Full transcript from the drivers’ press conference ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, Round 17 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Suzuka Circuit.
Featuring: Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Carlos Sainz (McLaren) and George Russell (Williams)
Q: George, you haven’t raced at Suzuka before, so how excited are you about what lies in store this weekend? George Russell: Yeah, extremely excited. It’s a circuit I’ve been looking forward to driving for years actually. It’s actually one of the best and purest out there, so just hoping we don’t get rained off tomorrow or Saturday.
Q: Is there one particular aspect of the track you’re looking forward to the most? GR: I’d say the thing I’m looking forward to the most is probably the ‘Esses’ to start with, you know, such an amazing flow of corners. But just generally I think the whole circuit is really incredible, so just the whole experience of it.
Q: Can we take stock and reflect on your first season in Formula 1. What have you learned and has F1 met your pre-season expectations? GR: I think it has met my pre-season expectations, just the whole Formula 1 rollercoaster itself. I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect but I’m really happy with how the season has gone generally. From the good moments personally to the tougher times I wouldn’t change anything at all because especially from the tougher times I’ve learned a huge amount and generally being in the position I have been, at the back of the grid, it’s given me an opportunity to just explore a bit more and go under the radar and hopefully that will help me out in years to come when we should be fighting.
Q: Thanks, enjoy the weekend ahead and good luck. Max, Hondas home race this weekend. Has it been a particularly busy build-up for you? Max Verstappen: Yeah, yeah it has been. On Tuesday the whole day. But actually I got to drive the very first Honda F1 car so that was actually quite cool. But I guess it’s more than normal that you start a bit early this week with some commitments.
Q: And how was the RA272, the car with which Honda won that Mexican Grand Prix back in 1965? MV: I didn’t fit in very well; I was a bit stuck. It was just a really cool experience.
Q: Now let’s throw it forward to this weekend. What can we expect from you and Red Bull. You’ve scored a podium for the last three years at Suzuka. Given a clean race is a fourth consecutive podium realistic? MV: That’s definitely the target. First, also, let’s wait and see how the weekend is going to go and also with the weather, but of course we’ll try to do our very best this weekend to have a good result.
Q: Thanks. Nico, you’ve enjoyed a purple patch recently and you’ve reached Q3 in the last four races. You’ve also go a new front wing this weekend, so what are you expecting from the car and from yourself this weekend? Nico Hulkenberg: I think it’s kind of the same build-up business as usual. Obviously we want to score as many points as possible on Sunday. We’re still fighting in the championship and it’s just about getting the maximum out of the car and ourselves, especially Saturday but Sunday.
Q: And this new front wing? NH: Yeah, it’s new, so we’ll see how that copes and if it brings something to the party or not.
Q: OK, let’s throw it further forward now. Lots of your fans are waiting to hear about your plans for next year. Has there been any movement? Is there anything you can say? NH: No, frankly not. There’s no news, so it’s a little bit more of a patience game, so I’ll have to and see a little bit longer.
Q: Carlos, great race in Sochi for you and you’re now looking to score your 50th points finish in Formula 1. How confident are you of achieving that this weekend at Suzuka? Carlos Sainz: Fairly confident. I think this year whenever we have been doing solid weekends like we did in Russia we have been in a very strong position to score points. Those first three races at the beginning of the season and those first three races in the second half of the season that put us a bit on the back foot but hopefully after Sochi we are back to scoring points. I didn’t know that stat, that 50th points scoring, but it would be a nice thing to do here in Suzuka.
Q: You talk about some races that put you on the back foot. Well, you’ve already scored 66 points this year, which is more than any others season in your Formula 1 career. How much satisfaction does that give you? CS: Yeah, it’s quite a lot of satisfaction obviously because we didn’t know coming into the year more or less where we were going to be so scoring so many points, seeing the hard work of the tea, paying off and putting together, whenever we’re in the points, solid points finishes – P6s, P7s, P5s. It’s really good news. We’re still very far from where we want to be. We want to make good progress in the next couple of years but at least this year we made a very big step forward and that’s a good starting point.
Q: You say you want to make progress, well in 2021 McLaren are going to be using Mercedes power units. Your thoughts on that deal? CS: Obviously it’s a deal for the future. At the moment we are focused on our relationship with Renault, which honestly has helped us a lot – to realize our own problems and to realize where we need to work the most, thanks to last year’s competitiveness with Renault and Red Bull we could judge our package better thanks to that engine and thanks to the progress Renault has done on this year’s power unit we are actually scoring a lot of points. The Mercedes deal is part of the plan, to our road to recovery, let’s put it like that, and hopefully that will also give us another good step.
Q: Charles, thank you for waiting. You’re top scorer in the last four races. How confident are you of Ferrari’s performance this weekend? Charles Lelerc: Yeah, it’s working pretty well since we came back from holidays. The car feels great. We’ve had, I think, four poles in a row, which is always nice. The last two races have been a bit… not what I expected, but the performance is there, which is the most important, and there are no reasons for us not to be competitive this weekend. So, yeah, we’ll see how it goes. I think we need to focus on the Friday especially. Saturday seems to be very tricky, if not impossible to drive, so Friday will be very important. And I hope we can have a very positive Sunday.
Q: You say the last couple of races have been a bit tricky, obviously Russia didn’t go as smoothly as you would have hoped. How were your discussions with the team and with Sebastian after the race? CL: Yeah, obviously there was some misunderstanding from the car but I think we’ve had a discussion and everything is clear now. Obviously it felt like it was a huge deal from the outside – which it definitely wasn’t but yeah, now everything is fine.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) George, on paper, the car on race results is where it was at the start of the year – but how much has the car improved? GR: It’s definitely improved a lot, just in the driveability side of things. So, from within, it’s definitely a nicer car to drive. It is obviously, always difficult to make huge leaps forward for any team but I think the foundations we have in place now are really positive going into next year. We’re trialling a new front wing this weekend, which shouldn’t necessarily bring much performance to this year’s car but should hopefully unlock quite a lot for us moving into 2020, so I’ve got faith we should be fighting. Probably towards the lower end of the midfield but hopefully in the mix much more than we are at the moment.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question for Charles Leclerc. Sorry to come back to the subject. Did you have talks with Mattia Binotto and Seb Vettel since last race in Russia. Did you go to Maranello when Seb was there? CL: No, unfortunately I had some things happening on the day he was in Maranello, so we didn’t have the chance to meet-up together – but I had a meeting with Mattia and he had one with Seb the day earlier. Yeah, everything is fine, as I’ve said.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To all five drivers please. At the moment we do have the topic of the typhoon that’s expected to hit the area on Saturday. Obviously the FIA and F1 are monitoring the situation – but just from a drivers’ perspective, you know what it’s like driving these cars and these tyres in the wet. How much rain do you really need where it’s a position where it’s unsafe for you to go on track? Do you want to be consulted when it comes to deciding whether it goes ahead on Saturday? NH: Yeah, I think we’ve seen in recent years that, in terms of rain, we don’t need too much for it to be unsafe. Especially when you throw wind in there as well. It gets, I think, pretty tricky. We can obviously debate a lot and discuss but I think we just have to wait and see what actually hits us and how bad it is, or not, and make the right call at the time. Obviously there’s a lot of fans here. We want to race; they want to see us drive. So, I think we need to try and make this weekend happen – but obviously we need to see what happens and we’re at the mercy of the weather there.
Q: Max? MV: I’ve got my speedboat on standby so I’m ready to go for Saturday.
Q: Max, would you like to see the drivers being consulted about the conditions? MV: Yeah, I guess so, but it’s going to be very clear anyway if it’s possible or not. At the moment, it doesn’t really look very likely on Saturday. Sunday looks fine. Yeah, let’s see.
Q: Charles? CL: Yeah, as Max said, I think it’s pretty clear if the typoon is going to come here there’s no way we can drive but off my previous experience – and I’ve only done one year and a half in Formula One but they’ve always been quite safe with the conditions. So yeah, they’ve always asked what we thought about the track once we’re in the car. So, yeah, happy. We will see.
Q: And Carlos? CS: Nothing to add. I have full trust in Michael and his team that we will run in safe conditions if we do so. Hockenheim is a good example. The first five laps of the race it was clearly a bit too wet and until the drivers there in the midfield, we didn’t say it was safe enough, it wasn’t clearly green flag. So, it’s not a problem for me.
Q: And George? GR: Not much to add. As the guys said, it will be pretty clear come Saturday what the situation will be. I think we can handle quite a lot of water. It’s just the standing puddles and the aquaplaning that is the biggest limitation for us. So, like Carlos said, I’m sure they’ll make the right decision.
Q: (Rik Spekenbrink – AD Sportwereld) Question for Max. If qualifying will be postponed until Sunday, how would that change your approach and routine towards qualifying and the race, and also for the team? MV: Bit more free time on Saturday and waking up a little bit earlier on a Sunday. I mean, we have done it before. From my side, I have experienced it once before, I think in Austin 2015? So, yeah, it is what it is. It doesn’t really affect me. CS: More FIFA! MV: Yeah, I brought it here, so if you want to have a game on Saturday. CS: Always up for it. MV: If you’re ready to lose… CS: Hmmm… we will see.
Q: (Giusto Ferronato – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Charles, at this point of the season what is more important for you: to help Ferrari to stay in front of Red Bull or stay in front of your teammate? CL: Well, I think as a team it’s always a priority to do good for the team but then as (in) every team, Seb wants to beat me, I want to beat him as much but yeah, the priority is to do good for the team which (is what) we all do.
Q: (Jake Michaels – ESPN) To the four guys who have driven here before: can you just describe what it’s like to drive this track, particularly the first sector, the difficulties and why it’s so enjoyable? CS: I think not only the first sector, I think the whole track just has a very good flow and a very good sequence of corners. I think the fact that the track also penalises mistakes in the first sector and maybe put a wheel wrong you have a chance of… not crashing but putting it in the gravel also makes the adrenalin and also the difficulty of the track a bit harsher. Because of that, I think many Formula One drivers we miss these kind of tracks. I wish, like in the future, we can go towards designing these kind of tracks instead of others where – and I’m not going to mention now – but yeah, I really like it, the fact that it’s also a bit narrower than the average track and in sector one makes it a bit more demanding. So it has a lot of things – elevation changes… a lot of things that make it really special. CL: The first sector, I absolutely love it. As Carlos said, you can’t make any mistakes and the fact that you need to be so precise in every corner otherwise you are late for the other and you lose quite a lot of lap time makes it quite challenging for us. I really enjoy driving here. MV: Yeah, good flow. Yeah, it’s the first sector, right, that you wanted to know (about). We were actually talking about the first sector. Really good combination of corners, especially in qualifying on low fuel it’s really enjoyable. Of course it’s more enjoyable if you have a good car balance as well but I’m counting on that. It’s always good to be here, it’s one of my favourite tracks. Is that good enough? NH: Yeah, it’s just very quick and dynamic and everything that these guys have said. It’s a very good package as a track.
Q: (Jens Nagler – Bild) Nico, you have had a pretty good run since the summer break, closing up to your teammate points-wise, but still no drive for next year. Is there any scenario you can think of that doesn’t see you in a race car next year? What are the options? NH: Pizza baker? No. You mean in Formula One or in general? General. I guess there is that scenario but to be honest, if it wasn’t to continue here, after that, honestly I haven’t given (it) that much thought. I think, also for me personally, I would take some time to get clarity over what I want, find a new challenge. Of course I will be in some racing car again in the future because that’s what I love doing, it’s my passion so I think only time will tell what happens then.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Charles, you said everything’s clear now between you and the team and Sebastian. What exactly is clear? How do you all have to behave in those situations in the future? Do you have to obey team orders as didn’t happen in Russia? How’s it going to work? CL: Yeah, I think that’s clear from the beginning of the season, we need to obey team orders and what is clear is that the situation wasn’t clear for both of the drivers, starting the race, and I think that’s the most important (thing). So we spoke about it and we’ll make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again in the future.
Q: (Julien Biliotte – AutoHebdo) Max, you sounded disappointed if not resigned after Sochi. How much more patient are you willing to be with Red Bull Honda before looking at other opportunities to find a championship-winning car? MV: I was not really disappointed but I was also, of course, not very happy but I think that’s pretty normal when… for me it was a pretty boring race, you know. I think you will always sound happier when you win or you have a really exciting race and you finish on the podium and of course maybe the last few races they have not been our strongest but I believe we can do better and we are working very hard of course to make that happen but I think it would be wrong if I would come out of the race in Sochi and be very happy to the cameras, so we just keep pushing very hard and for the future, I don’t know. I’m not too worried about it, I just want to win and I will do my very best all the time and so is the team trying to do so. Yeah, let’s see.