and there wasn’t much overtaking. Do you disagree with that, do you feel that there is better racing, at least in the last four races, that there has been a better show for everyone to watch now?
MV: Compared to…?
Q: (Sef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Compared to Sochi.
MV: You mean last year? This year’s better racing compared to… Yeah, I was a bit surprised that there was only one overtaking (manoeuvre) in Sochi. Yeah, it’s just harder to follow with the cars. And then with tyres which have a long life, only one pit stop and I think you could have done no pit stops actually in Sochi. It makes it all a bit harder. I think in Bahrain where you’re struggling a bit more with the tyres you could see there were five cars behind each other, challenging a bit more so yeah, I think we need to be at least a bit softer on the tyres or something to get a bit more exciting racing again but then on the other hand the cars are wider so they create a bigger wake around them, once you are behind one another you lose a lot of downforce especially with the higher cornering speeds we had. It all makes it a bit more tricky.
Q: (Mark Tisshaw – Autocar) Lewis, what do you think of the progress Max has made over the past 12 months?
LH: Pretty bad, to be honest! He burst into Formula One, obviously did an amazing job and I remember last year the great race that he had when he moved to Red Bull and he’s remained a strong component. He’s obviously grown, he’s got a long way to go, still 18 still?
LH: So he’s got an incredible career up ahead of him.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, last year (here) obviously was a massive talking point. Have you spoken to Nico since he’s retired? I know that you share the same Monaco apartment (block) but I just wondered if you’ve bumped into each other just to have a chat or anything like that?
LH: We have not. I think that’s the… actually the one time I’ve seen him I was running through the streets in London. It’s kind of a strange… running from Covent Garden all the way down to the Thames and the Thames down to Battersea kind of area and back up near Parliament and I was just running on a random street and someone started running behind me and then there was a crowded sidewalk but someone started running behind me and I looked back and it’s… Nico’s obviously seen me on the road as he’s going through somewhere in London and he’s jumped out (of the car) and run alongside me so we stopped and had a chat for a bit there. That’s the first time that I’ve seen him since…
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Who was quicker?
LH: Well, he was trying to catch up so…
Q: (Pilar Celebrovsky – The Paddock Magazine) Max, Lewis said in China that he and other drivers still learn from you and the way you drive in wet conditions, but what can you learn from Lewis in normal conditions?
MV: I think it’s a bit tricky when you’re not in the exact same team because then you have a lot more information, but still if you see some races, some overtakes, some starts, some shit races, what happened during the race, whatever, tyre management, you always look to your competitors as well, what they are doing, what they are doing differently in terms of lines throughout the whole weekend. You always try to learn something, every single weekend.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD Sportwerld) Max, could you tell me something about your feelings, coming to this Grand Prix after a year? There’s a lot of Dutch people at the side of the track, thousands I think. Does that affect you in any way, tensionwise, that sort of thing?
MV: I don’t think it did last year. I think last year was more intense. It’s always good to come back here but it’s 2017 now, 2016 has gone. Of course it was a very positive weekend but now I just want to look ahead and do my race.
Q: (Lennart Bloemhof – Volkskrant) Max, last year you earned the title of race winner in F1, that’s a title for life. Can you say something about that and did it change your status in F1?
MV: It was nice but I want to win more races than just that one. It’s nice but that’s not what I’m here for, for one single victory. I want more.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Lewis you said in Russia that it was a few things that came together, nothing in particular. Do you have confidence this weekend that you won’t have those same problems and just secondly, is it nice having Roscoe here and is Coco here as well and does it kind of keep you grounded and do you enjoy having them around during race weekends?
LH: I think coming in to this weekend I think we definitely have a better understanding… a good understanding of what went wrong on our side of the garage and there’s been a huge amount of analysis as there always is from race to race. I think we’ve definitely grown from the experience, both having a win, having a fast car and obviously having a car that struggled in so many areas. I definitely think we are better equipped now but I can’t really say it’s going to be better this weekend. I assume it will be but there are lots of different challenges this weekend with new upgrades for everyone. But we’ll be doing a lot of work tomorrow to get the car in the right place. I’m always on the move so it’s great to be able to have your animal, pet with you and I’m sure… this one here is stressing a little bit about the fact that I’ve got the dog in here but…
MV: He’s sleeping.
LH: Yes, he’s sleeping but I thought that… I don’t think anyone in the whole of history has probably brought their dog to the press conference so I thought I’d try and do something new.
Q: (Giles Richards – Guardian) Lewis, can you tell us whether you think Valtteri is a credible threat to you in the battle for the World Championship this year and secondly, whether you’ve had any discussion with the team about when they might back one or the other of you to go for the Drivers’ championship?
LH: I’ve not had a chat about the backing off because there’s no need to. And of course he’s a credible competitor, he was when he joined. I think it was many of you and perhaps people who are fans, whatever, came with preconceived ideas of how he was going to perform and he’s proved everyone wrong so fair play to him and he’s going to remain a competitor through the rest of the year so the fight will go on and we’ve stated our relationship with a really great foundation I think, a respectful foundation and I think that will continue.
Q: (Iolande Skinner – Motorsport Monday) Marcus has the change to the Honda engine for next year… how’s that affected you mentally? Are you feeling more motivated or less motivated? What effect has that had on you?
ME: First of all, I only have a contract for this year so I have to wait and see for that but like I said before, for the team, I think in the longer term it’s a good decision. Shorter term, I think we have to wait and see how Honda performs for the rest of the year, to be certain what Sauber gets for the beginning of next year. But yeah, for me, all my focus now is on this season. We have the Ferrari power unit that we need to make the most of and yeah, develop our car as good as we can and try and make as good results as possible.