Answering questions from reporters today were Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) in the first half, and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Felipe Massa (Williams) in the second part.
Stars of the future
As both Verstappen and Vandoorne were born in Belgium, they received the lion’s share of questions in the first half of the press conference. With as many as 80,000 Dutch fans expected at Spa this weekend, Verstappen was asked he feels any extra pressure to perform this weekend. The Red Bull driver responded that he saw it as a positive: “It’s always nice to see so many fans around, especially let’s say in qualifying. When you cross the line and you do your lap, hopefully they are cheering; last year they were, so it was good.”
Vandoorne was asked about his recent contract extension, and what it means for teammate Fernando Alonso’s 2018 situation. The Belgian kept his cards close to his chest, only confirming already-established details and not revealing anything new.
This year’s Belgian GP marks the one year anniversary of Esteban Ocon’s Formula 1 debut, after the Frenchman replaced Rio Haryanto for Manor at Spa last year. Ocon claims that he feels he has closed the gap to his teammate Sergio Perez over the first half of the season, and is hoping to really beat him in the second half of the year.
The end of the first section of the presser brought up an interesting topic, since Verstappen, Vandoorne, and Ocon could be the future stars of F1 fighting it out at the front of the grid one day. Vandoorne would like that, but only on one condition: “as long as I’m winning”. Ocon claimed that “when all the other guys retire, we’ll be in the front”, and brought up memories of his battles with Verstappen in Formula 3 in 2014, saying “I had good times with Max”. In that year, Ocon won the title while Verstappen finished third in his first single-seater season. The Force India driver state: “I really want to race with [us] three in the future at the top. It will be something awesome. As long as I’m winning.”
Raikkonen stays, but what about Bottas and Massa?
The second half of the Thursday press conference brought up another recent contract extension: Kimi Raikkonen will stay at Ferrari for 2018. On the topic, the Finn answered in his usual way: ‘Well, I wouldn’t do it if I wouldn’t want to, and be happy with it and obviously the team feels the same way so…’
Interestingly, it was brought up that the Ferrari driver mentioned he considered retiring at the end of 2015. To which he easily explained that he just enjoys the racing, and if it wasn’t for that he would be ‘the first guy to do something else.’
Although he explains that he has no idea what will happen in the case of his teammate Sebastian Vettel next year, but hopes that ‘all that stays how it is now and it would be perfect’.
His compatriot Valtteri Bottas, however, is not yet confirmed with Mercedes for next season, but given his recent results it might just be a matter of time. The Finn remains cool: ‘I’m used to these situations over the last few years, always the same thing that there’s no confirmation about next year so now we start the race weekend with a practice tomorrow.’ Bottas could not give a time for a possible contract extension: ‘We will tell you the news when there is some.’
The third guy in the round, Felipe Massa, confirmed that he returned back to health after he had to skip the Hungarian GP. He explained a bit about his condition four weeks ago: ‘It was like vertigo so I was feeling dizzy, not only in the car but also when I was laying down on the bed.’
About the future of his career he couldn’t tell us much more either, just confirmed that he would like to continue in 2018 if the situation allows it. For now, he takes it easy: ‘I’m quite relaxed about my future in one way or the other, to be honest.’
Speaking about this year’s situation, Massa sees the weakness of his Williams car: ‘I think we need to improve the car, especially from the downforce point of view so if you see that when you go to tracks like Budapest or maybe like city tracks.’ Therefore he hopes for better results this weekend and the following week in Monza. He also compares Spa to Silverstone and explains a bit around the course: ‘I think Eau Rouge will not be a corner that is very interesting because it will be too easy for all of the drivers, all of the cars, more or less like a straight but then, when you get to the second sector it will be quite interesting, a lot of high-speed corners, quick changes of direction.’
Today will bring us a first look at how competitive everyone is. As of Thursday, Verstappen couldn’t really tell how the situation for Red Bull is going to be like: ‘We just have to go out there and see what the balance of the car is and then, of course, we try some different tyres and we know the degradation and from there on we’ll go further into the weekend.’ About the new Renault power unit the Dutchman doesn’t ‘expect any miracles’ because it was more like ‘a bit of fine tuning’.
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