Today’s press conference featured Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Felipe Massa (Williams) and Lance Stroll (Williams) in the first part, with Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) in the second.
Given that today’s press conference featured drivers from most of the teams that have yet to fully confirm their 2018 driver lineups, 2018 race seats were understandably among the main topics of discussion. That didn’t stop us from also learning about Ricciardo and Massa’s sushi outing, Stoffel Vandoorne’s affinity with Japan, and Valtteri Bottas’s struggles with his Mercedes car.
Given the news earlier in the week that Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta would test for Williams before the end of the season, questions were inevitably put to Felipe Massa over his future with the team, but Massa appeared to be unfazed by the rumours:
"To be honest in my head I’m pretty relaxed, so I’m enjoying and trying to do the best I can in the last races this year [...] I’m quite keen to do maybe another season. I think I can do it in a great way. I can give a lot to the team, like I did already. But I don’t decide; the team decides. I’m talking with the team definitely for next year and we are in discussion. That’s the way it is and definitely I can do a good effort for the team but we need to find a good solution to carry on in the right way, that everybody is happy."
These “right way“ comments echo his earlier statements that he would only want to stay at the team if they wanted him to carry on, but it seems like at this stage that Felipe is none the wiser on where his future lies. Despite this, he hoped that things would be sorted out one way or the other by Brazil, presumably so that his home crowds can say goodbye to him (again) and he can do the same.
When asked about the tests for Kubica and di Resta, Felipe was quite dismissive about the effect of this on his prospects.
"So… it doesn’t change anything for me. Williams know 100 per cent what I can give to the team and, even if you do a test with a car that is four years before, (it’s) completely different. You cannot evaluate too much, as well. So, (it) doesn’t change anything for me, to be honest."
Whether the team also believe this remains to be seen, but while Massa is correct that this generation of cars is radically different, you have to think the team will be able to extract some meaningful data from the Kubica/di Resta test; Otherwise what’s the point? Felipe just needs to focus on his own performance for the rest of the season, and if today’s press conference is anything to go by, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Ricciardo and Massa’s sushi outing
One of the more lighthearted moments in today’s press conference again came from Daniel Ricciardo, who was describing what he had been getting up to in Japan.
"A more positive experience in the last few days, was actually with this man here [Felipe Massa]. We went to the famous sushi… I’m going to get it wrong now, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and it kind of became more on the map to let’s say the western world after there was a documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and I was told about it a couple years ago and I was like ‘oh, we’ll just call and get a reservation for tomorrow night’, but you’ve got to book like a year in advance, so two years later we finally made it! It was a good experience."
Massa indicated that all wasn’t to Ricciardo’s liking however, telling reporters that they should have seen his face when some of the more exotic fish arrived, and teasing Ricciardo that there was no salmon for him to fall back on.
Since the summer break Valtteri Bottas has been struggling for pace in his Mercedes, and has effectively dropped out of contention for the title as he has been unable to match the pace of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton out front in this second phase of the season. When asked about this today, Bottas was typically frank about the issues he is facing.
"The only thing I want to do is to perform and to try and meet my goals that I set for me personally. I definitely haven’t been achieving those lately, so that’s why the feeling wasn’t so positive after the race (in Malaysia). So, for sure it’s tricky because now, y’know, having such a good car and with potential for such good results, I just want to perform."
When asked about specific issues he might be having compared to his teammate, Valtteri was equally pragmatic.
"I think the compromises we’ve been needing to do in some circuits to get it into the right window have been quite a challenge sometimes to drive around. I think Lewis has been able to extract a little bit more sometimes with a more tricky set-up. Some things with the driving style always makes a difference and to understand those, you always kind of need that bad weekend to learn from it, otherwise you don’t know these differences."
"It’s not massive things, it’s small things, but this sport is all about details and changing some things in your own driving, then it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge and then that way the driving maybe doesn’t feel quite natural at times, but that’s how it is. I see things positive because I think from all those difficult weekends we’ve had there’s been so much to learn from, so much to get better from. Like the race in Malaysia. I’ve had so many answers to my questions from that race. We’ve been trying to work out every single detail with the engineers and trying to understand, so I’ve learned massively again from last weekend. That’s why there’s always a positive."
It’s refreshing to see drivers be so forthcoming about their own struggles, and good to get an insight from Valtteri about his struggles over the second half of the season. These sorts of issues are to be expected though, but at least he is learning from this experience, and will no doubt come back all the stronger form these experiences.
Vandoorne returns to Japan on a high
After a pair of seventh place finishes that put him ahead of his double world champion teammate Fernando Alonso in the championship, Stoffel Vandoorne arrived in Japan with a spring in his step, and explained to the press exactly what has been changing within the team for him lately.
“The relationship between my engineers has developed massively as well and yeah, I think we go into every weekend very positive, very comfortable as well, knowing the areas we have to focus on. It’s very nice to see the results are paying off as well.”
Suzuka is a circuit where Vandoorne has had success in the past, notably in Japanese Super Formula, and he welcomes a return to the track that he won on last year.
"I think it’s always very good to know a circuit. Like you said, I have a lot of experience around this circuit. Done a lot of testing, a lot of racing in Super Formula here, and obviously have a win around here as well, which was a special moment. So looking forward to this weekend again, to discover this circuit in Formula 1. I think with these cars especially it will be a very exciting track for everyone to drive around."