(Photo credit: Bill Koplitz)
Thursday's Press conference in the desert oasis of Bahrain brought the triumvirate of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, and Valtteri Bottas in front of the media. The trio were quizzed about the recently concluded Australian Grand Prix, how the drivers felt about their respective outcomes and their hopes for the season ahead.
First up was Kimi Raikkonen who was asked about his performance at the Australian Grand Prix and whether his SF 71H car felt better than the machine from the previous year. In his characteristic phlegmatic tone, Raikkonen explained: "Obviously it's hard to say. It was a pretty straightforward weekend and it doesn't matter if you win or not, there are always things to improve in the car. We had a pretty limited amount to time to work… but we were quite pleased how things went. We take the result happily as a team. Not much to complain really. A pretty decent finish."
Given that both the Ferrari drivers finished on the podium at Melbourne, with Sebastian repeating his 2017 result and Kimi finishing in the top three Down Under for the first time since joining Ferrari in 2014, it wasn't too hard to understand his peaceful disposition.
He sounded optimistic as he added: "So far, the car has been working well even with pretty limited testing time over the winter so, I'm pretty okay with how things are running."
After Kimi, it was fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas' chance to explain his thoughts on a rather tricky weekend in Melbourne (he crashed his McLaren during qualifying) and if qualifying runs like those play on his mind. Unflappable as he is, Bottas responded straightforwardly: "Not much has been in my mind because everything was kind of processed over the weekend. Even though it was a bad weekend, there are still 20 races to go. We still have a competitive car so nothing really to worry about. We just have to work to make it better."
Bottas' optimism stems from a belief that Mercedes have a stable and reliable car for 2018. This became clear over pre-season testing in Spain where the Silver Arrows clocked up more laps than any other team.
Finally, Fernando Alonso was asked his thoughts on a P5 finish at Melbourne, having predicted a P6 or possibly P7 outcome before the race, and where he thinks he might finish this weekend. A relaxed Alonso replied: "I don't know where I will finish, don't have a crystal ball. I think the car definitely has some potential. There were some ups and downs and although there were other car retirements and the safety car deployment, we take this fifth place and we move on. We have to catch up with the top three teams. And hopefully we can unlock some potential over the course of this race."
It was a solid finish in Australia from Alonso and while McLaren could gather only a P9 on the Constructor's standing last year around, 2018 may be the season where the car can give its premier driving talent something to fight with.
The session moved onto questions from journalists and publications. First up, Alonso was asked by Auto Action and Speed Sport if "happy days are back again," to which Alonso replied: "It's on the team. If we are able to bring the performance on the track over the course of the next five-six or two months and if we can close the gap to the pole-sitters and the frontrunners in the grid, then yes. Even if it's not a world championship fight, we can still fight for podium finishes and who knows a P5 may become a normality. It's probably the first time in the last three years that the performance has come to this level for us to aim this way."
Raikkonen asked about his qualifying results at Bahrain, his eight podiums here and if the gap between performance and results eventually explains his form at the track? Kimi, in his typical unassuming manner added: "I don't look too close on what has happened at the past. Honestly, you do your best and you give your best at qualifying. Some years, it's been working good here and on some it hasn't… It's a completely different circuit to where we've been in Barcelona and Australia."
Raikkonen has never finished higher than third here but didn't look too flustered about his chances. Perhaps he is feeling good about his car.
Bottas was asked if Mercedes had the strength to compete with Ferrari this year having been outpaced by the Prancing Horse 12 months ago. He replied: "Who knows, last year we had better race pace at Australia and they (Ferrari) had better race pace at Bahrain. But in the end it depends upon how the weekend run develops.”
Next up, David Croft (Sky's F1 commentary team) asked the drivers about any conversations they might have had about the blueprint to improve F1 planned by current owners Liberty Media. A question posed to all, Alonso replied: "Liberty have been very open to us and have asked us about the ideas and plans that we've had. It's been a productive interaction with all. They now have some plans and hopefully productive ideas to make F1 more popular."
Kimi's reaction was a little less enthusiastic: "I’m not too aware of the situation really. I don't know what they are doing and know very little about it. I am not that interested to know."
Bottas didn't have much to add either suggesting: "Fernado covered it well.... it would be interesting to see what Liberty present eventually."
The Finn was also asked about how much pressure this race puts him under to which he had another unflustered reply: "It's a normal race and I hope for a normal race weekend. I don't feel any such pressure as such and it will boil down to how the weekend develops."
Finally, the drivers were asked what changes that would make in F1 if they the power to do so. It doesn’t take an Einstein to imagine Kimi’s reply: "I don't have power and I am not interested. I don't have the power to change anything so what's the point."
Fernando replied, "Well I think, it could be a closer battle that would be always welcome. I remember watching the TV in very old days… races from 1989 or 90… the golden era. But I think… if you watch a race in Indycar, that unpredictable result makes you excited but that is something which sadly doesn't happen in Formula One."
Finishing the conference was Valtteri Bottas who added: "Like all spectators, we too would love close races but it is not in our hands."
What did we learn from today's interaction with the Press? Let is know your thoughts in the comments below.