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Australian Grand Prix Drivers’ Press Conference

Full transcript from the FIA hosted drivers’ press conference on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Round 1 of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, at Albert Park in Melbourne, featuring: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull).

Let’s start with our world champion and six-time pole sitter here at Albert Park, Lewis Hamilton. Lewis, I think you said over the winter that you felt that last year was the best you’ve driven in your Formula 1 career. Do you anticipate having to go to another level this year in competition these gentlemen?
Lewis Hamilton: I plan to. That’s what I’ve been working towards.

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Why did you feel that last year was your best? What had to come together for you?
LH: It was just a combination of things and obviously with the pressure that was on us as drivers, I think it was just the most complete year.

Thank you. A simple question for you Sebastian: can you and Ferrari find the speed to beat this guy over a whole season this year?
Sebastian Vettel: We don’t have the answer now. We try. It’s a long season. If it was one race it would be a different story, but it is a lot of races.

To you, Daniel: in the last few years Red Bull have not been competitive at the opening round. This year it looks like you had better winter preparation, so do you think this could be your most effective Australian Grand Prix for a while?
Daniel Ricciardo: I believe so. We had a good winter. It’s all there in front of us now. I think we’re still the top three teams – Merc, Ferrari and us. I think we’re still going to be leading the pack for now. So hopefully we’ll be deep in that group and have a chance to stand up on the podium.

Lewis, how important is it to you to carry on ahead of Sebastian in terms of stats in your career and end your career ahead of him as well?
LH: It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about to be honest. I don’t particularly have an opinion towards it. I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can to continue fighting up the front and hopefully with that comes some good results.

Here’s one for you: if you won from pole it’s an all-time record, you beat Michael’s record. Something to aim for.
LH: Ah, OK.

Lewis, you say you don’t chase stats but you have recognised that you could reach Fangio’s record this season. Have you thought about that some more now that you are at the start of the season?
LH: I have not, honestly. It’s a long, long season so you don’t really think about those kind of things, you don’t think about what could be in the sense of matching others. In my mind I’m trying to break down new barriers, push the envelope. Trying to see how far I can take, firstly, the opportunity I have and then obviously the ability I have and live to my full potential. I don’t know what that is, and that’s what I’m discovering.

Lewis, how important is it to you to carry on ahead of Sebastian in terms of stats in your career and end your career ahead of him as well?
LH: It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about to be honest. I don’t particularly have an opinion towards it. I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can live to my full potential and that’s what I am discovering.

A question to all of you. As Renault is already considering strategically to have a fourth engine for the year. Assuming you will all stay at that do you put your faith in your team to go on with three. Would consider down the line, in the closing stages of the championship, to go for a fourth engine in order to avoid a DNF and a penalty instead of only a penalty?
DR: It’s hard to start thinking about that now. I had a few engine penalties last year and we’ve got one less [engine] this year so it’s likely – I don’t want to say it’s definite – but it’s obviously likely that we may encounter something like that or everyone may encounter something like that. I think it depends where you are in the championship. If you try to cut your losses I guess then maybe that’s what you’ll do but it’s for sure too early to start thinking about that. I think we’ll stay optimistic and try to get these three home to Abu Dhabi.

What about you Sebastian, have you looked at it. Is there a performance gain in using four across the season?
SV: I’m sure we looked at it. I don’t think it’s the plan but I’m very confident that we’re not using four engines this weekend, so we don’t need to worry now.

And Lewis?
LH: I don’t really have much more to say.

Daniel, you say the team is the best prepared it’s been in quite a while. Is that more pressure on you? It that more pressure, more fun, less fun? How do you look at it?
DR: It has to be more fun. Not starting last year wasn’t fun at all. So it has to be more fun. Even little things. Last year we missed the anthem on the grid because I was in the garage trying to get the thing going, or be there for when it got going. I missed a lot of the Sunday build-up, which was not fun. For sure this preparation is going to mean more fun this weekend and we’ll see where that fun takes us?

Lewis, you said you’re pushing the envelope. Do you think you’ve reached your peak as a driver or are you still learning?
LH: I hope not.

Is it a peak age for a driver? Or do you just carry on learning?
LH: Again I hope not. I’m sure there is a peak when for a driver when their fitness level…. When it gets harder to reach the fitness level that we do today. When your interest starts to decline, when your drive starts to decline, I guess that’s when you’re over your peak. But I definitely don’t feel I’m that. I’m definitely in a good range now and that’s where I need to continue, to extract the most from it.

How about you two? Daniel, are you peaking?
DR: Not yet, still young.

Seb?
SV: I don’t know. I think it’s fine. Lewis is a little bit older and he’s not peaking yet, so I have got plenty to look forward to.

What is your opinion about the additional DRS zone and is it helpful or not?
DR: I don’t think it hurts. It’s typically been a pretty hard track to overtake. I think, as well, with the cars, we’re going faster and faster and following a car is getting harder and harder at some circuits, so I think they’ve been proactive and tried to help out a cause here. I don’t know if it will necessarily create overtaking into that corner but it may at least put you into the zone to then have a chance somewhere else.
LH: I think Daniel answered it well.
SV: Agree.

Do you think the next world champion is sitting behind the table now, or standing outside speaking Dutch?
DR: Why are you looking at me?
LH: I don’t have answer for you. [Sebastian] do you have a better answer?
SV: I think we hope the one sits here. I think it’s obvious no?

Let’s put it this way, do you think the one outside speaking Dutch is ready to challenge for a world championship?
SV: Who do you mean?
LH: There are a lot of Dutch people here.
SV: Especially for TV and journalists.

Dan?
DR: We’ll add a ninth to this table?
SV: What?
DR: We’ll add a ninth to this table. We’ve got eight between us.

Lewis, one of your former team-mates this week said that inconsistency was your biggest weakness. I’m just wondering whether you think that’s the case. And Seb, what’s your plan to beat Lewis. Have you thought over the winter about the best way to do that?
LH: I think I proved that’s not the case last year and… yeah… again, I think there’s a lot of people that need to get headlines, and so maybe that’s one way of saying it. No, the goal this year is to be even more consistent that I was last year. I think consistency was the reason that I won the Championship last year.

And Seb, do you have a master plan?
SV: Yeah, all laid out – but it’s not with me, it’s in my room, so, of course, top secret, so I can’t give you any details.

Sebastian, do you see any weaknesses in Lewis? How would you describe them, or see them? What are they? If there are any.
SV: Well, there aren’t many, so I think he’s doing a very, very good job for many years now. So, I think it’s always a bit of a weird question to answer when the person is sitting right next to you. But, as I said, there aren’t many. I’m sure we all have our weaknesses. Maybe some are part of our characters, maybe some are part of our driving – but to be honest I don’t think about those too much. I think about mine quite a lot and try to get better at what I need to improve. But yeah, concerning other people, it’s not in my hands. So, I try to finish my plate.
LH: I think I share the same weakness with everyone in this room. Everyone loves pancakes. That’s really my only weakness.

Lewis, are you up for it this year? You seem a little bit jaded here – I don’t know if it’s jetlag or whatnot – but are you up for the fight this year?
LH: I’m definitely not tired – this is the 12th season of doing the press conference. I’m not the most excited about this section of the season and the race weekend – but I’m looking forward to getting in the car.

Are you up for the fight?
LH: Of course.

Sebastian, were you surprised that Kimi started an Instagram – and are you planning to follow the example?
SV: ‘Yes’, and ‘no’ are my answers. Finnish answers. Short.

Sebastian, can I take you back to your first answer, you were asked if you could beat Lewis and you said ‘if it was one race it would be a different story but maybe over the season’ or something like that. Does that mean you’re not confident this weekend that Ferrari are…?
SV: …no but I think the question was whether we… who’s coming out of top, sort of. I think Mercedes is right and I think Lewis is right to be the favourite, to put for this year – but it’s a long season so I think, y’know, obviously, this is one race, Melbourne is particular in many ways. I think we all look forwards to kick off the season, to get ready, get in the car and race. I think, y’know, we have all the reasons to be confident. Our car is great. There’s stuff to come, so plenty to look forward to – but usually at this point you don’t know where the others are. So, that’s why it’s a bit pointless to come here and say that you’ll blow everyone away. Based on testing I think we are in good shape. We could be in better shape but it’s always like that.

Lewis, one of your former team-mates this week said that inconsistency was your biggest weakness. I’m just wondering whether you think that’s the case. And Seb, what’s your plan to beat Lewis. Have you thought over the winter about the best way to do that?
LH: I think I proved that’s not the case last year and… yeah… again, I think there’s a lot of people that need to get headlines, and so maybe that’s one way of saying it. No, the goal this year is to be even more consistent that I was last year. I think consistency was the reason that I won the Championship last year.

And Seb, do you have a master plan?
SV: Yeah, all laid out – but it’s not with me, it’s in my room, so, of course, top secret, so I can’t give you any details.

Sebastian, do you see any weaknesses in Lewis? How would you describe them, or see them? What are they? If there are any.
SV: Well, there aren’t many, so I think he’s doing a very, very good job for many years now. So, I think it’s always a bit of a weird question to answer when the person is sitting right next to you. But, as I said, there aren’t many. I’m sure we all have our weaknesses. Maybe some are part of our characters, maybe some are part of our driving – but to be honest I don’t think about those too much. I think about mine quite a lot and try to get better at what I need to improve. But yeah, concerning other people, it’s not in my hands. So, I try to finish my plate.
LH: I think I share the same weakness with everyone in this room. Everyone loves pancakes. That’s really my only weakness.

Lewis and Sebastian, as Daniel sits here today, he doesn’t have a deal for 2019. What would you like to say to encourage him to join your respective teams next season?
SV: I don’t know. I’m sure he’ll find a seat so yeah, I don’t know what he’s up to or what he wants. I don’t know how much he’s asking but as I said… I’m confident he’ll find a seat. We only shared one year together, I knew him before that and we had one year together which wasn’t great for me, it was great for him. But anyways, I think we get along so I wouldn’t mind if we get together again in the future but I don’t know what his plan… I think he has a couple of options and I don’t think he needs to rush.

Lewis, do you feel the same way?
LH: I would just say that an important thing is just really to look at the history of drivers and things that drivers have said in the past and try not to alienate the team that you’re in. It’s all good and while hoping at some stage to experience something new in another team but there’s a lot of people in our teams and it’s really important to keep them encouraged and focused on you as a driver, to help you achieve your goal and if you look at… there are some drivers of recent years who have made bad decisions in upsetting and rocking the boat and that so yeah, he’s in a great place still. Red Bull, I think, this year can really have a fighting chance to win the championship and the opinion of where you might want to go, if it’s not where he currently is, may shift.

We have to have your rebuttal to that, Daniel.
DR: Well said, well said by both. Yeah, I feel like I’ve answered already so many like contract talks and we haven’t even got the first race of this year done so yeah, I’m just going to put all those talks on hold for a while and yes, this is a year which… obviously our prep’s been well, our prep’s been good and I really really hope that Lewis is right that we will have a chance to fight for a title and that will ultimately make me very happy and then we will then… I think, yeah, as Seb said, take my time and then see what happens in… ask me in six months’ time.

Last year the rules imposed numbers on the car, the name of the driver and so on. And this year, with the halo, it’s even impossible to recognise the helmets of the drivers. Is the drivers’ identification something you care about for the viewers, for the fans, for the TV commentators and do you have any suggestions to improve the situation?
SV: We should be allowed to design the halo.
LH: I don’t have a suggestion for it but I have noticed that you… it’s almost pointless of us painting the helmets nowadays so I’m probably going to get rid of my paint on mine. Saves weight but yeah, I don’t really have a suggestion for it. I’m sure they’ll come up with something.

Is it important to you, was it important to you as a fan when you saw the drivers’ helmets coming out when you were a kid?
SV: Yeah, yeah, definitely and obviously we can’t negotiate the position of the halo, we can’t put it at the back of the car. I don’t know, maybe it should be up to us to design the halo, I don’t know. That could be an idea, just to add an element to what makes it different from the rest.
DR: Yeah, the only thing I could think of was putting something on the halo to distinguish teammates. I think we… is it the camera or the rollhoop or whatever that sometimes one driver has yellow so you can kind of tell a little bit there so maybe do something between teammates with the halos just to give fans a little bit of an idea who’s behind the wheel because yeah, you don’t really see the helmet now? We are pretty hidden. Yeah, that’s all I can think of for now short term.