Facing the media today were Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) in the first session, followed by Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso), Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)
The fact that the first session contained all three drivers who were involved in Singapore’s first corner shunt didn’t seem coincidental, and sure enough, the drivers were bombarded with questions about it. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you like your press conferences, none of the drivers were keen to throw blame around, with Max Verstappen calling it “a very unfortunate moment”.
From here, questions invariably focussed on Vettel, his 28 point deficit to Lewis Hamilton that came as a result of that unfortunate moment in Singapore, and how he will approach the rest of the year. When asked how he puts the frustration aside, he explained that, with the nature of the retirement, it was just one of those things you have no control over: “With things like this happening, what can you do? We could have had major problems with the car, or I might have made a mistake, and it might be a different story.”
Vettel also indicated that the incident wouldn’t change how he approached the rest of the year, despite the pressure appearing to be on with such a big deficit. “It happened, there’s not much you can do, and therefore not much point in trying to look at it again and again,” explained the German. “I think it’s much better if your time and energy is spent looking forward.”
Gasly the centre of attention
Pierre Gasly’s presence in the second session ensured that Marcus Ericsson and Carlos Sainz spent much of their time sitting quietly while the assembled media put questions to F1’s next big potential talent.
The young Frenchman was obviously very happy to finally be competing in his first full F1 race weekend, and seemed very keen to get down to business and work towards securing a 2018 drive. Obviously, the initial announcement of his drive only stipulated that he would drive for the next two races, but what about after that? Gasly filled us in: “At the moment I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks, so I’m just focussing [...] on the weekend, trying to do my best, learn as quickly as possible. It’s a great opportunity for me to start next to Carlos who is on top of his game at the moment. So really good benchmark for me and I’ll try to learn as quickly as possible, focus on the weekend and then we’ll see what’s going to happen in the next few weeks a bit later.”
His new teammate Carlos Sainz was also full of praise for young Gasly: “I think he deserves his chance in Formula One. He has done everything right to be here [...] I’ve raced him in World Series, I know how fast he is, I know the big talent he is so very happy for him.”
If Gasly does secure a 2018 drive, that could result in four French drivers on the grid, and with the return of the French GP, 2018 could be a very good year to be French. “It would be amazing for French people, you know, also with the French GP coming back on the calendar. I think that’s a great opportunity for us as French drivers. It would be amazing to be all together, racing in Formula 1. I remember 2005, I think, in karting, I raced together with Esteban (Ocon) and Charles (Leclerc) in minikart. To imagine that we might be racing all together again in Formula 1 is something special.”
Drivers full of praise for Sepang
With Malaysia leaving the calendar after this weekend, the drivers were asked various questions about what they would miss, or their favourite moments from the past 19 years. Kimi Raikkonen looked positively enthused when discussing his first win at the circuit in 2005: “Obviously I won my first race here, it was a while ago now, but it obviously meant a lot. Then there was the win in 2008 with Ferrari, I mean it was a good fight with Felipe, and obviously good memories, some bad memories over the years, but that’s when you go many times in the same place that will happen.” When asked what he would miss the most about the race though, Kimi was quite blunt: “To be honest, I don’t know if we’re going to miss it. It’s a nice circuit but the only thing you see is the airport, the hotel next to the airport and the circuit, so you can choose from that what you’re going to miss.”
Elsewhere though, many other drivers were keen to heap praise on the race, and the track itself in particular, with Carlos Sainz saying, “I rate the Malaysian Grand Prix very highly. It’s probably one of the best track layouts we get to race on over the whole year with the fast corners, high grip tarmac like last year. On top of that, it is the most physically demanding track, or one of the most physically demanding, which makes it also quite special and quite a challenge for us, so to miss it, yes, we will definitely miss it.”
Several of the drivers also expressed hope that F1 would soon return to the venue, with Sebastian Vettel saying, “I’m not obviously involved in why we’re not racing here any more but, who knows, maybe we’re back after a year break or two. I don’t know.”
After yet another DNF in Singapore, Max Verstappen was asked about his motivation, and also his targets for 2018 that would go towards Red Bull retaining him for 2019 and beyond. Speaking to his motivation, Max seemed undeterred by his awful luck lately: “I’m here, I always try to do well. It’s not my year in terms of Sunday finishes, but in general you have to try to stay positive, and to look at the positives. I think the speed is there, so we need to try again here in Malaysia, and see how competitive we are.”
When asked what he’s looking for next season he was fairly succinct: “I want to be able to fight for the championship.” No pressure then Red Bull!
Max is also the birthday boy this weekend, turning 20 on Friday (or as he puts it, “I’m getting old”), and when asked if he would have time to spend on any celebrations, he seemed pessimistic at first: “Well, it’s so humid here and warm, you make a cake but who wants to eat cake on such a warm day?”
Evidently someone did, with Vettel immediately responding with “I do!” before arranging for Verstappen to personally deliver a slice to his garage when the time comes. Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Red Bull courier running cake down the Ferrari garage at some point given how quickly Seb responded to that particular question.
Ericsson fighting for his career
Things don’t look good for Marcus Ericsson’s 2018 prospects, especially given the situation with Ferrari and Sauber that looks likely to result in Antonio Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc taking the two race seats at the Swiss team. The Swede has strong connections with the team, but acknowledged that he has work to do to keep his seat.
"Yeah, nothing is done (for 2018) at the moment for me, so yeah, I need to keep pushing and do good, the last couple of races now to show that I deserve to be in F1 next year. So it’s important for me now, even though we are struggling a bit as a team to keep up with the other guys, it’s still very important races for me. So, yeah, big push needed."