(Photo credit: John O'Nolan)
Ahead of the first Grand Prix of the new F1 season, world champion Lewis Hamilton, former title holder Sebastian Vettel and championship prospect Daniel Ricciardo faced the Press in Melbourne. Let’s take a brief look at the key points from today’s media session.
Lewis Hamilton revealed that he is aiming to build on what he described as his “most complete year” in 2017. He also confessed to not feeling any need to stay ahead of Vettel in terms of career statistics: “It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about to be honest.” When pushed about chasing Fangio’s record, he was equally ambivalent: “It’s a long, long season so you don’t really think about those kind of things, you don’t think about what could be in the sense of matching others.” He added, “In my mind I’m trying to break down new barriers, push the envelope. Trying to see how far I can take, firstly, the opportunity I have and then obviously the ability I have and live to my full potential. I don’t know what that is, and that’s what I’m discovering.”
On the same subject of breaking Fangio’s record, Sebastian Vettel had this to say: “I’m not setting these things out and planning or looking forward to what could possibly happen. Certainly, if it will happen it would mean a lot… but now I don’t see the point of thinking ‘what if’.” He summed up, “Also, I think nowadays the times are different. I think it’s very different times to when Fangio achieved it, compared to today. So, every era has its own challenges, certainly they were a bit different back then. So yeah, it’s not in my mind now, let’s say.”
Vettel admitted that Ferrari “don’t have the answer now” to beat Hamilton over the course of a season. And when pushed about the possibility of Ferrari having a fourth engine for strategic purposes (something Renault have pondered) he nipped the suggestion in the bud: “I don’t think it’s the plan but I’m very confident that we’re not using four engines this weekend, so we don’t need to worry now.”
Daniel Ricciardo was a little more forthcoming on the subject: “I had a few engine penalties last year and we’ve got one less [engine] this year so it’s likely – I don’t want to say it’s definite – but it’s obviously likely that we may encounter something like that or everyone may encounter something like that.” But he stressed, “I think we’ll stay optimistic and try to get these three home to Abu Dhabi.”
The Australian also agreed that this weekend could be Red Bull’s best start to a season in a while: “I believe so. We had a good winter. It’s all there in front of us now. I think we’re still the top three teams – Merc, Ferrari and us. I think we’re still going to be leading the pack for now. So hopefully we’ll be deep in that group and have a chance to stand up on the podium.”
Hamilton was quick to dismiss suggestions that he may have reached his peak as a driver: “I hope not. I’m sure there is a peak for a driver... when it gets harder to reach the fitness level that we do today. When your interest starts to decline, when your drive starts to decline, I guess that’s when you’re over your peak. But I definitely don’t feel I’m that. I’m definitely in a good range now and that’s where I need to continue, to extract the most from it.” The same question was batted away much more swiftly by the other two drivers.
All three drivers reacted positively to a question about the additional DRS zone. Ricciardo summed it up best when he explained: “It’s typically been a pretty hard track to overtake… I think they’ve been proactive and tried to help out a cause here. I don’t know if it will necessarily create overtaking into that corner but it may at least put you into the zone to then have a chance somewhere else.”
When asked about his perceived inconsistency in some quarters, Hamilton was quick to react: “I think consistency was the reason that I won the Championship last year.” And when pushed on his biggest weakness, he responded: “Pancakes.” A shortcoming Ricciardo also admitted suffering from.
The slight spikiness in Hamilton’s tone prompted a question about whether he was “tired” and “up for the fight.” The world champ explained that after 12 years of press conferences he wasn’t “the most excited about this section of the season,” but that he was up for the fight.
Vettel admitted he would not be following Kimi Raikkonen by joining Instagram at which point the focus turned back to the actual job at hand - of winning races. When asked again about Ferrari's chances this weekend he elaborated: “It’s a bit pointless to come here and say that you’ll blow everyone away. Based on testing I think we are in good shape. We could be in better shape but it’s always like that.”
On the subject of the progress made under Liberty media, Hamilton compared the new anthem to that of the TV show Gladiators but insisted: “I think they’re doing the best they can and we’re all trying to support them the best way we can.” Ricciardo agreed: “I think there’s been some good initiatives as well within the paddock… They’ve tried to create like a bar and a bit of a common area, got some music going in the paddock, and just create a bit more of an atmosphere.” He added, “I think they’re learning to adopt some strategies to create more of an event around the race, so everyone’s not just living for that Sunday afternoon: there’s more going on.”
Vettel did not sound quite so positive: “I think I’m a traditionalist and I like to hold on to certain things… so I’m a bit confused why the races start later, a bit sad that there are no more grid girls – but other than that, not many changes yet. I think we need to wait.”
Hamilton and Vettel both paid respects to one other when questioned about how special it was to be facing off as two great champions. Hamilton declared: “When you come to the end of your career, you want to know that you competed against the best… It’s been a great experience to be able to race against Sebastian, he’s got the four world titles, the most of any other driver at the time and I think this is an exciting year for Formula One fans.”
Vettel continued the love-in: “I think it becomes something special to win against the best… I’m searching for the ultimate satisfaction to win with Ferrari which is the greatest team in history, the greatest team in the paddock and that’s my ultimate target now, to win with Ferrari and win against the best… and Lewis is one of them.”
Daniel Ricciardo revealed that his contract talks were on hold and to ask him again in six months’ time about his future. The other two hinted that they would be happy to have him as teammates.
Vettel suggested that drivers should be able to design their own halos to make them more recognisable and Hamilton followed this up by stating: “It’s almost pointless us painting the helmets nowadays so I’m probably going to get rid of the paint on mine.” Ricciardo echoed Vettel’s thought that they should put “something on the halo to distinguish teammates.”
What did you make of the driver's answers today? Did we learn anything new ahead of the weekend? Let us know in thew comments below.