Group 1: Andrew Shovlin, Laurent Mekies and Alan Permane.
Q: Andrew, let's start with you. Both of your drivers were very happy yesterday, with George saying it was your best Friday of the season so far. What was so good?
Andrew Shovlin: Well, the car's working quite well here, which is the main thing. So, from a chassis point of view, the balance is alright, and then you're just trying to read into where everyone else is on pace. That's a bit easier than normal. Because with the Pirelli programme, you get a prescribed fuel load. So, aside from their feel for the car, it was really just the lap times are looking pretty encouraging. And hopefully we can improve a bit today, but certainly looks like one of the stronger tracks for us.
Q: You came close to winning in Austin, do you feel you've got the pace to challenge for the win here?
AS: I think in Austin, we weren't as close as maybe it looked at times. There was still quite a gap in terms of pace to Max in particular. On the long runs here, it did look a bit better, but we will always take it one step at a time. We've got qualifying to get through, conditions look like they could be a bit mixed there. And then the race is always super challenging, with the temperatures. So, we're still trying to get that that elusive win and working hard, but we're learning a lot on the way, which is also the one of the key objectives for us.
Q: Now, you've just alluded to the Pirelli programme in FP2 yesterday Can you just tell us a little bit more about the programme? What did we learn about their tyres for next year?
AS: Well, that's sort of working around the medium part of the compound range. It's a good opportunity for Pirelli. The reason we're doing this is that with the long-haul races, doing tests with the teams after a race, we used to do that, but it's incredibly expensive to do it. It's very difficult from a freight point of view, with the calendar now. And this format was the compromise agreement. So, you're effectively giving up one of your sessions to help them with that development. But here we were trying out higher blanket temperatures, so up at 70°C, but with a shorter time for heating them. But they all worked quite well. And Lewis in particular, was quite complimentary of the feel for the tyre, the fact you could push it, it wasn't overheating, and it was consistent. So, it does look to be a step in the right direction.
Q: On the subject of Lewis Hamilton, he said this week that he'd like to stay with Mercedes beyond the end of next year. What have his performances this year, in a difficult car, told you about his motivation?
AS: Lewis is always working hard, super motivated and desperate to try to win. And I think, going from the competitive position that we've had in the preceding years, to a really difficult car at the start of the year, was a bit of a shock for him. And also a bit of an adjustment for us to get used to working... effectively racing in the mid-pack for a lot of the early part of the year, having to make a lot of compromises with the car to try to get the best out of it and then learning at the same time. But I think, the same as us as a team, Lewis can also see that we're definitely going in the right direction. We can see a clear route to getting back to a point where we can challenge for pole positions and wins. And you can see with Lewis' commitment to the team, that's increasing, the closer we get, and his commitment to putting in the work on his side to try and help us achieve those goals.
Q: Laurent, if we come to you now, yesterday was the day of... I think we can call it mixed fortunes for the team. The cars were competitive, but then Charles had his off in FP2. First of all, how much damage was there to Charles' car?
Laurent Mekies: It was a bit of a tricky Friday for us, especially for Charles. We had a puncture in FP1, we had an unfortunate crash in FP2. It's never a good time to crash. These sort of things happen. Damage-wise, it was quite extensive. Luckily, it's a Friday but gearbox was damaged, quite a large part of the bodywork was damaged but it's part of the game and better on Fridays than at another time of the weekend.
Q: Where has the focus been overnight? As we've said, competitive cars but where's the focus been in terms of improving the performance?
LM: Well, in truth, we didn't feel that competitive. We know that FP1, it looks bright with P1, P2 on the timesheets, but I think the truth is, what you see on the track, like there, in FP1, is that nobody gets a good lap. It's still very, very low grip. It's low grip anyway because of these altitudes, but even more in FP1. And what you see there on the classification is, more or less, us putting things a little bit more together but, on our side, we know there is still quite a lot of work to do. We will certainly have a good go at FP3 to try to do the next steps because it was a bit more of a difficult Friday for us.
Q: Now, tyre deg was again an issue for you guys in Austin last weekend. Charles told us about it after the race. What's the root cause of the problem? And what can you do to improve the situation here?
LM: It's no secret that in on the race pace, we are not as good as in quali pace. So, you can look it as a strength on one side and a weakness on the other side. You're right, sometimes it's down to somehow higher tyre degradation compared to our competitors. Sometimes it is simply pace. And I think in the example of Austin, Charles has pushed very hard to stay with the quicker cars: to pass, Checo, to fight with Max. And it had a price after, naturally, because I think the truth is we were simply not as fast as them, again, in Austin. So for us, it's about trying to work on all the small details to gain some race pace. We are where we want to be in terms of qualifying pace, we know on the race trim we still have stuff to unlock. And it's not something you improve in one day, but that's certainly something we try to take every opportunity - and this weekend will be no different - to make sure we move in the right direction.
Q: A lot of young drivers have been getting a run-out in recent races. Can we throw it back to Robert Shwartzman, who had his first FP1 with you guys in Austin? How do you reflect on his performance?
LM: I think Austin FP1 was a tough place for young drivers. Very bumpy tracks, massive, massive wind. So I think everybody had a hard time out there. Even Carlos was running at the same time on the other car. And when he came out of the car, he looked at us and he says "that's the last session you would have liked to give to a young driver". So, Robert did well, he did the programme. He built up confidence throughout the laps, we tried to give him as much opportunity. We had two sets of tyres there and so forth and so on. But we know that in a one-hour session, you are never going to see somebody matching the lap time of the race drivers and so forth and so on. So, it's a build-up process. He is going to be back with us in Abu Dhabi. And I'm sure it will be a good step forward again.
Q: Alan, thanks for waiting. On the topic of young drivers. Can we kick off with you talking about Jack Doohan? He had his first run yesterday. Just what impressed you about him?
Alan Permane: He did a good job yesterday. He did a great job yesterday. I think when Laurent talks about tricky tracks, I think this is as tricky a track for a rookie, with the altitude, with the lack of downforce they have here. He did a great job. He was taking things very easy, very steady. In the areas where we saw Max spin, we saw Charles crash, I think he was losing half a second to Fernando and he just said 'look, I don't want to take any risks, or I don't want to...' He was very conscious that he was in someone else's car. But what impresses me most about Jack, honestly, is out of the car - his preparation, the work he does behind the scenes. He'd never driven here and there hadn't been a plan for him to drive here. And a few weeks ago, he was in Brisbane doing some F2 sponsor commitments. And we told him he was going to be driving in Mexico, he flew back to the UK, did a day in the sim and then came onwards to Austin and here. So that's what impresses me most - his preparation. There's no doubt about his speed. And when he makes it to Formula 1, that'll be a nice differentiator for him.
Q: Now, you mentioned the word Austin there. I did just want to throw it back to what happened, particularly after the race. Since then, you've got the outcome you wanted with regard to Fernando seventh place. If we look forward, what does this mean in terms of procedures with the black and orange flag?
AP: It was great to get that outcome. And I'm really happy and pleased that things worked out between us and the FIA. We had some very positive discussions yesterday with the FIA technical department. And I think they agreed that things have gone a little bit too far. I don't think anyone - maybe apart from Haas - felt that having a mirror knocked off in an accident that wasn't your fault, and then that drive Fernando did, he merited... He should have kept that seventh place. So, I think from here onwards, small damages like a mirror, like from-wing endplate, if it's non-structural, like a brake duct, something like that, will not be considered to be a black and orange flag offence. This is still ongoing, I'm sure at the Technical Advisory Committee and the Sporting Advisory Committee, those levels will discuss it more, but a little bit of line in the sand has been drawn and hopefully there'll be better racing because of it.
Q: Alan, can we talk about performance now? The car's being competitive in recent races. Looks like you've got the fourth quickest car again here, just where can you still improve ahead of qualifying and the race.
AP: This is a track where the drivers are always lacking grip. And they want grip everywhere. I think our guys yesterday, all three drivers, said that the car was lacking a little bit of rear end in the high speed, a little bit in traction. So, we don't have any more developments coming this year, so it'll be down to set-up and that sort of thing. There's definitely more to come because, of course, for the second session yesterday we can't work on the car. And we had a young driver in the car in the morning, of course, so we're a little bit behind on that. No doubt there will have been changes overnight and I'm sure we'll have a better car this morning.
Check out our Saturday gallery from Mexico City here.