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Bahrain GP: Friday Drivers Press Conference

Today’s press conference featuring all twenty drivers.

Group 1: Guanyu Zhou, Charles Leclerc, Mick Schumacher, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen.

Q: Let’s start with the reigning world champion. Max, testing went well, just how confident are you coming into the new season?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, I do think testing did go well. It’s still a bit unclear where we are exactly. Of course on the final day we had an upgrade on the car and that seemed to give us a bit more lap time. Of course I was happy with that, but it’s not the race weekend yet and we will find out in qualifying where we are.

Q: Just what are your goals for the weekend ahead?
MV: Of course, try to be ahead. We’ll find out. I don’t know at the moment.

Q: Let’s go to our rookie now. Zhou, welcome. How do you feel coming into your first race weekend in Formula 1?
Guanyu Zhou: To be honest it feels quite fresh. Of course it’s the first time, FP1 seems to be not that new for me anymore after the experience I had last season, but overall, all this format, everything is completely new for me but to be honest it was definitely nice to be testing here in T2 here in Bahrain just to get familiar with everything. I am feeling quite ready for the first race weekend but of course there is plenty of stuff for me to digest inside myself to be more ready but I think that just takes a bit of time but overall I am quite happy with how everything went last weekend and the feeling of putting everything together for this weekend.

Q: Charles, is this the best pre-season you have had at Ferrari?
Charles Leclerc: Well, the ones where we have had the least problems for sure, but the smoothest one, for sure too. But then again I don’t want to say it’s our best because then people will straight away come to the conclusion that we are ahead of everyone and it’s not the case. I think we are a bit behind Red Bull. But in terms of smoothness and amount of laps, it definitely is. It has been a very smooth test with a lot of laps, everything that we wanted to test we did, so it’s great.

Q: Mick, how confident do you feel coming into your second season in Formula 1?
Mick Schumacher: Yeah, I think we can say I feel comfortable, I feel confident. Obviously testing went alright, maybe not great but alright. I think we are on the verge of being better than last and that’s what we are aiming for and hopefully we will be able to show that on track here.

Q: Lando, it seemed to be a slightly frustrating test for McLaren last week. What did you learn and how confident are you guys coming into the race?
Lando Norris: We learned a decent amount. Definitely not as much as we wanted to coming into the first race of the year but still in a decent place. I think what makes it tough and what makes it almost worse than previous years is it is looking probably a bit tighter in the midfield than what it has potentially been over the past couple of years. So, therefore you want to be able to have all the information possible and be on top of everything, which we are not 100% on top of coming into this race. We will do our best and we definitely have a few things to work on and few things to make sure they work in the first place and we’ll go from there. Some things I am confident with and other things maybe not so much.

Questions From The Floor

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Just regarding the ongoing g threat of COVID-19, in some countries, including the UK it is your choice whether you go into work or not, even if you tests positive. Do you think there will come a point where if a driver has an asymptomatic positive or low symptoms that a driver should be allowed to race, bearing mind two of you tested positive in the last week and it could have a big impact on the title fight?
CL: It’s a tricky question. As things are at the moment obviously it’s impossible to do that because in some places we cannot race having COVID. Then, for sure, if there are some places where we will be able to race with COVID then things might change. But yeah, the way things are at the moment I definitely wouldn’t do that.

MS: I think it’s a quite difficult question to answer really. Personally, I think it shouldn’t be the case just because COVID is still apparent and people still have very hard symptoms with it, although maybe Omicron is a bit easier to deal with, and there are still people that are at risk, so I don’t want to be the person who puts those people at risk because I want to race. I think we have to think globally and we have to try to get it under control and by doing that I think we should minimise the contact with people who are positive.

MV: I mean that naturally as a driver you always want to race and you would say ‘yes, we should be allowed to race’ but I think you should also ask a medical expert about it, what is allowed and what isn’t and then work together with the FIA to see what’s possible and what is allowed in the future, but at the moment it’s a bit difficult to tell.

LN: Nothing further.

GZ: Well, yeah, they covered pretty much everything. You just have to be really on top of yourself and staying always with mask, to do our job right. The others are up to… It’s not my position to discuss or say anything.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) Question to all the drivers, please. Tomorrow, the FIA World Motorsport Council meets for the first time this year. One of the items up for discussion is the report into the events in Abu Dhabi. What are your expectations? Would you like to see the full report, the full outcome of the investigation?
MV: I don’t think we need a full report. Of course, always, every year it’s good to discuss what happened in the year before and what you can do better as that’s what teams do as well, right? You always analyse everything you do. We will find out and if things can be written down in an easier way or in a way to understand it better, the wording, then for sure, but let’s see.

LN: I don’t mind seeing them or not. As long as there is a good result and a positive result going forward, then I will be happy.

CL: I think it is really important to have that transparency and for us to be able to see it. Whether I will read it, I don’t think so, it will be probably too long, but it is important to at least have the big lines and know what is the conclusion of it, in order to grow from it and to maybe manage those situations better in the future.

MS: I think that probably… that’s in the past. It’s good to know the results and analysis but essentially we have to look to the future and obviously try to not repeat something like it.

GZ: Nothing to add. I wasn’t in that race and that’s it.

Q: (Masahiro Owari – Formula Owari) Max, Honda officially left Formula 1 at the end of last year and this year is there any difference in your relationship with Honda?
MV: They might be a little less visible but at the end of the day not a lot has changed luckily, so I am just looking forward to starting the season where we left off, but of course trying to become better. They are still with us so that’s good.

Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Yesterday, Red Bull showed us a first glimpse of Red Bull Powertrains. What’s your first impression of the project and of the facilities so far and secondly, continuing on Honda a bit, what’s your impression of the 2022 engine, which is still produced by Honda?
MV: Yeah, the facility looks really good and of course I know about the plans and stuff, and what’s coming, so it all looks very promising. And the engine for this year, yeah we made a nice step forward but we have to wait and see what the other teams did as well. From our side I think we did the best we could but it’s never good enough, right? So you have to try to keep improving and trying to find more performance. So that’s what we will try to do from our side.

Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) A question for Lando. How confident are you in the brake modifications that have been brought this weekend and how high is the risk a race of extreme containment of the brake temperatures or even worse, where you can’t get to the end?
LN: We’ll see in a few hours’ time. The team done an excellent job in trying to get as many parts here as possible, things to fix those issues and those problems. But to a certain extent we don’t know how well they are going to work. We literally have to put the parts on the car and go out and drive with them for the first time to understand just how good they are, whether it’s enough or too much. Obviously preferably on the side of too much and we come back and make modifications from there. There could be a chance of either. It could be a perfect race where there are no issues and of course that’s an ideal world and there could be a race where we still have to manage many things. Personally and for the whole team we don’t really know yet and we will have to see when we go out on track.

Q: (Andrew Dunn – Daily Mirror) Question for Max. You are world champion but considering the controversy of how it was won, do you still go into this season thinking you’ve got a point to prove?
MV: No, I proved that with the most wins and most pole and most laps led. People forget that. They only look at Abu Dhabi apparently but we have more races than Abu Dhabi in a season.

Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Max, Mercedes through pre-season they have been talking down their form quite a bit, Given what you have looked at over the past week or so with the Red Bull engineers, where do you expect them to be? Do you think they were sandbagging through pre-season testing?
MV: I think they will be dead last. According to their comments they have an awful and they’ve had that already since 2017 in pre-season testing. We will find out. I don’t know, but for sure they will be competitive.

Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Max, you mentioned most wins and most pole last season. Do you think you can step it up another level this year from your performances last year?
MV: If you look at last season, even during that season I think yeah, we could have had more wins and more poles even but you need a really competitive car to be able to do that, so it’s going to be really difficult to do something like that again. Of course you always try to do better so I hope if we have a very competitive car again that we can reach something similar.

Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Obviously Sebastian Vettel is out with COVID at the moment. I was just wondering if we should start putting in dropping a score if you have COVID or something like that. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, is it something you might be interested in moving forward?
LN: No.

MV: That’s also part of racing in a way. Unfortunately. I think the most important that he feels well, right? Who cares about this race at the end of the day. It’s about that he feels well.

MS: I don’t understand the question properly I guess. Drop out of points, reduction of points if you miss a race? Oh OK, so you can decide if you want to lose a race or not. No, we had that in the past in junior categories and honestly it wasn’t great. As everybody else said, no, I guess. It can stay as it is.

CL: I wouldn’t want this.

GZ: No, definitely not dropping scores.

Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD Sportwereld) F1 loves to present this year as the start of the new era. Does it already feel like a new era and if you leave the new car out of the picture, what will be the biggest change you expect this season?
CL: Yeah, well, it feels quite a bit different compared to last year. Whether it feels like a new era, I don’t know. We will have to see how much closer we can race. I saw some benefits already from testing but we will have to see in a proper race how much we can race closer. But the weight, for me, of the car changes massively and it is something that I really feel, especially on a track like this with the slow-speed corners. You really need to change your driving style. So the cars are very different and hopefully better for the racing, but this will have to wait.

MS: I guess you see the cars are new so it feels like a new era but I guess in terms of driving and stuff, as Charles just said, there is still stuff we will learn across this year. I think hopefully if we get to fight closer that will obviously be great and hopefully the teams will stay closer or as close as they were in testing now.

MV: I think it’s mainly tyres and weight but luckily the cars also quite quick and it will definitely be a bit different from track to track, in terms of how competitive we are going to be compared to last year. On the other hand there is also not a big shock. It is still a Formula 1 car with a lot of downforce and it is still nice to drive.

LN: Max said it will, tyres and weight and everything is the biggest change. Apart from that it feels like a fresh start, there are so many new things around, things you have to work with. In terms of racing, probably we’re going to be racing against Mick a bit more this year. I’m sure that will be a good thing for him. Haas are looking strong, so we are probably racing a few more cars, which is just going to make it more entertaining and tougher for everyone else.

Q: Zhou we will come to you in a second, but Mick, do you think you will be racing people like Lando this year?
MS: We will see.

Q: You’re not going to commit! Zhou, it’s definitely a new era for you?
GZ: Yeah, exactly. For me everything is pretty new but of course with the new era you do feel the change of the weight and the way you have to adapt a little bit your driving style compared to what I have driven in the past with the different Formula 1 cars and of course many teams are suffering with this bouncing issue, since everybody felt it. It’s quite surprising for us to feel it. It was getting better and better and we are finding the right solution for it, but there is plenty of stuff you have to be adapting to and like Lando says, all the teams after testing our speed is very similar. Of course there are a few teams that are a little bit quicker than the rest but it feels like the mid-[ack is a little bit closer than it was last year for sure.

Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) For all drivers. After these days of testing, can you explain what’s the biggest challenge or issue you face with the new car? And can you tell me how many race weekends you need to get 100 per cent comfortable.
GZ: Well, for me it was of course the mileage limitation in Barcelona was affecting us as a team, a lot but then we had a big step-up in Bahrain so it much better with upgrades, all of that involved with the car. In terms of feeling, as I mentioned before, the bouncing was something I never experienced in the past and very new for all of us. I think the challenge for all of us as a team is going to be trying to reduce that, in terms of going more towards the ultimate performance of the car. That’s the biggest challenge of the year.

Q: And how many race weekends until you’re fully at ease with the car?
GZ: Hopefully already at ease – but yeah, we have to say, it’s quite a bit of difference whether you have DRS on or off, and if one is behind a slipstream or not, but I’m sure I’m sure we’ll figure it out. I won’t say how many races but yeah.

LN: Biggest challenges I think, still some of the unknowns with the racing, Like Zhou said, what the slipstream is going to be like, how the DRS it going to work in the slipstream. Size, the lack of visibility in the cars this year comparing to last year and so on. So racing, and knowing where the front wing is an everything. It’s going to be slightly different. Probably the race on Sunday is going to be the first time we really get to experience all of those things… but also with this car and how it works, the characteristics of it. There’s many different tracks where it’s going to feel very different, so until we get to Monaco, or Singapore, the street circuits, we’re not going to be able to learn anything or know what to expect too much, until we get there. In terms of being on top of the car, it’s hard to say just yet and it could be a few races, it could be many more races. Because things are going to be changing. There’s many new things which are going to come in future races. Things you can’t necessarily prepare for in Bahrain, in Barcelona, so early on.

MV: Lando explained that very well.

MS: Every team seems to have their little issues here and there. I think it’s a matter of probably a few races in that we’ll need to really sort these out – but I guess there are some fundamental problems right now, which are obviously bouncing, which I expect to be part of this season across. I guess there is still something to be worked on and I’m sure that teams are working on it quite hard for next year. Generally, I guess that I wouldn’t know how many races we’ll need for the other problems, but definitely bouncing will stay.

CL: yeah, definitely bouncing will be the biggest challenge, especially for the race. It depends a lot on the conditions also, from where the wind is coming from, we might have some, and the race is quite long, so yeah, it’s going to be pretty bumpy. Then, how many races we need to adapt to those cars. With Ferrari, we’ve had a bit of a different approach this year, staying with the same car from the first test to the second test, which helped us to know the package very well, so hopefully it will give us a bit of an advantage at the beginning. And then for us drivers, I think we’ll all be quite quick to adapt to those new cars.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Another question to all five. Now you’re living it, how are you finding the weekend timetable change, with doing all of your media stuff before FP1, bearing in mind, at races that are not night races, like the European ones, it might mean a few early starts for you all. Thanks
CL: It’s the first race of the season, so I’ve been pretty busy yesterday, so it didn’t change much for me now.

MS: I guess as you just said, it will probably make some days earlier and unfortunately the Thursday will be anyways packed with media. It is interesting. I guess it does help at times but yeah, we’ll find out across the season, if it’s any better or not.

Max, does it feel slightly odd being in this press conference just moments before you get in the car for FP1?
MV: No… but I was still on the track yesterday, so for me, nothing changes. So maybe we can ban coming to the track on the Thursday, and the team also doesn’t give me anything to do, because at the end of the day I’m still doing exactly the same – but you have to wake up actually earlier on a Friday morning. If it’s not going to change, can we please go back to the old schedule – because at least I can sleep in a bit more?

LN: I completely agree with Max.

GZ: For me, it’s a fresh start, so wake up early is not a big problem. I’ve experienced that in the past few years, we always were the first one on track, so that’s fine. Of course, it’s much more busy now, compared to my schedule in the past – but I’m OK with all of that.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365.com) To all the drivers, have you met the new race director Niels Wittich, and also, what do you think of the concept of alternating or rotating the race directors. Could that make for better or worse consistencies?
MV: I haven’t met him here in the paddock yet but I’m sure we will anyway during the drivers’ briefing. Let’s see. Let’s find out how it’s going to be. I’m positive that it’s going to be fine. I mean, they all have a lot of experience in racing, so as long as we are clear before we enter the race weekends, it shouldn’t be a problem.

LN: I met him yesterday briefly and of course we’ll meet him again in the drivers’ briefing later. Don’t know. Not too sure how it’s going to work just yet. Of course, if there’s consistency, that’s the main thing we want as drivers, then it doesn’t really matter how many how many people there are. As long as there is consistency through the season, I’ll be happy.

CL: Lando said it all. I haven’t met him yet but yeah, consistency is key and I’m pretty sure they are, they have organised themselves fully to work in that way. I’m not too concerned about this.

MS: I’m not sure, I think I have met him in my junior years, so I guess I have been working with him before but yeah, I guess, as everybody has said, it’s just about consistency and that every weekend is the same, basically, on the rules side.

GZ: I haven’t met him yet but he did sign my superlicence during the week! So that’s as close as I get to him so far, so yeah, I’m sure, apart from that, everything else will be OK.

Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Another one to Max. Multiple World Champions like Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, they expect you to feel less pressure, being a World Champion. You seem quite relaxed, to be honest, but how is it for you? Is the mindset any different to one year ago?
MV: The motivation is the same, or even more again, because you want to keep winning and you want to… you just want to be upfront, right? Especially after last year. But yeah, you do… as a little kid you always dream of, of course, trying to be a Formula 1 driver and hopefully one day you win a championship. But that’s achieved, that kind of pressure of wanting and needing to do that is gone… but you still want to win races and stuff. So, that’s what I’m here for.

Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport.com) Question is for Max. Max, at the end of last year, particularly in Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, you were perceived by some to be a bit more on the aggressive side of things when fighting with Lewis. Do you think that Lewis, over the winter, may have considered those fights with you and may come back this year also a bit more on the aggressive side? Just not to back down all the time?
MV: I don’t know. I mean, I guess you shouldn’t ask me that question.

Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Another question for Max. Is there a way that you motivated yourself over the winter, you being a World Champion, you coming in as a World Champion, it’s important to not let complacency set in. Did you do anything to increase your motivation so that complacency didn’t happen.
MV: I grew up like that, like that can’t happen. Because of… you know, when you are little, you do become lazy at some point. I mean, you still have to learn how to be a professional. So, my Dad made sure that didn’t happen.

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.




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