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Australian GP: FIA Drivers Press Conference


Group 1: Charles Leclerc, Oscar Piastri, Zhou Guanyu, Fernando Alonso & Max Verstappen.

Q: I think we should start with the hometown hero, Oscar Piastri. And I mean that in the truest sense, because you grew up just 15 minutes from where we're sitting now. How special is this weekend for you?
Oscar Piastri: Yeah, very, very special, obviously. To race in my home country and also, like you said, hometown as well. I played Aussie Rules footy and cricket on some of the ovals that are now the paddock, so yeah, very special to be at home this weekend.

Q: And is it true that this is your first car race in Australia?
OP: It is. Yeah. So, the last time I raced in Australia, I was still in go-karts. I think it was seven years ago now. So yeah, nice to get out on a racetrack in Oz.

Q: And have you been to Albert Park before, for the race?
OP: Yeah, I was here last year as a reserve driver, and I was here, I think, 2015. I was a grid-kid, actually for Dany Kvyat, so I was holding Dany Kvyat's flag, and he broke down on the lap-to-grid, so I never actually got to see him. But yeah, it's pretty special to have someone holding my flag this time but hopefully I have better luck.

Q: Let's look at performance. You made it into Q3 and completed your first race distance in Saudi a couple of weeks ago. What were the biggest lessons you learned in Jeddah?
OP: I think qualifying especially gave me a lot of confidence in the way that we're working is the right way. I think I didn't really change that much from Bahrain, but the results in Qualifying were much different, obviously getting to Q3 this time. So yeah, it was a nice confidence boost. Sunday, obviously nice to see the end, at least. But yeah, I think on the first lap I probably could have done a few things differently and maybe kept myself out of trouble a bit better, but I think the rest of the race, it's nice to get a race distance under my belt at least. And definitely some learning and getting rid of some of the rust still.

Q: Record crowd coming this weekend, 140,000 people coming on Sunday. They're going to be cheering you on, many of them. What can they expect from you and McLaren?
OP: We'll try our best obviously. I think compared to the previous two tracks here should be more like Saudi, I hope. Tarmac's quite similar. The layout is a bit more similar to Saudi compared to Bahrain. So, hopefully, that is good for us. But yeah, I think, you know, Saudi we showed we can get into Q3 and fight for the back-end of points on our good days. So hopefully, we can just have a clean race and my front wing doesn't wipe out Lando, this time. And we'll see what we can do.

Q: Charles, we'll come to you next. A year ago, you dominated this race, winning by 20 seconds. It was a great moment for you and for the team. Can we start just by reflecting on 12 months ago?
Charles Leclerc: Yeah, good memories. But we are already looking... for this year, we are not coming into this race in the same situation as we were last year, I think. Clearly, our performance is not as good as last year. But we are working massively to try and come back at the front. Last year's are good memories, as we can see on the images now. Everybody was really happy. But again, we are fully motivated to be back in the front, we know where we need to work on. I don't think there will be any miracles for this weekend. But after that we've got a three-week break, and we'll try to use it in the best way possible in order to bring upgrades as quickly as possible on the car.

Q: But does the current car have any of the same qualities that made you so competitive 12 months ago?
CL: I don't know. In the end it's a relative sport. So yes, it's an evolution from last year's car but clearly it's not enough when you look at where Red Bull is, especially in race pace. So yeah, we've got lots of work to do.

Q: Oscar says he hopes that this track is quite like Jeddah, the tarmac is quite similar. Given that you were only one and a half tenths, I think it was, off pole position in Jeddah. Does that give you some confidence coming here?
CL: I think that in qualifying, we've been quite good since the beginning of the season. Where we need to focus on is the race where our car is extremely peaky. When all the conditions are right, we seem to be able to extract the performance out of our package but whenever the conditions are changing a little bit, with a heavier car where you see a little bit more the limitations of the car, then that's where we struggle. So we are trying to focus on that. I do believe that we'll be quite close in qualifying - I hope so - but I think that the picture in the race will be quite similar.

Q: And do you think the fourth DRS zone that we're going to have this weekend will help or hinder you?
CL: I don't think it will change much.

Q: Zhou, let's come to you now. You enjoyed your first trip to Melbourne last year. What have you been getting up to since you arrived this time?
Zhou Guanyu: Yeah, obviously last year was actually quite good until the last lap where Alex was using the same set and pitted the last lap of the race. But yeah, apart from that, I really liked just firstly, the crowd and atmosphere here, and always see a lot of people - or a lot of people from my country, at least, living here or studying here. So it's great to have kind of semi-home support, in a way. And yeah, apart from that, I've just been not doing much, just trying to get rid of my jetlag. It's been going well to get the preparation done for the race weekend ahead.

Q: You've done a lot of racing against Oscar in the junior formulas. Has he given you any places that you need to visit here, or any suggestions?
ZG: Well, I hope he does after this - but not so much before that. It's nice, actually, to see [FIA Formula 2] as a category, coming here, because when we were racing together we normally don't get to see all these places like here, going abroad and away from Europe. So yeah, I really like, in general, the culture here, and also my team-mate has a big influence, with this Australia-thing with his haircut, so I guess I'll get more from Valtteri than from Oscar, that's for sure!

Q: Did you see what he turned up in today?
ZG: Yeah, I tried to not look at it as honestly it was not my thing! I don't know if some of you guys saw it but it was quite crazy.

Q: Now, it's a long flight here. So you've had plenty of time to reflect on the performance of your car in particular, in the opening to races. Where do you think Alfa Romeo are at, at the minute?
ZG: I mean, it's very similar to, let's say, where they are with the McLarens. I think we are just fighting for the backfoot of the points. It's clear there are three or four teams clearly ahead of the rest - but then I think from P8 downwards it is very tight. Everybody can be grabbing these final points finishes - which is the aim, or the target, realistically from. I feel like in Jeddah we were really close in Q3, also the race pace, running top ten most of the race before the pit-stop, and then passing into a trickier window. So, I think we can still fight for it. And we're not, you know, too far away from this. So it's just the little details that can really make the difference in the midfield.

Q: Fernando coming to you. Only the sixth driver in history to reach 100 podiums. We get to talk to you about it now because we couldn't do it after the race in Jeddah. Just tell us, what does that landmark mean to you, now that you've had a bit of time to reflect on it too?
Fernando Alonso: Well, obviously it feels good, feels nice to reach that number. But yeah, obviously when you are in a Championship, you're not really concentrated on that, you are just thinking about the next weekend, as we did after Jeddah, and here we are in Melbourne, and hopefully we have a strong weekend again.

Q: Can we throw it back to Jeddah just one more time? I want to talk to you about the grid penalty. How difficult is it to see your grid box in these cars?
FA: It is difficult. And yeah, apparently this year, it seems even more, because in two races to have two penalties is a little bit strange. But yeah, I mean, in my case, it didn't change much from last year. It is difficult and we are very concentrated on the yellow line to not go too far forward. So, you approached the box, let's say, not looking at the box, you are looking on one side of the cockpit. So maybe that's a bit of a distraction. But yeah, I made a mistake there. So we will try to be more focused on the box this weekend and avoid any penalty.

Q: The box is going to be 20 centimetres wider this weekend, I think there's going to be a central line as well. Will that help?
FA: The central line? I don't think so. Because as I said, you approach the box looking sideways, so you're not looking forward, so that's the biggest difficulty - but the 20 centimetres will help I guess. There's going to be some circuits, maybe Monaco, or Imola that you start a little bit sideways anyway. Because if not you crash if you start there straight. So, we'll have to see how we apply the penalties and things like that in those races. But yeah, no one wants to get a penalty for the start. Also, I think the FIA doesn't want to have any problem with that, because there is no performance advantage, as long as you don't go too forward. So yeah, hopefully we avoid anything from now on.

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