Full transcript from the drivers’ conference ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend, Round 11 of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, at Hockenheim featuring Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Sergio Perez (Force India) and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).
Brendon, go back to two weeks ago at Silverstone. That was a horrible-looking crash. How are you now? No lasting effects, I hope.
Brendon Hartley: Actually, waking up on the Sunday, I was ready to go. Almost no knock-on effects, which was a surprise after watching the replay myself and seeing how spectacular that looked. In fact, the impact was smaller than what I had in both Canada and Barcelona. I think I’ve probably taken the top three crashes of the season all by myself! Hoping something like that doesn’t happen again. But no, I was physically ready already on Sunday and felt perfectly fine.
Let’s talk to you now about the relationship between Toro Rosso and Honda, if we can. How do you feel that has developed as the season has gone on? Do you feel the development rate has increased as the year has progressed?
BH: It was a really positive start from the first laps in Barcelona testing where I think a lot of people had written us off before the season had even started. I think collecting nice laps on that first test was a really positive start and I think everyone at Toro Rosso saw it as a good opportunity having Honda on board. We’ve had an update already in Canada and yeah, the progress keeps moving forward every weekend. I think it’s only positive, I would say, the relationship between Toro Rosso and Honda.
Do you sense there’s pressure to introduce engine upgrades this year, to help prepare Honda for next year when they’re going to be with Red Bull Racing as well.
BH: I think there were always updates planned, one of which has already come and I know there’s some other stuff in the pipeline – but at least from what I’ve seen. I haven’t seen any added pressure. Of course, we’ll welcome all the performance gains that we can – but honestly the way the team’s working together and systematically going through it, collectively as a team, Toro Rosso and Honda together. I mean, it’s all going in the right direction.
Brendon, this is your first time here since 2009 when you raced in Formula 3. What are your expectations of Hockenheim in a Formula One car?
BH: Yeah, looking forward to it. It’s a proper track, it’s got history. Obviously not the same one that was raced many years ago through the forest. Yeah, I like it, I’m remaining optimistic. Surprisingly optimistic after the last few races I’ve had. Most of these bad results over the last few months have been out of my control, and I still feel strong and in good spirits and ready to take on this weekend. As we’ve all seen from P7, the last of the top three teams, to the very back, it’s an extremely tight battle. If we manage to eke two more tenths out of the car, from any area of development, that could mean securing quite a few points – or not securing. It’s extremely tight and we just have to bring our A game and get everything together over the next two days.
Nico, Brendon’s just giving his thoughts on the German Grand Prix. There was no German Grand Prix last year – just how special is it for you to be racing on home soil this weekend?
Nico Hulkenberg: Yeah, it’s definitely good to be back. Hockenheim, which is a place with a lot of memory for me. My first ever race in single seater racing, Formula BMW in 2005 was here; lots of racing in Formula 3, so, I’ve always had good moments here, the circuits always been treating me well. Good results, even in Formula One, two times seventh. So, it’s good to be here, I like the place, like the area. I hear it’s pretty sold out for this weekend, which is great news so looking forward to start the weekend here.
We’re pretty much at the halfway point of the season. Just wanted to get your assessment of yours and Renault’s progress in 2018.
NH: I think it’s been OK. Of course, we missed out a few opportunities and results here and there. Sometimes technical issues, sometimes just with having a few difficult weekends. I feel the last two, three, four weekends have not been brilliant for us, we’ve always had a little hiccup somewhere and we’ve given away a little bit – but I think that’s just how it goes. Over 21 races it’s really hard to be perfect all the time. I think in the bigger picture, we’re fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, which is pretty decent. We have more developments in the pipeline over the next few weeks, which hopefully puts us in a good direction for the rest of the season. Obviously, we want to be more competitive and stay where we are.
Neither car was in Q3 at Silverstone. Did that track reveal the car’s shortcoming?
NH: Not necessarily. I think it’s a little bit track dependent. We feel Silverstone wasn’t great for our car. It was just a little bit difficult. We were boxed in a bit, we felt. Before that we’ve been to Q3 many times. Not all the time. It’s not always the most important in the midfield battle. Sometimes it’s actually good to be outside and on a different strategy, to upset a little bit. Of course, we’re pushing at Renault, everybody, to make the car more competitive, faster, trying to keep a gap in the midfield battle. But it’s really tight and it is track-specific. So one track suits better Haas or Force India, the next weekend the Toro Rosso is faster. I think, on balance, us as Renault, we have been pretty consistent.
You say the team is working hard to put performance on the car – so how much quicker is the car than it was in Melbourne?
NH: It’s hard to quantify in terms of lap-time – but for sure we’ve developed the car since. There’s been quite a few new parts since. Here and there, some little things. It’s hard to measure – but if you see the gap to the top three teams, then you still think ‘that’s too big’. We don’t like that, but they’re doing at the same time, an amazing job and it’s really hard to catch-up. Yeah, especially as race drivers you always feel you want more. You want it quicker, you’re impatient. This weekend we had some stuff which I’m excited to try tomorrow and see how it goes.
Sergio, coming to you. We’re doing a bit of a half-term report. So, tell us, what’s your assessment of yours and Force India’s season so far?
Sergio Perez: It’s been a bit up and down in the first half of the season. We were expecting more, up until now but we’re certainly improving; getting closer to the top of the midfield battle. I think we’re definitely getting closer and improving there. Still a long way to go and we should be in a good position. We’re certainly making good progress. I think the season has started quite slow for us but then we made some good progress and I think right now we are in a good position to start fighting for good points.
So, who do you feel you’re battling with at the minute. Can you go, on performance terms, toe-to-toe, with the guy on your left, for example?
SP: I certainly think so. I think there is a good chance. Definitely the midfield battle, as Nico described, is so much track dependent, track-to-track, small margins so everything down to the Sunday y’know? To the Sunday afternoon. There’s a lot to gain, even if you don’t have a great qualifying, there are still plenty of points that are valuable there. So, I think we should be in a good position. I still think fourth place is possible for us in the Constructors’, so that’s the main target.
Sebastian, first thoughts, concerning the new spec, 2017-spec cars really. It’s the first time we’ve used them here at Hockenheim. How much of a different experience will it be, compared to 2016 with the old-spec cars?
Sebastian Vettel: I think it should be more fun. Cars are faster, faster mostly, or mainly in the corners, so I think it’s always great if the cars are faster. I think here you have some corners, high-speed corners – Turn One and also the entry to the stadium, which, yeah, they should be a lot more fun – but also the medium-speed sections around the track. I think generally the cars are better, more fun to drive, so it should be better, more enjoyable than two years ago. And hopefully we are more competitive – that’s also more enjoyable!
Pole position in 2016 was 1m14.3s. How much do you believe you might be able to shave off that this weekend?
SV: We’ll see. I think it’s not always straightforward to compare. I think the cars are faster, as we mentioned, but we also obviously but a lot of downforce on, so we lose a bit of speed down the straights – but I think we should be faster. We also have the ultrasoft this weekend for qualifying, so yeah, how much I don’t know but by quite a bit. As I said, the faster you go, the more fun it is.
You’re leading the Drivers’ Championship; Ferrari leading the Constructors’ Championship. The development curve at Ferrari this year has been very impressive. Have you noticed a step up in that area compared to last year?
SV: Well, the team is still improving, still growing. Obviously, the team has been around for a long time and I have been now part of the team for three and a half years – but I think we are getting stronger, we have a very, very good group of people, a good mix of people on board. Yeah, you’re trying all the time. Sometimes obviously, there’s also the element of the stuff working better than expected, sometimes it works less than expected but I think overall, I think you can say over the last two years maybe, since the last time we were here, that, yeah, I think by the end of 2016 we had a sort of lock opened, and since then I think there was a certain momentum starting to keep going and to develop. Since then I think we kept it going. Obviously the ’17 regs gave us the chance as a team to catch up, because before we were a bit behind – but since then, also last year, I think we had a great pace, a great car and we were able to develop it. Missed a little bit of performance at the end of the year. I think we learned from that and hopefully we can do it better – which still have to be seen but I think the car has potential.
You’ve won at the Nürburgring but not here. Would winning here on Sunday mean more to you than simply 25 points?
SV: Yeah. Absolutely. I think the fact that racing in Germany, I’m afraid that probably this is the last time for a while, as far as I understand – which would be a shame to lose one of the classic races, and the fact that I’m literally from here – it’s just half an hour away were I was born and grew up – so yeah, the area means a lot to me and it would be great to have a good weekend.
Question for Sebastian. As far as I remember, Nico Rosberg, when he became World Champion in 2016, he dedicated some of his success to some mental work that he does, like meditation and hypnosis – don’t know what he does – but do you also follow something like this? Do you have a mental routine? Do you do some mental work?
SV: I think it’s a very broad subject: I don’t know what Nico was doing or not but I think we all have our routines. Some of it is conscious, some of it – a lot of it – is probably sub-conscious. I think everybody knows from their own experience that you have some things that you run through before the start, or before a test, or whenever it gets important, we all have some sort of routine that we follow. Something that we do different to other people around us. It’s the same for us. Obviously when it comes to qualifying on Saturday or preparing the race, I think yes, I have certain things that I try to go through, I try to visualise and go through the track and so on. I’m not practising meditation or doing some of things that people maybe think of when they talk about mental preparation. So, as I said, most of it I think is a certain routine. We have the qualifying, it’s always the same things happening, so you know what’s coming and it’s important to be there, to be sharp, to prepare – but yeah, I think we know what to do.
Two questions for Brendon Hartley. Number one: is there a regular exchange of info or experience with your sister team, either you and your Red Bull driver colleagues or engineers. And question number two: you come from a relatively small country, New Zealand, but with a very rich motorsport background, starting a long time ago with Bruce McLaren, Mike Thackwell, Chris Amon etc. You’re representing Formula 1 as a New Zealander, over in America it’s your countryman Scott Dixon. Both are totally different championships but nevertheless do you have with him a regular contact and exchange of experience – Formula 1 to IndyCar and IndyCar to Formula 1?
BH: OK, so the first question was regarding Toro Rosso and Red Bull. They are two very separate teams. Obviously we share the same catering, so there is some crossover and I’m also good friends with Max and Daniel, as I am with some other drivers in the paddock. The crossover in information is relatively small but probably not my area to discuss but I’m not well informed on exactly how much information is passed, but I should mention that they are two different teams and everything on the Toro Rosso is manufactured by Toro Rosso in Faenza and in Bicester, where the winds tunnel. The next question: I am very aware of the rich history and I knew Chris Amon very well. Especially when I travelled away from New Zealand I realised how rich the history is and you mentioned Scott Dixon and yeah we do keep in contact. I think that’s the nature of being from a small country and flying the flag and we’re all very proud of that. I think we’re not the only two. It’s fair to say there are many other New Zealand drivers representing on a very level and yeah, I’m proud to be one of many.
Seb, Lewis’ deal with Mercedes as a two-year extension was announced today. He’s locked in for two years, you’re at Ferrari for two years and Max is at Red Bull for two years. Your thoughts on how the future is lining up?
SV: Well, congrats. I don’t know why it took so long. I think it was pretty clear. Yeah, no reactions. For me it’s clear, that’s what matters to me and what the others are doing doesn’t really matter. I have my place and my mission and what I want to achieve and in all honesty, that’s all that matters.
As you mentioned, Sebastian, it could be the last German GP maybe, so another question to both of you who are from Germany, what are you thinking about this and why do you think it’s so difficult to keep the grand prix in Germany in these times?
NH: Yeah, of course it would be a big shame, Germany being the car nation that we are, and to not have a grand prix would be disappointing and sad. I guess it comes down to commercial questions, simple as that. Germany has a big history in racing and in Formula 1 in particular. Maybe the nation is a little bit full or tired or racing, I don’t know, but we’ve always been around for decades, with Michael, with Mercedes, with Seb, with Nico before. Germans are a bit spoiled when it comes to that, because we’ve always been successful, we’ve always been around and I don’t know if it’s an effect of that, but I think ultimately it’s the commercial aspects that play the biggest part.
Sebastian, have you got anything to add?
SV: I think it would be a shame to lose the German Grand Prix because it has so much history. As Nico said, for car manufacturers Germany is well known. We are a car nation. I think probably it’s to do with the fact that generally you have to pay money to get a grand prix. Other nations are prepared to pay money. Other countries are prepared to fund the grand prix and I think that’s where the main problem is; Germany is not ready to spend money on having the grand prix, to advertise Formula 1, to advertise racing, to advertise Germany, to attract people coming here. So I think the view on that is different to other countries and that’s where probably the problem is. I mean, I know the track well here, I know the people that work for it and they are working very hard for the event to get people coming here and it’s tough for them to actually make some money, because simply they have no funds backing them up from the county or state or I don’t know the country, supporting them financially.
To follow up on Alan’s question regarding Lewis’ contract, a question to Seb. The battle between you and Lewis’ has seemed to bring a lot to Formula 1 over the past few years and this season most notably. Do you look forward to maybe continuing that for another two years?
SV: Yeah, with the result the other way round, yeah, I look forward to that. I think any battle is good. Obviously it’s always great if it’s tight at the top, it’s always great if you have a lot of cars fighting for podiums, for wins. Now this year already we have six cars, which is already a lot better, also being part of it, than the previous years I think some years ago we had even more cars on the podium, fighting for race wins and so on, so that would be great to see the gap closing. Normally that’s something that happens naturally if you just let things be. I don’t know what… obviously for ’19 we have a small change and ’20 should be fairly stable and then we see what happens in ’21, but that’s quite far away. But in general it’s always exciting as a driver if you can fight for points and fight for podiums and then fight for wins and you want to fight the best and Lewis has been one of the best since he entered Formula 1, so it’s good to be there.
Seb, how different would it be for you if Charles would be your team-mate instead of Kimi?
SV: I don’t know. I don’t know Charles much. I know him a little bit through the programme. Kimi is Finnish, Charles is French; I think they are quite different… or Monegasque. Sorry, sorry… sorry. I like Kimi. I think we get along. We have never any issue. Sometimes on track. I remember I drove into him, crashed into him. But I think the way we handle things is very similar, very straightforward, so I think it’s great to work with and great for the team, but it’s not my decision so we’ll see what happens.
Seb, we saw after the last race some comments from Lewis and from Mercedes about the events that happened on the first lap. I know Lewis has since retracted those comments but do you think, in a way, that you and Ferrari are getting under Lewis’ and Mercedes’ skin this season?
SV: I’m not a big fan of getting more out of it than there seems to be. I think it’s fine, you know. Obviously it was silly to say it but we are racing and we’ve all been there, it’s never great if you get hit without doing anything wrong, then it’s also fine to express your opinion, even it’s not right or reasonable, but it’s human. I think it’s fine, so we shouldn’t… it’s two weeks ago, we move on.
Seb, if you win on Sunday, do you think it could change the future of the German Grand Prix? And do you feel more pressure than usual?
SV: No, more excitement. I hope since we had a bad World Cup that people didn’t put their flags away and they turn up at the weekend and wave them for Nico and myself. We get a lot of support. From what I hear it should be packed, so I’m looking forward to that. Obviously if there is a chance to win, I want to win and if that helps to keep the grand prix, that’s a bonus. As I say, it would be a shame to lose it. It would be great to come back next year, or the year after.
Sebastian, following up on Heikki’s question: do you have a strong preference for Ferrari to keep Kimi for next year or are you more open-minded than in previous years about your team-mate?
SV: What do you mean ‘previous years’? Well, I like Kimi. As I said, I’d be happy to continue like that, but it’s not for me to mention, to decide. Charles, one way or the other, will have a great career. He’s a great guy, he’s fast, he’s got everything, so yeah, definitely, he has no rush. He’s young, but if you’re young you’re always in a rush with everything. I don’t know. I don’t know when, what and ultimately who but as I said it really doesn’t matter to me. For me it’s clear where I am next but I think both of them would suit into the team.
Seb, on paper, at least two of the three last races of the triple-header we’ve had were a bit more in favour of the Mercedes. Mercedes said they had the strongest car the last three races. Do you have the feeling you survived the worst part of the season now?
SV: No, generally I would agree. I think they had the fastest car in the last couple of races. I think in Silverstone we were a match. Obviously in quali we just missed out by a little bit. If it’s within the same tenths I don’t think you can say one is stronger than the other. I think in the race also we had good pace, which was great for us, because Silverstone has been a place where we were weak. The places before they were a bit stronger. We’ll see how things evolve here. We brought some stuff to Silverstone, which should also work here. I think it’s a constant chase to find the advantage and then one track suit you more than others but I think we have a great car and we still have great potential to make it better.
Nico, sometimes it seems Carlos and you struggle more than the other teams with degradation. How do you work on that and do you expect that to be a problem here?
H: Maybe at some races that’s true, not every race. Again, I think it depends a little bit on the track and temperatures. Yes, we had some problems, I think. It comes down to how your car is using the tyres and I think there are some cases where our car is quite hard on the tyres and then we pay a price with degradation. We know about it, we try to address it, we work on it, it’s a constant subject. I think this weekend here with the temperatures being very hot is going to be a good test for us to see if we’ve made some improvements there.
Seb, during the last race at Silverstone your teammate Kimi asked for more power but his engineer refused his wish. Kimi answered indignantly ‘It’s not permitted for me to think for myself?’ To what extent can you make your own decisions on track and how much is decided remotely on your behalf by the team? I can tell you all that I know a lot of people who don’t watch Formula One because the technology is too complicated and they feel the races are manipulated. Formula One seems to be more removed from the fans than before. Do you agree with this, and please remember my first question?
SV: I don’t remember the question! Yeah, I do remember the question. What was the question now? I think that what happened in Kimi’s race as far as I remember was more about strategy, not about engine power or energy so it was more about strategy. In that situation I think it’s fairly simple, you drive your car and you have a feeling about your tyres, of where you are in the race. You’re racing the others around you but you can’t see everything that’s going on around you which obviously the team on the pit wall can see, all the cars, all the lap times and if you were going to pit, then they know where you’re going to come out, which is something which we can’t see because we can’t see 20 seconds behind us. So I think that was the argument or misunderstanding at the time. I think yes, I agree with your view that people get the impression from outside that a lot of it is remotely controlled but that’s not fair. The cars are very complex, the technology inside the cars is very complex and it needs more than one or two, three mechanics which maybe Formula One had 40/50 years ago to run a car. You need a lot of people. Obviously in terms of technology it’s also very impressive but my view is also that from outside the engine… most of the car is covered anyway so you can’t see. Some people… if you’re a tech nerd it’s great but not everybody is and from the outside you want to see cars fighting, you want to see cars race and are driven by us to the limit and that’s what matters. I think there’s always been an interaction between technology and racecraft, driving the cars, in the past. I think the driver is the key element to driving the car, even though the technology behind it is complicated to run but equally it’s not our fault and for the future, I would love to simplify things so that people get a better impression. But I can understand why they get the impression. Do I think it’s fair? No it’s not, because I know I’m driving the car and I know these guys are driving the cars.
To all of you: if you owned a Formula One team, would you spend £40m a year on a driver?
SP: Yeah, I would hire myself!
NH: I agree with you, it’s a good way out! I think an individual driver can make the difference and be worth that. It’s possible, yeah.
Brendon, how important is the driver these days?
BH: I guess the question was is if you’d pay 40 million but I guess it depends on the budget and which currency. Total budget and currency It’s a good answer by Sergio, look after ourselves if we’re still driving.
Sebastian, you’re the World Championship leader driving a Ferrari, still the future of German Grands Prix is unclear. Getting back to the remark of Nico, I’m curious: are the Germans too spoilt regarding F1 wins, especially during the Schumacher era? What is your opinion on that?
SV: Well, by the sounds of it you’re Dutch so… I think Nico has a very valid point, I think it’s normal that if something happens for the first time there’s a lot of excitement and I think in Germany Michael was the one that kicked off Formula One and made Formula One popular. Now it’s different in different countries. I think in the UK for example, for some reason… they invented racing maybe, they always had great racing drivers, no matter what era. Now in the Netherlands, if you look, obviously Max… there’s a certain boom is created for us, all of us, all the drivers because there’s a lot of fans coming. Obviously for him it’s fantastic but also for all of us and also for Formula One, we all benefit from it because people are very excited about Formula One. We can see that in a lot of places in Europe mostly but yeah, in Spa but also Austria it was great to see. For Germany, I think it’s true that Michael was the one that probably had that boom initially and since then, obviously, it’s great for Germany to have German drivers. We had a time, I think, when we had five or six Germans. Eight? A lot of German drivers on the grid, now it’s only Nico and myself. I think that’s something that’s going up and down but yeah, it’s probably true. Then in general, Germans are a little bit difficult to get excited. I think other nations are a bit easier to trigger in that regard so maybe that’s also one of the things but as a I said, I hope that because of the fact that we failed in football this year that people saved a little bit of money on barbecues and so on and they can come here and go camping this weekend. Weather’s supposed to be great.
Nico, you surely followed the record runs of Porsche with the 919 Evolution car in Spa and the Nordschleife. Question: would you have liked to have driven that car and would you like to do something similar with an evolution Formula One Renault?
NH: Yeah, I would have liked to drive that car but I would have been way off the record or the pace, you know. You really need an expert for the Norschleife there. Timo was perfectly qualified for that, I’m not. I’ve done a few laps there but it’s a crazy circuit and you probably watched the on-board and you see how bumpy it is, how dynamic. It’s a hell of thing and the speed he goes, it’s pretty insane, positively insane and a cool thing to do by Porsche to go and crack a few track records and do some funky stuff. Yeah, very tempting. I know that car, obviously, but in that conversion it must be so much fun and cool. The thing with a Formula One, we would be struggling with ride heights and damper travel and stuff.
SV: We can resurface the track. It’s the fashion these days, so re-surface the Nordschleife. Let’s go there.
For all drivers: if you would change something in Formula One or you could say let’s keep it more or less the same, what would you do? Would you be open to reverse grids? Two races in one weekend for instance?
SP: I think we have a great sport. My main target would be to make it more competitive. At the moment we seem to have got used to talking about two groups in Formula One, whether they are a midfield group and the front-runners. I would like to make it a lot closer so that everyone can have the chance to fight for victories or podiums and I think that would make the sport a lot bigger.
BH: The reverse grid would have helped me the last few races. I think it’s a good point from Sergio that the top three teams are obviously out of reach but actually the midfield battle is really really good but if we could be a bit closer that would be a way. I don’t know about the technology point that was raised before. I personally like the fact that Formula One has always pushed the limits of technology and I like being involved in that but I guess just making it in a way where the fans can understand it a bit more. I know, for example, the engine regulations are very tricky to understand, even for the team members sometimes so maybe a bit more simplicity in certain areas.
NH: I think we want to have more racing, more wheel-to-wheel action, guys battling all over the field for corners and I think the aero has become very dominant; it always has been but especially now maybe more and that obviously doesn’t create the best racing so if there is a way to desensitize, keep the performance but lose that characteristic of the cars to allow a car to be close. Make a move now, it’s really frustrating sometimes, you make an effort you know you can get behind the car but as soon as you get there it’s like somebody’s pulling the plug and you’re left with not much then, your tyres overheat and it’s a downward spiral. So anything to fight that would help to make a better show, more racing and it would close the field like Checo says.
SV: I think they’re all valid points. Probably the first action: double the cylinders, take the batteries out, maybe we need one to start the car, that’s enough usually.
Sebastian, your reaction to two races in a weekend?
SV: No, no, I think the format is fine. I think it’s wrong to look at changing the format. It’s not my decision so it’s a bit pointless to talk about it but I wouldn’t be a fan. I think it has been like that for a long time for a reason. I think the 300 kilometer Grand Prix is a Grand Prix. If you should make it half, then maybe for some people then a boring race is only half as boring but that’s not the way I look it. I think it’s a challenge, it’s a Grand Prix distance and it’s something that… you do your first race and you’re surprised by how long the race can be and that’s a physical and mental challenge for that duration and I think it would be… yeah, if it becomes a sprint race, I think it would be a different sport in a way and I wouldn’t mess with the format. I think we need to find other ways to get excitement and get the grid together and whatever but not the format.