Full transcript from the drivers’ press conference – Part 1 – ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, Round 21 of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, at Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates – the final race of the season.
Featuring: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Lando Norris (2019 McLaren Driver) and George Russell (2019 Williams Drivers)
Fernando, it’s your final grand prix, can you describe your emotions coming into the weekend, please?
Fernando Alonso: So far I think it’s a normal weekend. I think on Sunday it’s going to be different when it gets a little bit more emotions. But right now, I landed like 10 hours ago from Japan. I’ve been racing last weekend in Shanghai and I’m not probably into the mood yet of this final race. It feels OK right now. As I said, it’s going to be special, emotional, and hopefully a good one.
Lewis, on the subject of this being Fernando’s final grand prix. You’ve raced alongside him and against him. What kind of a rival has he been for you?
Lewis Hamitlon: He’s been OK. We’ve had good times and bad times. I don’t really know what else to say. We’ve grown… he was obviously here before I was and achieved incredible things before I got here and also partly why I was here. It’s been a privilege to be in an era where he was racing
Will you miss him?
LH: Will I miss him? Yeah, I think the sport will miss him.
Lando, you are going to be driving for McLaren in 2019 and you’ve been working with Fernando this year. What has he taught you?
Lando Norris: He’s taught me quite a few things. One of the biggest things was working with him in Daytona, because I got to see a different side of him, I guess, working together. It’s not just some things. There are quite a few; a lot of stuff I can take through to my first year in Formula 1. And already, things I’ve taken into practice, into FP1s. There have been a lot of things I’ve been able to learn. We’ve had some good times. We get along really well and hopefully can continue in the future.
And George, just a question for you about Fernando. You haven’t worked with him but was he a driver you followed closely when you were growing up?
George Russell: Yeah, 100%. Growing up as a young karter you always look towards Formula 1 and Fernando was in his prime at that time and always fighting for championships, so as Lewis said, the sport is going to miss him, but he is a fantastic driver.
Fernando, you’ve said you’re not in the mood for reflections but what do you feel is your legacy?
FA: I don’t know really. I think it’s difficult to say in the first person. I think I’ve been trying to do my best all the time here, fighting against anything or circumstance that may put some stress or put other people down. I was trying always to give my best and somehow working with the kids and the karting school, the museum, trying to do a lot of things with the fans and the young generation, trying to help them, if I can, with the knowledge I’ve had all these years and with facilities or something that I probably didn’t have at my time and if they have the dreams and the talent, try to help them.
Thank you Fernando, good luck this weekend. Lewis, you’ve been a five-time champion for nigh on four weeks now. In terms of the championships you’ve won, where does 2018 rank?
LH: I don’t know, hopefully somewhere around the top. I’ve not really thought about it too much, to be honest. I’ve been focusing on trying to finish off the season strong. But it does feel… you know me, I don’t have a great memory, but it does feel like one of the best years that I can remember, competition-wise and competitive-wise, in terms of performances.
Thank you, good luck for the weekend ahead. Lando, coming back to you. As we’ve already said, a McLaren driver in 2019. Can you just paint a little picture for us about the preparations that are going to go on between now and Melbourne in March?
LN: A lot! I think I’ve got a lot for myself to look forward. A lot of things that I haven’t done yet to prepare for that first race… the first test of course. Things I’m sure the team will be able to help me through, and guide me in many ways. So I look forward to it. I think there are a lot of things for me to be working on, which I’m very excited about. I’m sure I’m going to be busy. It’s not going to be the easiest of winters. But whatever I can do to prepare myself for Australia, the first race… I’ve never been to Australia yet, so there are a lot of things for myself to do.
And a lot of jetlag. Thank you, Lando. George, coming to you, of course, you’re going to be racing for Williams next year but you’ve got a championship to win first this weekend, the Formula 2 championship. You’ve got a big lead; just tell us about your approach coming into the weekend.
GR: I don’t think my approach is going to change, to be honest. We’ve had a fantastic season, so there is no real reason to change the approach. Like you said, we have a very healthy margin, but anything can still happen and I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season.
Fernando, can you share some of your best memories from your time in Formula 1 with us.
FA: Yeah, the season with Lewis, 2007. I don’t know, I think more than races or memories or victories, the best thing I have from the F1 time is the people that I worked with, the people that I shared half of my life with. I’m 37 and I raced here 18 years, it’s half of my life with a lot of talented engineers, designers, mechanics, you guys, the media, everyone. We shared a lot of days over the seasons and I think that’s the best thing that I will always remember about Formula 1. How you approached this kind of races, the philosophy behind a grand prix, the preparation, and the discipline in all areas of the team. Now, racing in other disciplines, other series, you realise that Formula 1 is a step higher and it’s just trying to find perfection in everything, every weekend, every two weeks, all around the world. This was probably the best memories I will get from here.
Is there one race where you found that ultimate perfection that stands out for you?
FA: A few of them I think they were probably a little bit higher than others in terms of performing and executing the race. If one, I would say Valencia 2012, a race that probably in a normal world we would never be able to win again. If we repeated it 100 times, 99 of them we would not have ended up first. It was a good execution of a strategy, good overtakings, a lot of risk, bit everything worked well. The car was not particularly fast that weekend, we were not even in Q3. I think I lapped Felipe 10 laps to the end. It was not that we were in a dominant position that day but we still won it, so probably that race.
Fernando, everybody speaks about Sunday’s race being your last grand prix, but you haven’t categorically ruled out returning to Formula 1. What would it take to bring you back, like champions such as Prost and Lauda did, they returned after retiring?
FA: Right now it’s difficult to think about coming back but the door is not closed. The first reason is I don’t know how I will feel next year. I’ve been doing this for my whole life. Maybe next year, by April or May, I am desperate, on the sofa, so you know, maybe I find a way to somehow come back. But it’s not the initial idea. It’s more about myself. If I come back it’s not for any particularly or the line or something that has to happen, it’s more how I feel in the middle of next year.
Fernando, how proud does it make you, not only what you accomplished in this sport, but what you accomplished for Spain and for Asturias?
FA: Definitely very proud. I think you only realise with time, when you see how many people follow the sport now in Spain, in my region in Asturias, how many people travel to Oviedo to visit the museum, to have the first go in go-karts. A lot of people started following Formula 1 and not Formula 1, motorsports in general, in my country, which definitely was not a tradition. We were not broadcasting the races in 2001, 2002, I think it started in the middle of 2003. Something that is unthinkable now, when Formula 1 is the second or third sport in Spain. That’s something that I feel really proud of, and the same with some of the things I had in Spain, the Premio Príncipe de Asturias is probably the biggest thing I achieved, even more than any Formula 1 championship, because that kind of award is about changing people’s lives and introducing a lot of people into one sport. So, those kinds of things are much bigger than any trophy.
There are going to be a lot for Fernando, so Lewis I’ll give you one. I know you’ve said you don’t like talking too much about the past, but we’re doing something about the German Grand Prix from this year. You’ve said a lot about the conditions and the fortune, and how things came together for you that weekend. What was it you did that weekend that wrestled the initiative back after what happened that Saturday?
LH: Jeez… Hockenheim… oh, where we had the issue of the failure in qualifying. I think it was really together, as a team… obviously we had the steering column failure on the Saturday, meaning that we would be starting from last, and I think we just pulled together and tried to make sure we could make the best of the Sunday, and all remained focused on getting a good result. I think it was just ultimately a true showing of the strength within the team. Even though we’d had a difficult day like that we pull together and look for other solutions to get us back up the front. That’s really what we worked for. As a driver, it was moving past the stumble, or the fall, and getting straight back up and fighting next day as if I was starting at the front. Obviously certain things came along the way in terms of weather and that was just an opportunity for me to capitalise rather than make mistakes. I just think as a driver, I was able to really maximise on that day, not making any mistakes I was able to pull myself further forward than perhaps I would on another weekend.
A question to Lewis and Fernando. After eight years away Robert Kubica is back on the grid next year. You’ve both raced against Robert, I just wondered what your thoughts were on his return to the sport as a racing driver?
LH: Is Robert younger or older than me.
He’s older than you.
LH: Oh, perfect! So, I’m so happy he’s coming back, because Fernando is leaving and I was going to be the second-oldest driver but now I still remain the third. I can’t tell you how happy I am about that. No, I think it’s great. I raced him from karting days so I’ve known him for a long, long time and he was always one of the most talented drivers that I had the pleasure of racing against. I know he has had a really difficult time over the last God knows how many years now, and it’s just great to see he’s got the opportunity back and I hope he works hard on his strength and getting his mind back into gear like he was in the past and I think it’s exciting for the sport to see him back in action.
FA: Yeah, not much to add. I think, as Lewis said, he is one the great talents the sport has had and it’s great to see him back to race. It remains to be seen what will be the performance of the car, and his own performance, because we only saw a couple of test days. But if he is at 100% he will be amazing to watch, so happy with him.
And George, he’s going to be your team-mate next year. Your thoughts on Robert Kubica?
GR: Yeah, I’m extremely excited to be teammates with Robert. Obviously Lewis and Fernando have said how talented and fast he is, and there’s absolutely no doubt about that. But on top of that he is extremely intelligent, he’s got so much experience and I think he’s going to be a great addition to Williams and he’ll really help push Williams back to where they deserve and should be.
Question to Fernando. Fernando, in your time in Formula One, you’ve gone up against many great drivers. Who would you say was your greatest rival – and what made them so challenging to beat? Thank you.
FA: It’s difficult to choose one. Obviously, if I have to say one, it will be Michael. Not because any particular reason it was just because, when I got to Formula One, Michael was dominating the sport and you are in go-karts and you see Michael winning, you are different categories, you see Michael winning, and then eventually you find yourself fighting wheel-to-wheel. So, those battles were definitely special, or more emotional at that time – but yes, as you said, I think we had, and probably have right now, the most talented generation. Because all drivers now, they are more prepared. They get more time in the simulator, in different young driver programmes, so they go to Formula One with a level that was unthinkable a decade, or two decades ago. So, yeah, it was a good journey and I have to choose one, maybe Michael – but just for emotional reasons, not for any technical aspects.
Question to Lewis and Fernando. It was recently announced that George and Lando will make their debut in Formula One next season. Can you recall the levels of excitement you felt – and it seems like ages ago – back when you made your debuts. And do you have certain advice for these guys?
Lewis let’s start with you.
LH: Shouldn’t it be elders first?
FA: Probably my advice wouldn’t be very useful because my start was very different. My debut was in Minardi, 2001, we could not test the car before Australia. The team was disappearing at one point, it was bankrupt, so Paul Stoddart came in at the last moment and flew the car to Australia and we studied the steering wheel on Wednesday and Thursday of Australia, and I remember going out of the pitlane in FP1 and there was a queue of cars at the end of the pitlane, because there was still a red light, and I nearly crashed with them, because I could not find the neutral button. That was not the perfect start! The perfect debut! I think they will have more experience, they will have more preparation. They will be excited, yes – but they will be very well prepared when Australia comes. It’s just a matter of executing the race and follow all the engineering help that we have these days.
LH: Yeah, I think I’d second what Fernando said. I think Fernando’s was a time before mine – but also my preparation would have been better than Fernando’s – but their preparation is even further ahead from where I was, you know, simulations. George has been with us in all debriefs – pre-briefs and debriefs – and he’s been on the simulator, so the preparation is a lot better than it was, I guess back in our time. Even mine was already great. So yeah, I think they just have to arrive and enjoy, which I’m sure… there’s a different confidence level now, I think, from the younger side, being that there is that preparation. I think it’ll be an exciting experience for them. I can’t remember how it was for me, to be honest, in my first race. I was racing against this dude, who was a two-time World Champion, so I think I was very nervous.
Lewis, your relationship with Fernando got off to a bit of a rocky, shaky start in 2007. Can you just say how you felt about Fernando then, and how your relationship’s improved, for the better obviously, over the years?
LH: I don’t really recall it too much, to be honest. I don’t feel like I ever had a personal issue with Fernando. I think it was more how the team was run, or the situation we were put in, and how that was managed. Maybe. Probably:
LH: I don’t think we ever necessarily had an issue between us, except we were trying to beat each other and murder each other’s laps on the track. Outside, we used to play NBA 2K, or whatever it was together, ever now and then. It was always really quite harmonious outside. I definitely think naturally, we’re older, old men now and the respect between us, I’d like to think, is higher than it’s ever been and I don’t think that’s ever going to change, and I do hope that Fernando’s at least around, or at least I get to see him in the future, as someone I’ve always respected highly as a driver, as I’ve always commented on, and so, I really do wish him all the best for his future endeavours.
Lewis, I want to remind you politely of your promise you have given two years ago, same place, here in the FIA press conference in Abu Dhabi. Quote: ‘In ten years, you will have to buy my book and can read the explanation for the change of mine and Nico’s mechanics crew.’ It was a good question, it will be an interesting read. Now, I want to know, have you already started writing your book? I am now 69 and have the intention to buy and read it. I hope I will still have the chance in my life. Is it OK so far?
LH: That’s a good one! I said ten year, two years ago? I’ve got a while now. You’re going to have to wait a little longer. Eight more years to go.
FA: Don’t make him wait, say it now!
LH: Eight more years. So I’ve got a little bit of time to prepare. But I haven’t planned to do anything anytime soon. I really don’t have any intentions to do a book. Are you going to do a book?
FA: yeah, I will, next year. But look at him, you should say something. He deserves it, after the long question.
LH: I said in ten years right?
FA: But now, only eight years.
LH: Yeah! Eight years to go. OK. Every year from now on you have to remind me. Countdown. Sounds good.
FA: You will need to wait eight years – but ask me whatever you want!
Simple question. In your Formula One career, journalists always put many questions to you. Is there any question you’ve never been asked by a journalist but you want to give an answer to?
FA: No. I think I’ve received all the questions in the world. It’s impossible that there’s one missing. So… I’m not missing any questions. Enough.
Fernando, besides the triple crown, what could bring you back in Formula One – maybe becoming the father of a future world champion in F1, like Rosberg and Hill?
FA: I don’t know. I don’t know what the future will bring. Definitely now I’m concentrating on the personal challenges, the triple crown and some other races that I will add next year. For 2020 I don’t know exactly what I will do, or what will be the plan. Further away, it’s impossible to think – but yeah, who knows? Life is long and beautiful. I like Formula One. I will always love Formula One, so if I will be here in the future as a driver, as a father, as an FIA boss or whatever. I will think.
LH: You’re not the FIA boss! At least when I retire.
FA: Maximum penalties.
Fernando, what are you going to miss most about Formula One next year? If anything?
FA: Press conferences.
Tell me the truth!
FA: I think driving the cars. The cars are something special. It doesn’t matter if you’re fourteenth, fifth or fighting for victory. Obviously if you can be on the podium and win, definitely it’s an extra celebration and joy – but when you go out of there for qualifying, or even tomorrow for free practice, and you’re drive these cars, they are very special, y’know? The amount of technology behind these cars would be difficult to replicate in any other series – but on the other side there are negative aspects of Formula One, especially if you are 18 years here. You dedicate your entire life to Formula One. You have no friends, no family, no free time, no privacy, no wife, no kids, no nothing. It’s just full dedication if you want to succeed. So, I think, I have other priorities right not.
Fernando, what’s your goal for the race? It’s your last race. Q3 and finish the race and make a big party?
FA: I have to be in Bahrain on Monday morning – so the party is not going to be too long but yes, enjoy the race. I think that will be the first priority. I know we are not competitive enough to fight for big things but, nevertheless, I think we are fighting with Force India for the Constructors’ Championship, so that will be nice to succeed on that and finish in front of them. And in qualifying, even if Q3 is also a dream maybe, too optimistic, we try to do some good laps, some good runs and feel happy with the laps, whatever the position it is. And yeah, that’s the goal.
Lando, what kind of approach are you going to take, considering that McLaren has had a very challenging season?
LN: Hard to say. I think considering it’s my first season in Formula One, and of course I would like it to be a long career in Formula One, there’s a lot of work to be done from myself and obviously from the team. They are working very hard for next season. A lot of change in the team, to try and progress next season and get further up the grid from where we are now. But I know it’s not going to be easy. Obviously, my whole career I’ve worked hard but I’ve always had good results – so it’s going to be my first season where I’m going in and I’m know I’m not going to be winning races – probably – but yeah, hopefully it’s a longer game. And we can just make improvements. I think that’s the biggest thing I want to be able to do, and the team as well, is improve over time and eventually, maybe mid-season, end of season, two years, whatever, see all of this hard work getting paid off. Getting more points, getting a podium and, eventually, try to win. I think that’s my goal and the whole team’s goal. So, I’ll be just working with them as hard as possible to get that aim done.
George, you’ve worked very closely with Lewis, and Lando, you with Fernando. What’s the single most important aspect you each learned from the World Champion sitting next to you that helped you get into Formula One.
GR: I think from my side, seeing how Lewis deals with the team behind the scenes, and everything, I think. No matter who you are, you can see how that driver works on track, and at the end of the day, if Lewis gave me any driving advice, what works for him might not work for me, and vice versa, so I think, from my side, the biggest thing I learnt, in the debriefs, how he discusses, and talks with the engineers, and deals with that aspect.
LN: I don’t think it’s been one thing in particular. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve learnt from Fernando. I guess the biggest thing is to enjoy it. I think that’s one of the biggest and best things I’ve seen from Fernando is how, although it’s his job and he has to work hard and everything, he still has fun at the same time. I think that’s something very important. We probably wouldn’t be here – any of us – if we didn’t enjoy what we’re doing. But yeah, it’s on a kind of different level. Apart from the obvious things, working hard, how he talks to his engineers, how they progress, enjoying it and having fun is probably one of the best things I’ve seen.