Facing the media today were Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Carlos Sainz (Renault), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), and Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) in the first part, followed by Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) Romain Grosjean (Haas), Fernando Alonso (McLaren) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas).
Alonso's new deal
Just before the press conference began, the news broke that Fernando Alonso would be staying with McLaren for 2018. This has probably been the first time in a while that we have seen a driver's contract saga drag on for this long, especially for a driver with Alonso's profile, so it's good to finally have this confirmation.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the questions in the second part of the press conference were focussed on this, and what Alonso expects from his McLaren-Renault in 2018.
Alonso expressed his excitement at finally signing this deal, and after three hard years he hopes to repay his and the team's fans by putting McLaren back where they belong.
When asked where he expects McLaren to be in 2018 given that Renault-engined cars have won twice so far this year, and occupied the podium on no less than 11 times, Fernando was understandably cautious given his previous experiences with Honda.
"You never know what you can achieve with the new cars. Sometimes you go to the first winter test and have a nice surprise and are quicker than you expect; sometimes you have bad surprises and you are a little bit slower and something is not according to plan. Let’s see what we can do next year, but definitely very happy again to have a Renault engine on my car."
Let's hope Renault can keep Fernando happy once the 2018 season gets underway!
Brendon Hartley, making his F1 debut this weekend in Austin, was present in part one of the press conference, and as expected many questions focussed on his long-awaited debut.
When asked how this all came about, Hartley revealed that he initiated the contact with Red Bull when he contacted Dr. Helmut Marko when Porsche decided to pull their LMP1 program at the end of July, and that this was the first time he had heard back.
He revealed he told Dr. Marko that "I'm not the driver I was ten years ago," and when asked to elaborate, he explained: "I guess I wasn't ready...I didn't really deal with the pressure, I stopped enjoying it, I wasn't happy, I was pretty young away from home, and I guess when the Formula 1 dream stopped in 2010, I picked myself up, I found endurance racing, and I've learned a lot from that experience."
Hartley also revealed that he has spoken to Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo for advice ahead of his debut. “I saw Mark this morning for breakfast, I saw Daniel Ricciardo who’s one of my best buddies two nights ago, I asked him for all the advice I could get out of him regarding tyres.”
The Kiwi also said that no expectation have been set on his hotly anticipated debut, especially given that he only had his seat fitting and began to meet key team personnel yesterday!
Looking to the future, Hartley said that he obviously wants "to do the best that I can" this weekend but that "going forward nothing’s been said yet” about a potential 2018 drive. “I’ve got a fair amount on my plate to figure out and do a good job (in Austin). I’m trying not to think further forward. I was looking at IndyCar and still am. Nothing’s confirmed for next season yet.”
Hamilton not distracted by Ferrari or anthem protests
When asked if he regretted that some of the fight has gone out of the championship due to Ferrari's nightmare month, Lewis Hamilton was dismissive, insisting that he didn't feel any differently about it than he has all season, saying that his approach mentally to this weekend's race will be the same as it has been since the summer break. "I anticipate they (Ferrari) will be very strong this weekend and for the last four races, so that’s why nothing changes for me."
When asked about this change since the summer break, and what had changed, Hamilton explained: "I think it’s really just been that confidence of understanding the car a lot better this year, particularly in the second half of the season; knowing it’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, I would say that we are constantly evolving the process in which we work together, myself and my engineers. So we’d often hit the ground running with a balance I’m more comfortable with, which then naturally helps you easily step forward throughout the weekend in the right direction."
Hamilton alluded to big changes coming in his life away from the track over the next 18 months that are bringing him a lot of positivity, but he wouldn't be drawn on any details of what this might be, at least not yet.
Lewis was also questioned about his earlier suggestions that he might take a knee in solidarity with the current wave of protests in the NFL over police brutality in America. Hamilton stated he had no plans concerning it and then went on to clarify his support for the movement.
"I’ve posted about it, because I respect it highly, and I found that the movement that [Colin] Kaepernick started is awesome and I’m very much in support of it. But I’m here to win and that’s the top of my priorities at the moment and I’m not really focused on anything else at the moment."
Renault's new boy
Both Renault drivers were in front of the media today, and first up was Carlos Sainz, who was asked why it was so important to move to the team ahead of next year, rather than during the winter break.
"First of all, I think that 2018 cars will be an evolution of this year’s cars," Sainz said. "So every input I can have regarding this year’s car, every feeling I can get from every single area of the car, I’m sure it will help me for next year. On top of that, it’s always better to meet engineers, PR people, team bosses… start working along together with all of them four races earlier that gives us a bit of an advantage for 2018 rather than going straight into winter testing in 2018."
Asked whether he expected to be on the pace right away, Sainz was cautious, insisting that he would have to go session by session and settle into his new car, never mind try find a competitive balance immediately. "Let’s wait and see, no?" seemed to be a good assessment of his approach to his debut in yellow.
When Nico Hulkenberg was asked whether he expected an immediate challenge from his new stablemate, the German seemed enthusiastic to get to work with Carlos, although conceded they and the team have a lo to do before the end of the year.
"Definitely a harder time (challenge) probably than so far this year (ouch, poor Jolyon!). Obviously he’s got a few challenges on his plate, changing team at the back end of the season is not the easiest situation. There are a lot of new things that he has to get used to: car, team, people but I’m sure he will be on a decent level straight away. I look forward to working alongside him. We still obviously have quite a bit to do this year. We want to not finish where we are now, in terms of team championship position, so it’s important for us to do a good job in the last four races."
Haas hoping for strong home showing
Also hoping for a strong end to the season are the Haas team, and both of their drivers were present in front of their team's home press. A lot of the focus was on how far the team have come, and their ambitions for the rest of the year. Romain Grosjean started, explaining that the mood within the team is good, and that if they can keep delivering results like last time out then they can really fight for their place in the constructors' standings.
"The mood is pretty good. It has been since the first day, to be fair, even through the highs and lows. It was really good to have a double-points finish in Japan... it shows the team is doing great progress. We’re coming here of course very motivated as always. Pretty special grand prix because it’s the home race for the team... you know it’s only the second year of the team and we are fighting with Renault, Toro Rosso, Williams in the Constructors’ Championship, and they are teams that have been here for a very long time, so you can be very proud of that. We know where are our strengths, we know our weakness and we are working on that for the future, but I think there is a lot of potential in the team to move up the ranks."
Kevin Magnussen echoed this 'strengths and weaknesses' line, stating that, "it’s been an up-and-down season with a lot of potential and perhaps also some missed potential at times this year but we’ve still had some good races and the potential seems to be good in the car. When we’re quick, we’re very quick and competitive but our lows have perhaps been a bit too low. That’s something to work on for next year, consistency, and getting the car more regularly at its best."