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Bahrain Grand Prix: FIA Drivers Press Conference


Wednesday's press conference with Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris.

Q: Lando, you're closest to me, so you'll start off. Obviously, we've had a bit of a break since the testing, and McLaren last year made such a rapid rate of development. Where are you at ahead of the first race? What are your thoughts and feelings?
Lando Norris: Good question. It's a question I think everyone's asking. I think we kind of have a rough idea of where we're at, but we don't actually really know where we stand compared to a few other teams. I think it's clear - the top two, then there's a bit of a bunch behind, which is Mercedes, us, kind of thing, but in terms of just how the pre-season test went, it was a lot better than last year, and we're in a much better position than last year, so that's the most important thing.

Q: Max, I'll come to you next. It looks like Adrian Newey has delivered you another car to beat this year. Had a couple of days to settle since last in the RB20. How are you feeling ahead of the first race?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, we had a good test. Lots of laps. You could do the whole programme and I felt comfortable with the car. So I guess from that side, it is all very promising, but you never know on the weekend. I'm just excited to get started and see where we're at.

Q: Fernando, if I could come to you next, please. Now, the Bahrain circuit celebrates 20 years this year, and you were the only driver on the current grid that was here for the first one and has raced here the most. I just wondered if you had any standouts from racing at this circuit over the last 20 or so years that it's been on the calendar and how you've seen this place evolve over that time?
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, yeah, well, definitely it did change a lot in 20 years. But I still remember the first race. Obviously, 2005 and 2006, second and third race was great for us with the wins. The only time we race in the very long circuit, 2010. That was also a nice experience. And I think the track kept more or less the character of Bahrain with a very demanding for tyres, for brakes. Obviously now we race at night, so the temperatures are a little bit more easier for everybody. But yeah, I think it's still a very cool place to race. Good action on Sundays or Saturdays this year, but it's a great place to start the season.

Q: Thank you, Fernando. Alex, I'll come to you next. Williams had a really good, improved season last year, clinching seventh in the Constructors'. What are your hopes and expectations now for this weekend, and what would you be happy with come the end of the year?
Alex Albon: To be honest with you, I don't think the positions have changed so much. I don't think the order is going to be so different. But the grouping has tightened up massively. So, you know, there is not really a P10 team anymore. I think, you know, obviously Red Bull might have a little bit of an advantage and there's still a top midfield section and a bottom midfield section. But that's kind of our hunting ground. I think depending on the circuit and what track suits us or not, we'll be on the you know either in the midfield or a little bit further back. But that's all to see. I don't think anyone really knows where we are right now.

Q: Lewis, obviously a big winter for you, a very busy off season but now full focus on the first race of the year. What's the atmosphere like in the team post-test?
Lewis Hamilton: Pretty good. Same as every year really. Everyone's really focused. It's always an exciting time of the year when you see everyone just coming together and everyone just getting on with their job. Great motivation within the team and we have a better platform to work off from this year. We still have some problems that we're having to work through and it's not perfect but it's definitely a better starting place from the past two years, so we are relatively happy in that respect. We're not where we want to be. We're not competing with the guys at the front, but we'll work towards it.

Q: Carlos, finally, last but not least, thoughts ahead of this season, the longest ever season in Formula 1. It will be your last one with Ferrari. What are your motivations going into this weekend?
Carlos Sainz: Yeah, as you said, the longest F1 season up to date. So yeah, we're here in race one, getting ready. Felt like the last race was yesterday, you know, when we were in Abu Dhabi. So winters keep getting shorter, testing keeps getting shorter, and you're just constantly racing now almost, no? I feel like, yeah, we haven't lost the rhythm. We had a good first test. By good test, I mean good understanding of the car and managed to get all the tests that we wanted to get out of the way. And now, yeah, we feel ready and prepared for this race one.

Q: (Craig Slater - Sky Sports) Lewis, you've enjoyed a really good partnership with George Russell. That will come to an end this year. Toto has talked about him having the kind of leadership qualities to push the team on when you're gone. Do you second that? Is he the kind of guy, even if they bring in a younger driver, which has been talked about at Mercedes, that he can kind of lead the team?
LH: I don't know. I'm sure he can, yeah. I don't really know what else to say about it. I mean, George is very technical. He's massively engaging. He's obviously come a long way since where he was at, Williams, and since he's joined the team. He's obviously incredibly close with Toto, and so no doubt that will be his position.

Q: (David Croft - Sky Sports F1) Max, question for you as the defending champion. Assess your rivals for us, please. Has anyone, any team, got what it takes to stop you and Red Bull winning the championship, or is this your championship to lose this year?
MV: Time will tell if they are fast enough or not. I also don't know if we are fast enough. Bahrain is one particular track. There are a lot of different tracks on the calendar where you have to perform. I think in general, it's better not to think about it and then just wake up, you get to the track, you see the result. If it's good or bad, it's not going to change anything. So that's how I approach it. But we'll see.

Q: (Peter Hardenacker - Sky Germany) Another question for Max. Max, there are a lot of rumours about the future of Christian Horner. He said that he knows that all this affects the team. Can you give us an insight for yourself and how it affects maybe you?
MV: It doesn't. I'm very focused on just the performance of the car, myself, and hopefully it will just be resolved very soon.

Q: (Peter Hardenacker - Sky Germany) You said once when we talked about Dr. Helmut Marko that it's really important for the whole team that everyone sticks together. Is it the same opinion that you have relating to Christian Horner?
MV: Yeah, I mean, it's a whole team effort that everyone has to stick together and work towards more success. And that's why it's important, of course, to get everything, let's say, resolved very soon.

Q: (Nelson Valkenburg - Viaplay) for Carlos Sainz. Carlos, how different do you go into this season knowing it's your last at Ferrari, and do you have a plan for the coming years? Do you know where you're headed?
CS: Not yet, no. I don't know where I'm going and I don't know what will be my best option. What I know is that I'm obviously going to maximise my last year in Ferrari. I really want to have a good last year in this incredible team and give my absolute best for everyone in Maranello. But regarding my future, I said that the situation changed quite a lot over winter. Now I'm going to need to take my time to decide where I go. We're obviously going to speak to all the options available what the best mid to long-term project is for me and my career and the best project that gives me a possibility to be a world champion and in the end that's my dream and the thing that I want to do as soon as possible.

Q: (Julien Fevreau - Canal Plus) Question to Fernando and Lewis. Going back to 2006, Fernando, how did you handle the situation within the team with your mechanics, with the team personnel, knowing that you were leaving for McLaren year after? And a question for Lewis how do you intend to manage the situation this season knowing that you're going to leave for Ferrari next season? Thank you very much.
FA: Well, I mean, it was a pretty normal season. once you tell your current team that you are leaving, obviously, there are a couple of weeks that are a bit strange, you know, to say bye-bye one year in advance. But, yeah, then once you start the season and the competition starts, I think you are just so focused on the performance and on the championship and You know, I was just lucky enough to win that championship. So it was just a celebration every race that we were going through. So it was not a problem.

LH: Nothing really changes. I was back at the factory last, on Monday. It's full attack. Everyone's all hands on deck. And the team, honestly, has been, I've been with this team such a long time. There's so much love within the team. And I still, and always will, love this team. So... Everyone was incredibly understanding within the team and hugely supportive. And everyone knows that I'm here to deliver for them this year. So that's the focus. So it's the same as any other year. It is emotional and every week will be emotional because the seat fit is your last seat fit with the team and you've been doing it. You remember the first one. The winter test is the last winter test that I'll do with the team. There's going to be a lot of emotional experiences through the year, but we'll do it together.

Q: (Nelson Valkenburg - Viaplay) Fernando, obviously, of these guys, you're the most experienced, also in pre-season testing, and you have a lot of expectations for yourself and the team. Has the team met those expectations, given only the few laps you've done with this car, and how close are you to Red Bull?
FA: Let's see. Let's wait a couple of races. I think, as Max said before, even Bahrain is a very specific track in terms of characteristics. So we will have to go through in Saudi Australia and maybe even Japan to really have an order between the performance of the teams, but I think the car is a step forward, which is the first goal for a winter testing compared to last year. Everything is delivered as expected. Maybe our step between last year and this year is good enough or not good enough. We will find out, as I said, in the first couple of races. But what I see in the team is a different approach than 2023 where we started with a good baseline and it was a shock for us maybe how good it was at the beginning. And then we were not, let's say, a big team also off track in terms of developing the car and things like that. We learned a lot of lessons last year. So in the way of becoming a contender for the championship in the future, I think it was an important season for Aston Martin. And I think this 2024, we start with a good baseline, yes, but with a lot of things in the pipeline for the rest of the season. So it will be interesting to see if we can keep the pace of development of the car, comparing the top teams, which obviously we didn't met those expectations last year and we want to improve in that regard.

Check out our Thursday gallery from Bahrain here.


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