Full transcript from the FIA hosted driver’s press conference on Thursday ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend, Round 11 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Hockenheim.
Featuring Carlos Sainz (McLaren), Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) and Alex Albon (Toro Rosso)
Welcome gentlemen. A question to the two German drivers, please. Can you just tell us about the build-up to your home race here at Hockenheim and the emotions of racing at home? Nico, can we start with you please?
Nico Hulkenberg: A fairly calm and steady build-up to be honest this year, which is quite nice. No particular events, just the usual day-to-day I would say. No, it’s good to come back here. I remember last year, I loved this weekend, it was an amazing atmosphere. Hockenheim was I think packed. Every grandstand ticket was more or less sold, and it was full of people and there was this magic atmosphere all weekend. I really enjoyed it here last year. It happened to be the best race of the season for me as well, so obviously it would be nice to repeat something like that, although sporting-wise we don’t seem to be as strong but of course we are going to give it our best shot. But yeah, happy to be back here and looking forward to a hot weekend.
Q: Thank you. Sebastian?
Sebastian Vettel: Yeah, it’s been pretty calm on the build-up, so pretty straightforward. Obviously I like this place very much, it’s pretty close to where I come from. We had a nice dinner together with the team last night, but other than that it’s been fairly calm. But like Nico said, very good memories of last year in terms of atmosphere. Obviously the final outcome wasn’t great, but overall the weekend was fantastic – the amount of fans, the amount of German flags, the enthusiasm around the track. Hopefully we can have something similar this year.
Q: Your 10th German Grand Prix.
SV: Yeah, here we go.
Q: Here we go indeed. Thank you guys. Alex, turning to you, a frustrating race for you last time out at Silverstone with an electrical problem. Can you tell us about that problem and without it would a points finish have been possible?
Alex Albon: Yeah, it was a bit frustrating. Basically, the car was live, so we couldn’t really touch the car. I think the mechanics would have been a bit electrified if they did, so we had to stay out on track. It was frustrating, but it’s hard to say if we… I think we would have finished where we were before we had the issue. I think we were running about eighth, around there. Of course, it was just points missed, so that was a frustrating weekend, because we had two tough races before that, and that was kind of the time…. At Silverstone we were back on track and it was an opportunity to score some good points. Fortunately Dany did, so it wasn’t too bad at the end of the day.
Q: So, a frustrating race for you at Silverstone, but how do you sum up the season so far, because half distance in the race here will be the halfway point of the 2019 season. So how would sum out how it’s gone and what have the team told you about 2020?
AA: It’s going well. I would say I’ve had a few ups and downs. But yeah, I’m quite happy with how it’s gone so far. And regarding 2020, who knows? I think that’s in other people’s hands.
Q: Thank you. Nico, same sort of question to you really. As we reach the halfway point in the season, how are you feeling about the Renault project, how has it evolved during your three years with the team and looking ahead, do you stick, do you twist? What are your plans?
NH: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that so far this season we can’t be entirely happy with what we have achieved. I mean, to start with we had a lot of issues and missed out on results. But, a little bit more disappointing is just where we are in terms of pace, the development rate, it’s not where we really needed it and wanted it to be. Behind the expectations this year, so probably maybe, all in all, as well, not entirely happy and if you look across the three years we can’t be entirely happy with everything we’ve done. Nevertheless, the outlook is good. We still see light at the end of the tunnel and we still believe we can catch up to some extent, how much is always difficult to say with entire certainty. Yeah, we’ll see what happens in the future and what happens to me as well. As for now, there is nothing set in stone, but I think it’s quite likely that I will remain with the team.
Q: You’re 21 points behind McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship now. Do you think that’s a fair reflection of the relative performance of the two teams?
NH: Well, it is. That’s a fact. It is 21 points but I think we could be right up there with them, if you add up all the complications we had, all the missed results, problems, we should be there or thereabouts, but for sure McLaren are very strong at the moment and are probably one of our main competitors that we will be battling from here until the end.
Q: Ok, good luck this weekend. Carlos, just to ask you about that battle with Renault. When you came into this season, did you expect to be ahead of them at this point?
Carlos Sainz: No. I think the right answer is no. I wouldn’t expect to be in front of Renault. There was a good trend going last year in Renault and I think we finished off the season quite strongly but McLaren was at that time in Abu Dhabi more than half a second behind in qualifying, pretty much in every qualifying. Then in the race, also, it was difficult to match, or to see Fernando and Stoffel battling more at the back than Nico and me. It was very difficult to predict that at this stage this year we would be in front. I don’t think we are in front. I think we are in front in the championship but we are very equal in performance and it makes the battle good fun, like it was in Silverstone, in Austria, in France, and we are happy to be battling with a team like Renault. I think just the objective of us two is to keep moving forward, both together, towards the top. Not looking too much to what Renault is doing, but keep looking forward, keep looking to Mercedes, keep looking to Red Bull, Ferrari and try to get that gap down.
Q: You mention Austria and Silverstone. You raced very well at those races – 19th to eighth in Austria, 13th to sixth at Silverstone. So clearly you’re racing very well, but progress hasn’t been quite as sweet in qualifying. Why is that?
CS: Yeah, it’s a good point actually. I’m not entirely happy with how things are going in qualifying. If you go race by race, it would be very easy to point out three or four races where obviously I was affected by issues away from my own. But what is important or what I feel is like I have the speed in the car. Every time I jump in the car I feel like I can extract the maximum out of it, I feel like I understand the car, I feel like I am quick every time I jump in, but then circumstances in qualifying they always come down to one lap then you’re whole qualifying picture looks bad, but what is important is that I feel speed, I feel comfortable with the car and I can prove it on race day and race days are going very well.
Q: They are. Thank you. Kimi, coming to you, you’ve scored in seven of the 10 races so far, including the last three. Is that the level of performance and consistency you expected from Alfa Romeo when you joined them?
Kimi Raikkonen: It’s hard to say, because obviously where they’ve been the last few years it’s not been the greatest. Last year they made good gains from half way through. So, very unknown. I just went into the season to try to do the maximum, to see what we get. We had a bit harder part, three or four races where we were not very fast. But we managed to recover from that a little bit. There is still a long way to go but I think it’s not been too bad, at least in their own book. So we’ll keep trying and try to make the car faster.
Q: How much have you improved the car so far?
KR: For sure we have improved. I don’t know how much. It’s depends on what you compare. Obviously we compare to the guys that are close to us and obviously we are still behind on pure speed but we bring as much as we can new parts and try to improve. At least usually the parts work very well, what we brought. So that’s a good thing. Obviously with a small team like us it takes a bit longer to bring new parts. But I think we are quite happy with how things have gone forward. But like I said, there is still an awful lot of work to be done to get more faster and to try to get closer to McLaren and things like that.
Q: You’re happy with developments but how happy are you this year Kimi? How much are you enjoying Formula 1 in 2019 and how different is your experience now compared to last year?
KR: I don’t think it’s a lot different. Obviously racing a bit more rearwards. But if you don’t count that the big picture hasn’t really changed. It’s a different team, but I’ve worked with some of them before. I think F1 hasn’t changed. We still this press conference, we have the same kind of meetings, interviews. That hasn’t changed, but obviously, outside of racing I have a bit more free time, so that is the nice part, but I don’t think it’s night and day what happened last year to this year.
Q: Sebastian, let’s start by talking about the car. You’ve told us in the past that it’s tricky to drive. Can you tell us why it’s so hard to find the sweet spot of the SF90?
SV: Well, I think we had occasions where things were looking very good and other occasions where it was a bit more difficult but I think that’s also pretty normal throughout the season: you have different tracks with different characteristics and sometimes the car feels more the way you like and other times less – but yeah, I think we have, after the first couple of races we were able to get quite a good picture of what was missing compared to the performance we seemed to have at the beginning of winter testing. With that, I think we’ve made progress. Obviously we are not where we would like to be, not as competitive as we would like to be, but I think overall, the understanding and the direction is going in the right way.
Q: You say you’re not as competitive as you want to be – well, Red Bull have taken a step forward in recent weeks, so how do you see the pecking order at the front of Formula 1 now?
SV: Well, I think obviously Mercedes does have an edge on everyone else, that’s, I think, pretty clear. Similar to previous years, they seem to struggle on tracks where tyre wear and degradation is a bit higher – like we’ve maybe seen in the last part of the race in France, or in Austria. But in terms of raw speed, they are the benchmark – and I think for myself and for us, that’s the benchmark. I think obviously between ourselves and Red Bull, it’s been sometimes closer, sometimes we were ahead, most of the times I believe we were ahead, sometimes we were behind but y’know, that’s not the objective. The objective is to fight for wins and to do so at the moment you need to be level or better than Mercedes.
Q: And what would a victory here, on home soil, mean to you on Sunday?
SV: I think it’s always special, first of all to have the opportunity to race in your home country; yeah, obviously I was very close last year, let’s see how close we can get this year. I think we are, y’know, a less strong position to start the weekend. Then again, I think we’ve seen some recent races, we’ve been very strong in terms of qualifying – but also race pace. So yeah, I think we’re fairly open minded. I’m fairly open-minded, to be honest. We start the weekend, see where it goes, obviously it’s going to be very hot initially and then probably cool off a little bit.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport-total.com) Kimi, you’re back at Sauber – or Alfa Romeo – the first team that you started with in Formula 1. Is this full circle for you? Are you going to end your career here or do you consider moving teams?
KR: I have no idea. I mean, obviously, I have a two-year contract, this and next year, and then we see what happens. No plans really. That’s about it really.
Q: (Stefan Ehlen motorsport-total.com) Question to Sebastian. How badly do you want to win on Sunday, and how badly do you need to win on Sunday?
SV: Not badly. Oddly I want to win, that’s for sure – but as I said, I’m also realistic. So, coming here, I don’t feel as we are the favourites but I feel we have a chance. For me, that’s the point of going racing. You have a chance of do well. So, that’s the objective and we will find out during the weekend. But certainly it’s a special place to me. It’s very close to where I’m from, it’s a lot of family around and friends close by. To find a good way to celebrate, I wouldn’t need to go very far, so that would be quite handy.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Sebastian, Kimi will be shortly 40 years old, can you see yourself racing as long as that?
SV: I don’t know – I’m not as handsome as Kimi now, so I won’t be as handsome as he is when I’m 40! I don’t know, there’s not much point thinking about it. Imagine if you had asked Kimi when he was 32 if he can imagine to race when he’s 40, I don’t think you would have got an answer. I don’t know, it depends on how the next years go. It depends, I think, on where the sport is going with the big run change that will or will not come for 2021, and then we’ll see what happens after that. I’ll be 40 in 2027, so I don’t know is the answer. Sorry Heikki!
Q: (Giles Richards – The Guardian) Question for Sebastian. You’ve said in the past you struggle when you’re not feeling the car. Can you tell us, are you feeling this car and, if not, is it compounding the weaknesses that it already has?
SV: Well, I think it’s not… as I tried to explain earlier, I think it’s normal that sometimes you feel more comfortable and sometimes less. I think for us it was important after the first couple of races to understand what brings this inconsistency, where the strength of the initial feeling with this car has gone and why we’re not able to repeat it the way we would like. But I think we do have a very good understanding by now. I think we are trying a lot of things to obviously make it better, to find a direction. I think a lot of things we tried are very good, other things we tried we went back on but yeah, obviously there are some things that probably this year are different than maybe they have been before – but nothing that you couldn’t adapt to.
Q: (Jonathan McEvoy – Daily Mail) To Sebastian. What’s it like… it’s obviously been a long while since Ferrari won the Drivers’. Do you feel a sort of burden to lead them to victory to lead them after, what 11, 12 years? Does that sort of weigh on you? I mean, the sort of Ferrari dynamic, what it means to the nation. How do you feel bearing that responsibility?
SV: It doesn’t feel like a burden, it feels like a privilege, y’know, to go out and race for Ferrari and obviously my mission or my goal, as well as the team’s goal, is to get back to, y’know, the – how do you say? – the winning ways. If we do that then we have a much better chance to fight for the Championship. Having said that, I think from when I joined and where we are now, obviously this year hasn’t gone the way we wanted after the last two years, but still, I think things are progressing in the right direction. In the big picture – but naturally the big picture doesn’t interest you if you are not currently where you would like to be. So, I think we all know that Formula 1 is a world where people are very short-sighted, which is also fair and part of the game. Like I said, overall, even if things look good, we still obviously miss that final step and that’s the most important step.
Q: (Julien Billotte – AutoHebdo) Question to Seb and Nico. How do you see the state of Formula 1 in Germany. Do you think it’s still as popular as it was 15 or 20 years ago – and in terms of drivers, behind you of course, there is a lot of interest for Mick Schumacher in Formula 2 but beyond him there doesn’t seem to be many German young talents – do you think it is because Formula 1 is not as inspiring as it was when you guys were growing?
NH: I think, based and judged on last year, people were very interested. Like I said earlier, I’ve never seen that much interested since I’m in Formula 1, since my career in Germany, and that was pretty amazing and nice to see. I think generally, Germans, we are known, we are a car country and we love our cars and the interest is still there. I think naturally some years it’s a bit more, some years it’s a bit less but I think yeah, we have a spoilt history in racing, so that’s also one thing to consider – but I think in general, the appetite and the interest of the population is still very much alive. And yeah beyond Mick, to be honest, I’m not really sure entirely what’s coming through the go-kart series and the young formulae, so can’t really comment on it.
SV: I think obviously it’s normal that the biggest hype, I believe was when Michael started winning as he was the first German to win the Championship. Being the first, there is always more momentum and more interest – but as Nico said, I think the atmosphere last year proved that there is still very much an appetite for racing but I also feel that the German crowd is a very fair and direct and honest crowd, so maybe some things that have happened in our sport didn’t help the popularity. For the future, I think you need to draw, a bit, the bigger picture. I think, again, Germans are quite straightforward with the way they spend their money and unfortunately junior racing, starting from karting and through the series after that are – I think – way too expensive. Nico and myself we enjoyed each other in go-karts and racing each other. I think the background is not that dissimilar. I think giving us the same chance today, I think our career would stop fairly soon because we simply wouldn’t have the pocket money to do it. So, I think overall, to allow more kids – boys and girls – to start racing, the sport would need to be a lot cheaper, as currently I think it’s way too expensive and unaffordable for most.
Q: (Manuel Sanchez – Il Tamburello.net) My question is for Nico Hulkenberg. Renault will be the first team to test the future Pirellis. How much advantage will have Renault with this?
NH: When are we going to test those tyres? Honestly, I don’t know? I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.
This weekend, it’s published that Renault will be the first team to test the new Pirellis… In October, Nico?
NH: I think it’s very hard to say if that’s an advantage or not. I think all teams in rotation do tyre tests but, as far as I’m aware, you are kept in the dark as to what compounds you are testing and what kind of tyre it is, so it is hard for teams to take conclusions from that and use it for the future. So I don’t think it’s a big player or a big advantage.
Q: (Phil Duncan – Press Association) Sebastian, just following on from the earlier question about racing for Ferrari, is this a team you would like to see out your career with or do you envisage racing for someone else?
SV: Not at the moment. As I said earlier to Heikki that I don’t know how long I’m going to be here but I love racing, I think they’re the best cars to… the fastest there are. The joy that I get from driving is like it’s ever been and as I said, obviously the motivation is high to get the job done with Ferrari so that’s the two things that are, I guess, dictating whether I’m going to be around for long or not.
Q: (Carlos Miguel Gomez – AutoHebdo Sport) Carlos, what is the secret to be the best of the rest?
CS: At the moment there’s no secret. If I find it, I will obviously keep it secret. I think it’s a combination. I think it’s a combination of hard work done by the team and creating a package good enough to do what we are doing on race day. It’s a combination of good strategies come Sunday. It’s a combination of good starts, good pace when you need to have good pace and good development. Nowadays the midfield battle is so tight that you need to be on top of everything and be very good at everything and I think this year we’ve been very good at mostly everything and that’s why we are leading in that battle. We haven’t been the fourth fastest car every race weekend but somehow we’ve managed to score good results when we were not the fourth fastest car and in the midfield I think that’s important but my wish is to separate a bit from this midfield and see if the team can keep improving and keep separating itself from the midfield which I think this year is going to be nearly impossible to do. It’s more thinking in the future.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Sebastian, sorry to take you back to 12 months ago here. You had your mistake in the race; since then there’s been a few mistakes along the way, all the way through to Silverstone and the last race. How satisfied are you on your performances over the past twelve months? Is it fair to say that you haven’t delivered, given the car that you’ve been given by Ferrari? And do you feel under pressure?
SV: Well, I always put myself under pressure so I can’t be happy, obviously, if things go wrong. I think some of the things, obviously, were bigger than others. I think the main thing is that – as I said previously – that we keep progressing in the right way but for sure if I get something wrong and make a mistake I can’t be happy with that. The pressure I put on myself after that I think is bigger than any external factors. This has been the same as long as I can remember. I think for me it’s the most honest and straightforward way to deal with it myself because I know what I’ve done wrong and what I’ve done right. I know when I had the opportunity to do well or not. I think you’re always your best judge, no matter what you do so that’s the rules by which I play.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Sebastian and Kimi, do you ever miss each other as teammates and can you say what the best qualities were about each other as a teammate?
KR: The meetings are a lot shorter now, now that we’re not in the same meetings any more. Or in the same team. We see each other still. I enjoy it, for sure, it was very good but we were friends before and it never changed and it’s still the same so life goes on. I think it’s always been very honest with Seb so it’s easy, easy going.
Q: His best qualities?
KR: Straightforward, honest.
SV: I can only return. Obviously now the meetings are not as short as they were which is a pity. Yeah, as Kimi said, we’ve sort of got on with each other before, had respect for each other and it’s the same now. Best qualities? Straightforward and honest! Yeah. No, I think the interesting thing is, even if, no, we look very different from the outside in terms of what people think but I think inside, as I said, we got along with each other fairly quickly right from the beginning and it’s probably because we share a lot of the same values and key to that is there were never any games or any attempt to play anything or… just no attempt to waste time, basically.
Q: (Luke Smith – Crash.net) Seb and Nico, following the earlier question about the future of F1 in Germany, you mentioned Mick Schumacher. How significant do you think the return of the Schumacher name to an F1 race seat in the future could be for F1 in this country and also how important is it that he’s not rushed on that journey?
SV: Yeah, I think it’s crucial that he’s given the time he needs. I think it’s fair to judge him and his racing like every one of us has been judged and will be judged but it’s not right to measure and compare too much to other people and to his father. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s a different time, different racing but for sure, as I tried to explain earlier, Michael was the one who set off a huge hype when we were kids and therefore the name Schumacher is one hundred percent known in Germany due to him. Obviously to have Mick at the doorstep of F1 and one day hopefully joining would be huge and hopefully a big boost for Germany. On top of that, despite the name, he’s a great guy, he’s a nice kid so I think our fingers are crossed for him. There’s been a time when I think we had a lot of Germans in Formula One – like six or seven – and everyone was wondering why and so on. Now we have two we don’t get these questions any more but back then I think there were zero French guys and now you have quite a lot of French guys in Formula One and very close so I think it’s just how it goes around but yeah, hopefully he gets the chance one day and does well and brings some more enthusiasm. NH: Yeah, not much to add. I feel and think the same as Seb said. I think he needs his time, of course, also to go through his development but I’m sure he will get his chance. But then for Germany that could be quite… obviously another big ignition to motivate people to go back to a Formula One race to watch so it could play a big part in that and it would be great to see.
Q: (Edd Straw – Autosport) Sebastian, a question about the past. I wanted to ask you about one of your most successful cars, the 2011 Red Bull RB7. What do you remember about that car and how challenging was it to get the most out of that, given that there was the exhaust blown downforce and you had to adapt your technique to get the most from it?
SV: Yeah, obviously it was a very experimental phase because back then exhaust blowing was unknown and the effects of it and the logic behind it and so on. It was the first year where we really explored the limits, up to the point where we blew up a tyre on the grid because the plume and the hot air on the tyre obviously was coming at very high speed and made a big difference to how the car felt, made a big difference to how you had to drive the car, made a big difference to how you set up the car but I think we got the hang of it. I think key to one, a very clever way to design the car. Second was Renault’s input back then which I think they’ve been first in class and most extreme and probably the most brave to adapt and come up with solutions to help the demands of our aero department at the time. Obviously then it got banned and the years after, what people have been trying ever since is to find a way to get back because it’s proved to be so powerful. Season-wise it was a great season because I think we as a whole team matured a lot from little hiccoughs in 2010 so it was a lot more straightforward in 2011.
Q: (Rosal Mohedano – MomentoGP.com) Carlos, Andreas Seidl has been in the team for some months now, has he changed a lot in the team to make a midfield car the top midfield car?
CS: I think the credit of this year’s car is mainly due to what happened last year, all the development that happened during that second half of the season, where the team basically decided to stop developing the 2018 to try and understand why the 2018 car was so poor and the job done, obviously in the early months of this winter, going into March, the job of Andreas, what he’s doing very well now is doing a whole analysis of the situation that we are in in the factory, especially back in Woking and he’s just having an overlook and have a very good look into what can be improved and it’s more a midterm to a long term project. I think he’s quite advance and he’s going to start having a very big influence in the upcoming months but you need to give him time. I think when there is an environment of six hundred to eight hundred people like we are in McLaren at the moment, to notice any kind of change you need years, you need months or even years to feel the change and that’s going to take time for sure.