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Saudi Arabian GP: FIA Drivers Press Conference

NEWS STORY
25/03/2022

Today's official FIA press conference featuring all 20 drivers.

Group 1: Valtteri Bottas, George Russell, Lando Norris, Alex Albon and Lance Stroll

Valtteri, great result for you and Alfa Romeo in Bahrain. Just how much pleasure did that P6 give you?
Valtteri Bottas: [mic dropout] ... starting the season more or less on the right path, and that we have potential with the car. We have potential in the team, within the people. So yeah, it gives me a lot of courage and hope for the for the season ahead. So, yeah, really pleased with the end result at the end.

You say a lot of potential. Did the car's performance surprise you in any way?
VB: During the practice sessions last weekend, we saw that if we can get everything right, we should be able to fight for top 10. Actually, qualifying sixth was a bit of a positive surprise. In the race... it was not an easy start the race but then afterwards, what we achieved, obviously, with some bad luck from competitors, with the points that we had. Yeah, I think it was slightly beyond expectation, but it's a positive surprise.

Lance, let's come to you next. A slightly more difficult weekend for Aston Martin in Bahrain. What were the issues with the car?
Lance Stroll: Yeah, a few things are just trying to sort out. We have some ideas coming into this weekend, so look forward to see what we can do.

The car seemed much more competitive in race trim. Just tell us how the race unfolded for you.
LS: Yeah, we had a better day on Sunday. But, you know, I still think we have some work to do to catch up to some teams in front of us and you know, really be in a position to fight for some points.

Are you going to give us any more detail on what the issues are just around the lap?
LS: Like I said, it's a few things. We're on top of it. Let's see what we can do to try and sort some of those things out this week.

Okay. And it's another weekend view racing alongside Nico Hülkenberg. Just tell us a little bit about your relationship. How well you worked together in Bahrain.
LS: Yeah, it's been fun. You know, he's a nice guy, obviously. You know, feeling for Seb, I think he's been feeling pretty rough, so I wish him all the best and a speedy recovery.

George, let's come to you now. How would you sum up race one for you and for Mercedes last weekend?
George Russell: I think it was probably as we expected, obviously so many people thought we were sandbagging during testing and that would just turn up to race one and turn it up and be fighting for victories. But I think we all knew what our limitations were. Ultimately, we came away with a good result as a team. Probably not on merit with the pace of the car, but we say you gotta be in it to win it. So we'll definitely take that result and keep on working, keep on pushing and see what we can achieve this weekend.

In terms of your own performance, how did the weekend go? Is there more to come?
GR: I think there's always more to come, to be honest. I think the pace was fine, nothing spectacular. Generally looking fine in qualifying until Q3, made a bit of mistake from my side. But I think... for me personally, it feels at the moment in a similar position to what I found myself in the previous years that our competitors ahead of us are so far in front and we do have a bit of a buffer behind so can almost afford to take a few more risks to try to make up that gap. And you know, for me, I qualified ninth and we had the pace to be able to come back through the field and you know, back up to P5, P6, so we're in a bit of an intriguing spot right now, that we can try a few things, But I think ultimately, there's more to come from all of us: myself; Lewis; the whole team, and we just need to keep on working.

Alex, to you now, belated Happy Birthday. Hope you had a nice day.
Alex Albon: Thank you!

Now, what about your race debut for Williams in Bahrain? Were you pleased with progress?
AA: Yeah, I feel like actually, if you look at where we were during testing, especially during the Bahrain testing, we were a little bit on the backfoot. And to get... we got P13 I believe in the end, obviously, a few DNFs, but a little bit like George said, actually, for us, it was kind of the same story. We optimised what we had and I felt like, as a team, we did a great job to get the most out of the car. And we did a good job over the weekend.

How good is this car? What does the future hold, do you feel?
AA: I feel that we've got a good platform to work with. We know the weaknesses of the car and focus on addressing them. I think there's definitely going to be some circuits that suit us more than others. And obviously, it's trying to make those circuits... well, trying to be competitive in all styles and really get rid of the weaknesses. So, Bahrain was, we believe, was one of our weaker circuits. So, if we can fix that and address those issues, I think we'll be we'll be in a good place.

Well, what about this weekend? Very different track to Bahrain, isn't it?
AA: Yeah, it is. And I don't want to speak too soon in case, in case it's not there but I think, hopefully, we'll see how it goes, and we'll be fighting a bit more towards the mid-pack.

Lando, coming to you. It was a tough opening race for McLaren. No doubt. What were the main issues?
Lando Norris: Downforce. Just overall grip. It's quite a simple thing. Like there's quite a few times when the balance has been in a decent place. And if the balance is in a decent place, but you just slow then it's quite a simple thing of what you need. So there's not loads of problems, it's just one, I guess, one big problem, which is very costly in the world of Formula 1, because all you need is downforce and that's what we're struggling with a minute. So that's what we need to work on.

The programme back at the factory. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? When can you expect progress?
LN: There is, there is. It's not a not an easy thing to say exactly when, or the timescale or anything. but I have good faith that we've not come out strong and we've struggled a little bit, definitely, in the first race but there's hope and there's a good team back in MTC already working on a on a good plan to f put things back together. And I guess just try and understand everything on where it's gone wrong and what we've missed, and so on. And as soon as we figure that out, then then there is. James [Key, technical director] is working hard already and was already as soon as we f realised where we were standing compared to other teams, putting that plan in place of recovering and trying to get back to much higher positions.

Lando, is this the hardest start to a season that you've had during your time at McLaren?
LN: Yeah. II mean, it's, it's weird because we started off in... it's not weird it's just what confused us a little bit initially is the fact that we were a little bit stronger in Barcelona. And I think we just started off with a, I'd say, a decent car. We just didn't make a lot of progress, because it was a car which just went on to the track very well. And we understood how to optimise the car very quickly. But then we can make much further progress from there. And I think that's where all the other teams were able to take steps forward, continuing to find out about the car and make bigger steps. There was more hope after Barcelona but that slowly went away with time, when everyone else was able to find out more about the car and bring bigger upgrades and we could, then we took some steps back.

Questions From The Floor

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Lando, we've heard Aston Martin and Mercedes talk about having to run the car in compromised state because of porpoising. So there's potential performance there that just needs to be unlocked. But it sounds like from what you're saying that for the McLaren is more just has a lower ceiling in terms of performance at the moment. Is that a fair assessment of where you're at, and do you see any low-hanging fruit in being able to improve the cost performance in the short term?
LN: We've not struggled with porpoising, so I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. In some ways, there's advantages to having it in a way. And there's some disadvantages. So, it's not necessarily always a bad thing about having it. Some parts of having it mean, certain things are working well. So if that's the reason we don't have it, then that's obviously the bad thing. But we're also not struggling with the issue so we can optimise other areas of the car and gain in other areas, but we're just not getting anywhere near enough, the amount that we that we need. So no, I think there's good things. And I'm hoping that there will be certain tracks, more in line with Barcelona-esque, which is going to favour us a little bit more. I do think but Bahrain was on the tougher side and track, which was more towards the slower speed and so on. In the medium speed corners, we didn't struggle quite as much. So, I'm hoping this weekend can be slightly better. But I don't be too over-optimistic and say we're gonna have a great weekend when it could be pretty similar to last one.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing News 365) To the four on the right, are concerned about the Mercedes power unit versus Ferrari, for example, which was the only engine supplier that really made any progress through its teams? And do you think that this race will then be the acid test of power unit performance?
GR: I think there's always room to improve. But I think the Williams with a Mercedes power unit in the back was the fastest car on the straights, I believe, in Bahrain, or one of the fastest cars on the straights. So, I think there's, there's a number of reasons why we were we were struggling. I think we had more wing on compared to the Red Bull and the Ferrari, I think the porpoising issues aren't helping things either, because we're just crashing into the floor, as opposed to skating along the top of a surface. So, we'll have to wait and see, but I don't think it's necessarily purely down to the power unit.

LS: Yeah, I think we'll understand a lot more this weekend. Just nature of this circuit. Yeah, we'll have a much better idea.

AA: I think what George said applies to us as well. I mean, we've got to focus on ourselves first and foremost, I think that's really the main priority. We're clearly behind but also we're behind in the corners as well. We'll see where it comes out during the season but for now, at least, we just need to look close by and see what we can do better.

LN: George and Mercedes are our main guys to compare to from a Mercedes point of view, and they're a long way down the road from us. So, before we would ever start to complain about engine or anything, we need a much better car first.

Valtteri, can I just quickly bring you in on this? Have you been pleasantly surprised by the Ferrari power unit?
VB: I've been very happy with my Ferrari engine. It's been good to drive but honestly, they've made great progress from last year and we still keep working hard trying to optimise everything and hopefully there's eventually more to come but I think overall in a good place.

(Claire Cottingham - racefans.net) Question for George. Mercedes were six tenths off in Bahrain of pole position. I just wonder over the 23 races we've got this season, obviously, Bahrain already done and dusted, how quickly does that gap need to close for you to be realistically in with a chance of winning the Championship? And how, how much faith do you have that you will be?
GR: I think in Formula 1, things change incredibly quickly. We are very fortunate that the calendar is not, as I said before, it's not very dense at the start of this season. And even if it's a couple of months, we are only six or seven races down and out of a 23 race season. And even if you come out the blocks incredibly fast after the summer break, even as Mercedes and Lewis did last year, you're still in with a shot. So, we need to be in almost damage limitation mode at the moment, pick up the pieces, when there's an opportunity, don't throw away unnecessary points, even though it may just be for fifth or sixth or hopefully, a bit higher, and make sure we were within touching distance always. And then hopefully, when the car does improve, we can come back fighting. It's a very long season, I think we've all got confidence that if we do things right, there's no reason why we can't close the gap and potentially overtake - but we equally appreciate and recognise that Ferrari and Red Bull will continuously improve as well. So, we could close up by six-tenths; there's no reason why they can't extend by another six-tenths as well. So we need to play it by ear.

(Edd Straw - The Race) Question for Valtteri. You mentioned after the race in Bahrain, the clutch vibration problem at the starts that occurs about 50% of the time. How confident are you that that will be resolved for this weekend? And where's it arising from? Is it a consequence of having a very narrow window for the starts and trying to optimise it, but you end-up sometimes compromising yourself in that situation? What's setting it off?
VB: I think it's been one of the biggest priorities since the first race. And we saw already in testing, there's unfortunately, the no quick fix. I think the lead time is going to be - I don't know - maybe another one or two races, at least for a mechanical fix as such. But there's other things we are trying to try to look into, how we can avoid it, because like I said, like 50% of the starts, it happens. But how do we avoid it, you know, in terms of hold the revs, where you drop the clutch, or the driver inputs, trying to be as consistent as possible. So, we're working in all those areas to try and hopefully have clean starts for both cars and more consistent ones. So, that's where we're at at the moment, and we're working on it.

(Matt Kew - Autosport) Question for Lando. This is the first time since you've joined the team, and since Andreas Seidel joined the team that there maybe hasn't been an obvious stride forward at the start of the season. So given that, and people talking McLaren up in testing, has there been a noticeable dip in morale that you've observed in the team?
LN: You can't lie. There's always... if you have points and you have success and you have podiums, there's always a rise in morale. So, I don't think it's got worse, I think there's expectations, of course, and we want to... as just racing people... we want to have success and do well. We're never going to be as happy P16. compared to if we were P8 or P7 or whatever. So, there's always just a little bit of our happiness gone. But at the same time, I think the key thing is everyone's still very motivated. Like George said, there's still such a long season to go. And, and even if it is two months of struggling, or six, seven, eight races of struggling, I think everyone's quite confident and just motivated within themselves and with other people, that we can make good progress again, and get back to where we should be. So yeah, I don't think we can be happy with where we are. I think that's the point of what I'm trying to say: we can't be happy, and therefore we're not but the important thing is we're all motivated still to get back to where we know we should be.

(Jon Noble - motorsport.com) To all of you. Formula 2 are testing some video screens on the entry to some of the fast kinks here that offer footage of that the corner exit. Is it happening for Formula 1, and do you think it'd be a good solution for helping visibility during the race? Or could it be a distraction?
GR: We'll have to test that and see, and we'll only get the feedback once we go out there. Sometimes solutions like this work really well; sometimes not so well. We know the difficulties of visibility on a circuit like this. And I think the more the FIA can do to help us is only going to be beneficial. So, I can't comment quite at this moment but it could be quite an intriguing implementation and if it works we'll potentially see it in Baku, Monaco, Singapore maybe and it reduces the danger, risk and improves safety for all of us, then why not?

LN: Yeah, George said it well. I think we have to kind of just wait and see. It's such a quick section - it isn't like you have a lot of time to look at a TV screen and see what's going on. But we'll see, and if it is good then I'm sure we're trying to implement it more through the rest of the season.

(Jerome Pugmire - AP) Since we're limited for time, I'll ask Valtteri and George. Lewis said that, in the last race that drivers should use their platforms to raise awareness on ongoing human rights issues. Two weeks ago here, there was the biggest mass execution in Saudi Arabian modern history, of 81 people. I just want to ask your reaction to that and if you feel comfortable racing here?
VB: I think the fact is that as drivers, it almost feels like we didn't really have a choice where we race. If we could choose places, maybe we would change the calendar a bit. But we love what we do and I love racing, and we're here to get points. I think we end up going to places and trusting Formula 1, that it is appropriate. And, of course, Formula 1, the big thing is to try to raise the issues, and bring the awareness and go to places and try and do something positive than negative. Already, from last year, I can see a bit of a change in the country. And I've met a couple of local people. And you know, they're all really hyped about Formula 1, so I think it creates positive things in a way. But for the things that is going on behind the scenes, I'm not fully aware of all of those. So yeah, I don't really want to say too much, I just hope that we have positive impact. That's what I'm... I really hope so. Yeah. And I race, wherever if that means I can get points because I'm a driver.

GR: I think it's clearly concerning to see what is going on in some of these places but I do hope that racing in some of these countries, it does raise awareness, and we can have a positive impact. And I think if Formula One can look back in 15, 20, 30, 40 years' time, and see that the impact of our sport has had a positive change on society in some of these countries we're going to, that's something we should all be incredibly proud about. So, I think you can't ignore these facts. I just hope that with our platform, we are raising the right awareness and we can have a positive change in the long run.

(Christian Menath - motorsport-magazin.com) So George, you're probably the best one to answer from GPDA perspective. There have been a few concerns about safety in the past. I think you called it 'unnecessarily dangerous' because of the visibility. This year, the cars are pretty different to drive, especially with the bouncing. Do you think this track could be a dangerous one for this generation of Formula 1 cars?
GR: We have to wait and see. I mean, some teams are experiencing more issues with the porpoising than others. For us last week in Bahrain, it was definitely not pleasant down the straights. The difference here is, there are no straights. The straights are bends and if we experience that, that may be quite... we could find ourselves in a dangerous situation. But we have to wait and see. I can't look into the future. For sure, with these bigger wheels and with the wheel arches, our visibility has reduced, it will be our first street circuit and I think it will be intriguing to hear from all the drivers to see how we get on with the visibility. Some corners are worse than others. It's generally the tighter corners where the bigger wheels are having a negative impact for the visibility. It may not be such an issue here but perhaps when we go to Monaco, Singapore, it will be. So, we have to we have to wait and see.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing News 365) Lando, your team has changed from the Japanese Akebono brakes to AP, I believed. Do you notice much feel? Could this also be part of the issue?
LN: No, it's not the issue. We just need to go around the corners quicker. We don't need to try and brake any later at the minute. We'll be able to brake later when we have more downforce is just as simple as that, really. So, there are some changes, some different fuel changes and so on, but it's got nothing to do with our pace loss and where we're struggling at the minute.

Check out our Friday gallery from Jeddah, here.

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