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Spanish GP: FIA Drivers Press Conference


Today's press conference featuring all twenty drivers competing in the Pirelli Gran Premio de Espana.

Group 1: Charles Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas, Mick Schumacher, Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso.

Valtteri, we'll start with you. Before we come on to the racing, you've already just got back from America. Tell us what you've been doing after Miami.
Valtteri Bottas: I think it's already a couple of days ago, I came back. I was planning to come back earlier. But bit of issues with the travels. But yeah, stayed in the US. I love Colorado. So again, just exploring a bit more that area and yeah, had a good week.

Now let's, let's bring it on to performance. You didn't get many laps at this racetrack during pre-season testing. Does that put you at a disadvantage to those that did?
VB: For sure, would love to have more laps in the first test but. you know, every team, every driver has been here for so many times. So I think we got some data from the test. And anyway, I feel like the cars are quite different already now than in the first test, at least in our team. So, no big concerns. I think the main thing for this weekend is to prove that the upgrades we have worked well. And we go from there.

In what areas of performance do you need to feel more performance from the Alfa?
VB: We still need better stability in high-speed corners, which is going to be a good test here because of the entry into Turn Nine. But also, the reliability is not still where it should be. So, hopefully we can have a nice and clean weekend and without any issues. That will be good.

Let's come on to the hometown hero now. Fernando Alonso. Fernando was back in Barcelona. It's a full house this weekend. Just how excited are you to be racing?
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, it is great. Obviously we have only one opportunity in the year to race at home so ready to maximise it and enjoy every single minute of the weekend. Hopefully we put a clean weekend on our side, Friday Saturday and Sunday with not too many issues and we can score points finally.

What does maximising the weekend mean for you and Alpine at the minute?
FA: Well, at the moment we have been quite fast on Friday and Saturdays but then on Sunday we - for different reasons - our own mistakes, reliability, bad luck, whatever, we didn't score as many points as we wanted. So, we want to change this year from Barcelona and have a good run on consecutive races in the points from now on.

You've been having a bit of fun since Miami as well. Tell us what you've been up to, specifically with Aleix Espargaro.
FA: Well, with both Aprilia guys. Last Tuesday, we had some fun on my hometown in Oviedo, on my circuit. And they came to visit us, together with Castrol, our sponsor. I was riding some mini bikes and they were running also with us and then go-karts and Clios, so it was a fun day.

Now talking of doing something different Mick Schumacher, you certainly did something different after Miami. How was the NASCAR?
Mick Schumacher: Yeah, quite different, actually. I mean, first time I was a passenger. It felt quite scary going through the banking. As it was, I was thinking we're gonna slip down but it was actually fine. And then yeah, I got to drive myself. I was impressed about how much grip you have on the oval itself. But the car just doesn't stop. It feels like they're no brakes. You push as hard as you want, but the car doesn't stop. So yeah, we had a good time. Good to feel something different, good to do something different, so very much thank you for that.

Let's talk about the Miami Grand Prix. Now it was a painful end to your race there. Having watched the incident with Sebastian Vettel back on television. What conclusions have you drawn?
MS: Yeah, well, obviously, I think everything got a bit heated in that situation, for different reasons. And with Sebastian, we spoke about it afterwards. I think we all concluded that, we all could have done something different, something better. You know, it's unfortunate. Obviously, I think we were all in the points of that time. Yeah, hopefully on to better race this weekend.

Well, let's bring it on to this weekend. You had limited running here in pre-season testing. You've got no updates on the car this weekend. Are you expecting a tough one?
MS: No, I don't think so. I mean, the car has so much potential, still to be exploited. I think that we'll keep focusing on that. Some teams do bring updates, but you never know if they work or not. So, that's also a factor. I think that we're okay. And I'm just excited to get out there.

Charles, coming to you. We're talking upgrades. Ferrari have got some this weekend, what are you expecting from them?
Charles Leclerc: Well, hopefully it will be good ones and enough to be in front of Red Bull again. It's been close since the beginning of the season. And every time they've brought upgrades, they, in the first part, came closer and closer and now I think are a bit in front, especially in terms of race pace. So, I hope it will be enough for us to jump back in front.

Where's the focus? Is it straight-line speed at the minute?
CL: A little bit of everything. Obviously straight-line speed, I think also slow-speed corners, they seemed to be very strong in Miami in slow-speed corners. So, a little bit of this, of both of these areas.

And Charles, Ferrari had a very successful pre-season test here at Barcelona, given that you're running the upgrades as well how confident are you coming into the weekend?
CL: To be honest, I don't know how much it means that we had good winter testing here because it was a long time ago and already from that moment to now, all the teams have done quite a big step forward. I'm pretty sure that we'll see all the steps forward from this weekend onwards, because of the upgrades. So, I think it will be all down to how much we'll improve the car with what we put on the car this weekend. And how much Red Bull will improve the car with... if they have anything new on the car for this weekend. But I don't think that is going to be a massive difference to what we've seen since the beginning of the season. It has been very close and I hope it will remain the same, but hopefully we will just have the edge for here.

Charles, one final one for me. You've driven two 1970s Ferraris in recent weeks. Niki Lauda's 1974 car at the Monaco Historic last weekend, and then of course, Gilles Villeneuve's '79 car a couple of weeks ago. Which one do you prefer?
CL: Well, Niki's one was amazing, until the failure where it was a bit less amazing there. But to be honest, the one of Gilles, that I that I drove, I had the museum tyres, so I couldn't push at all: they were very, very old tyres. It was difficult to go over 100kph, so I had a lot more fun into Niki's car.

Sergio, can we start by talking about Miami, you finished fourth but of course, you were nursing that technical issue. Without that, do you think you could have challenged and maybe beaten Carlos Sainz, and got on the podium?
Sergio Perez: Yeah, I certainly believe that we had the pace to do so, especially at the end with the when we went for the new tyres, which, by the way, had such a deficit on the straight-line speed that it was really hard to get Carlos and I had to go for it when I had a small opportunity. And I just went deep into it, into Turn One. But I think, definitely without the issue, we could have done a double podium. And it was a shame that it cost us a lot of points, but on the other hand was good that we were able to finish the race because at some point it look really, really bad.

How concerned are you about these lingering reliability issues?
SP: Well, they have... we've lost a lot of points already in these first races with reliability. So, I really hope that we are able to sort them out because, if this keeps happening during the weekend, if we're not able to do all the miles through a weekend, they become very costly. They are able to compromise your weekend. So, we are working really hard and we believe that we are in a good position now.

And Checo, how concerned are you about the upgrades that Ferrari are bringing this weekend and the potential pace that they may have?
SP: They're gonna be strong, we know. And it will be interesting to see how much of a step they're able to take. It's a very long season. And we will just keep, keep pushing.

Questions From The Floor

(Adam Cooper - Question for all of you. Carlos said yesterday, he's concerned about long-term back and neck issues because of the bouncing and generally stiffer suspensions of these cars. He wants to start a debate with F1 and the FIA on it. Any thoughts on that subject? Are you having issues?
SP: I don't particularly have any issues, but certainly, by all the teams, by pushing the cars and pushing the aero, it becomes a problem. We all want to have more load in the car, but then there's a compromise that you have to make, by not having too much porpoising in it. So, at the moment, I think it's really up to the driver and team to decide how much you push it. Or how much you can take with you. But I don't think it's a big concern for us.

Charles, you're driving the same car as Carlos, how much of an issue is it for you?
CL: Yeah, I think I think it also depends on drivers, because Carlos seems to be a bit more sensitive to it, compared to me, where I don't struggle as much - but I definitely agree with him, that it should be something that shouldn't happen with those cars. We got better with it but there are some teams that are still struggling with it much more than we do, but for them, I cannot speak. Looking at onboards, some cars look much worse than others. We were definitely on the bad side at the beginning of the year. We got better, but still, it's definitely something that we should look at.

MS: Yeah, I think I agree with everything said. Personally, I don't have a problem with it but also, I think that we as a sport shouldn't have to deal with that issue. I think the car should be well-engineered to not have that problem. And I'm sure that for the future, we won't have it. Just because now we know that it kind-of created it. I'm pretty sure we'll fix it.

FA: Yeah, more or the same thing. We don't suffer much of that effect. So, for us it's good. But we are aware that other teams, maybe they have bigger problems, and they will fix it for sure.

VB: Not much to add. I think it's always a compromise, know how, much you're willing to take. But it seems to be a common issue. Some teams more. I think we're not one of the worst ones. It's been reasonable for now. And I think my back is already destroyed since 2015. So I don't know if it makes any difference!

(Matt Kew - Autosport) Question to Fernando. You said in a recent interview that you don't have an immediate desire to go and do the Indy 500 again. Does that mean your triple crown ambition is over? What's changed your mind? And maybe most importantly, what would change your mind so you would go back and do that event?
FA: Well, I will see, when the time arrives. At the moment, sometimes have to answer questions about what I will do in three or four years' time, and if I will go back to Indy. Right now, you know, before the Spanish Grand Prix, or Miami, or whatever, my head obviously is totally focused on the race weekend and Formula 1 right now. And I see myself racing here for a few more years. And after that, I don't know. I cannot say yes, I cannot say no to the Indy 500. What is for sure is that now, it is not in my head because I'm fully focused here. So that probably was the answer.

(Jesus Balseiro - Diario AS) Question to Fernando, you lost some points in Miami because of a second penalty. And you can comment after that. What do you think about that penalty?
FA: Well, it was unfair. Or, we believe that it was very unfair. It was just incompetence from the stewards. They were not very professional, I think, in Miami. I missed one corner, and then I gave back the time on the lap - but obviously, after you miss one corner, there is the sector time, just after that corner. So they saw the pink colour, and yeah, they took the decision without asking any proofs. So we arrive after the race with all the proofs, and all the time back that we gave, and they were just packing up. They were not even in the room. So here, we came there, we show them all the data. So they said 'give us five minutes'. And then they found themselves with the hands tied, probably because they issue already the penalty. And they didn't know how to get back from that document. So it was it was very bad. And honestly, I mean, it's already the past, but it is something that should not happen in in Formula 1, you know, with professionalism, and the standards that Formula 1 has right now.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Fernando, to follow up on that, the FIA has done a lot this year to restructure its stewarding process and with the Race Control operations. Have you seen an improvement year on year compared to what we had last year...
FA: Not.

... You still feel there are issues that need to be fixed?
FA: We saw a couple of things already that proves that we still need to improve a lot. Racing is... I mean, you need to have some knowledge about racing, before being a Race Director, or try to monitor a race. And I don't think that that knowledge is in place at the moment. So I know there is a new Race Director here, I think Freitas has a lot more experience, with WEC and with all the categories, I think, at the top level, and I think that will already improve things. But yeah, he was not... I mean, even the accidents that we had in Miami, you know, with Carlos and Esteban. We pushed to have some barriers there and some tyres or TecPro, whatever, and no-one did anything. So, when you don't have that knowledge of racing, it's difficult to talk.

(Samarth Kannal - Charles, yesterday, Carlos said that he didn't want to take the risk of driving a historic F1 car, because you have Championship-contending machinery. Do you feel the same - and maybe has it changed your mind now?
CL: No, it doesn't. Because to be honest, before that, I think all the checks that had to be done, was done. Obviously there was a shakedown of this car the Thursday before. The failure that happened was on a screw of the brake pads. And it's impossible to know. Then, of course, fighting for a Championship like this, I'll think twice before doing it again in the future. But yeah, it's also part of our job. And sometimes we need to go into those cars. And it's always also an honour for me, I'm very happy and very proud to be driving those cars. And always a pleasure too - but yeah, it's always a balance you need to find, and of course, when you're fighting for the Championship... but just overall, to be honest, because it's for safety in general. I had a lot of fun. And this was unfortunate. But again, it was just unlucky.

(Claire Cottingham - Race Fans) Fernando, another question for you. Are you worried that safety is being compromised now? You mentioned obviously, nothing was changed after Carlos and Esteban's crash? So, is there a concern for safety if you're out there racing?
FA: No, I don't think so. I think safety has been good, and probably this year we have the safest cars you know and circuits and everything... environment is very safe now in Formula 1. So, we just need to keep improving. We are the only one driving the cars and feeling the crashes and things like that in our bodies. So, when we feel something that is needed. I think we should be listened to. In Miami, or some other examples, we didn't have that because it seems that the focus is in another place.

(Carlos Miquel - Marca) Fernando, maybe 20 Spanish Grand Prix for you - or something - 21... 23 for me, OK! Do you feel the same fever on Sunday when you hear the people and all the people is with you?
FA: Yeah, sure. Sure. The feeling is always the same, has been always the same. And it will not be different on Sunday. As I said before, it is very special to race at home. We only can experience once a year and we feel extremely lucky for that. There are other drivers on the grid that they don't have even the home grand prix, so we feel privileged for that and thankful for that. I'm ready to enjoy every second. And on Sunday, when you see the fans and when you hear the national anthem, and everything, it is a special Sunday.

(Chris Medland - Racer) Sorry, it's another question for Fernando - but if the other drivers want to add their thoughts afterwards, that'd be great. Fernando, just in general, you've been in F1 a long time. There's a sell-out here, all three days, we're told, and the interest in the sport seems to be booming every race we now go to. Why do you think we've seen that growth in popularity, especially over the last say, three, four or five years that has come on so rapidly?
FA: I don't know. I think from... yeah, as you said a couple of years ago, especially when Liberty Media took control. I think we saw a few steps as a sport. We open the sport to more people here at the paddock there is more access, we start doing a lot of things outside the track as well. Drivers involved on those. And yeah, I think it was always going on the good direction. Also, we are living in a very different world now, with the digital platforms, giving access to many, many things that were unthinkable 10 years ago, 15 years ago. So, all that I think made the sport a little bit more open and that people can really enjoy now. Before they saw Formula 1, like something unreachable, or something very difficult to understand how to follow.

Let's get some other thoughts on this. Valtteri?
VB: To me, it feels like now, like every race weekend... for sure, it's all about racing - but there's a bit more into it. Like, just from my side, it feels like the atmosphere is a bit more like an event than a race. There's other things happening: concerts and there's DJs playing just before the start and stuff like that. I've personally felt much more energy in the last year or so, then than ever before, during my career. So, I think they've done a great job on many things. And like Fernando said, it's so much more accessible nowadays than it used to be. But also, thanks to the technology.

CL: Yeah, I think the access, that's been more and more open throughout the years, I think also Drive To Survive, obviously has been a big help for Formula 1. To help the people to understand a little bit more the sport in a simpler way. And to actually put a face on the people that are in the background and working every day to try and make their car go faster. Also the places that we go in the US, it's becoming bigger and bigger. Thanks again to Netflix. And I think people are just loving the sport. And the title fight last year too, I think helped the sport, so hopefully we can have a similar fight this year until the very last race.

FA: ... and good-looking drivers!

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Charles also question about the classic car tests you've done recently. I know you appreciate Ferrari's history, and know the long line of drivers you're following. Can you talk a bit about the connection you've got to - say - to Niki and Gilles. And to be able to drive their cars, it is an emotional thing at all, to be able to sample what they drove?
CL: Of course it is! I mean, it's... they are drivers that I've never seen in real life but obviously you get to see a lot now with social media, you get to see a lot of their fights etc. And you only appreciate how much risk they were taking once you actually get into one of their cars, and see what were the safety that they had at that time. And what it meant to be actually fighting wheels-to-wheels at those speeds, with those cars. I think also it's great to experience what it was like, and what it's like now. It's very different now, it's so much faster - but it's also so much safer. And we don't have that much the safety in mind, as much as they probably did once they were once they were racing. But yeah, I got to meet Niki few times in the paddock in the past. And yeah, they are just legends of our sports. Of course, it's always amazing to be to be driving their cars.

(Edd Straw - The Race) Question for all drivers. Going back to the topic about the bouncing and the stiffness of the cars, although you're not necessarily too concerned about the physical effects, is this generation of cars harder on your bodies than the previous generation of cars? Not just for those who are porpoising, but purely the stiffness? And are you feeling there's more discomfort, greater recovery time needed? Is it a significant step? Or is it just the case that F1 drivers have always had to go through this? And that's just part of the job and it's normal?
VB: In terms of the ride, yeah, for sure, it's the most difficult car, or more demanding car, that I've had ever in my career. But I still like cornering speeds, if we compare, for example, to last year, some type of corners, we had G-forces last year, but it's not far off now. So overall, I think I would say it's up there. It's difficult to say if there's any big difference, let's say. to last year, but definitely with the bouncing and with the ride, there's been a couple of races that felt a bit more sore than maybe some years before. So yeah, but I think the body will get used to it. And yeah, just a bit more recovery work may be needed to after certain races.

FA: I don't think so. I don't think that they are too strong on the body or, or too physical. I mean, there is this bouncing effect, which is uncomfortable for sure but I'm not sure that, compared to the cars in the past, it's too different. Or when I started with the Minardi in 2001, that car was not very comfy. And we didn't have power steering or anything like that. So they were very physical, or in IndyCar is 100 times worse. Or in Endurance. You drive with Sebastian Buemi's seat for 24 hours, you know, because you have to share the seat with a teammate, or in karting, we used to break one or two ribs every winter when we test. So, I think we have a lot of comfort at the moment.

MS: Yeah, well, it's similar to Formula 2, in terms of ride, so yeah, I guess it's not too new for me. But I think obviously, with more races coming now, obviously the time for recovery is a bit less. I think that's also something we'll have to keep in mind, but also I think the mental side for a lot of drivers, and especially the teams, engineers and mechanics, who have a life at home. You have to try and keep it in a minimum of adding races I would say.

CL: Yeah, I don't know in terms of ride, bouncing, kerb-riding, I'm not sensitive at all. I don't know why, I just don't feel those things. I guess it's good with those cars but yeah, apart from that physically it's okay. I mean, it's similar. It's at a similar level to last year for me.

SP: Yeah, very similar to Charles.

(Jeremy Satis - AutoHebdo) Question for Charles, since Imola, Red Bull seem to have the advantage on Sundays, especially with the tyre degradation. Barcelona is a pretty abrasive track in those conditions. So, do you particularly worry about it?
CL: I think... I mean, a particular development only for tyre degradation is very tricky, if not impossible. I think it's all relative to pace. They seem to have a bit more pace enhance into the race, so they can take it a bit more easy in the first laps and then when they start to push then they are just quicker, which was the case for the last two races. And for us, it was the case in Australia, by example. So, yeah. If we gain a bit of pace and hope to be in front, I'm pretty sure that tyre management will come with it, and it will also be better.

Check out our Friday gallery from Barcelona, here.


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