F1

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2017: Title contenders reminisce, Ricciardo vs. Verstappen, and Alonso in the WEC

RealSport brings you highlights from an entertaining Thursday’s drivers’ press conference.

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Facing the media’s questions today were Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), and Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) in the first part, and Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), and Fernando Alonso (McLaren) in the second.

Championship contenders reminisce

With 2017’s main title contenders in attendance in part one of today’s press conference, the pair were inevitably asked about their particular highlight of their battle for the championship.

Vettel jokingly made reference to Baku before settling on Spa as a highlight of his battle with Hamilton across the season.

“For sure when you’re chasing down, that’s really intense and really nice,” the German said. “I think Spa was a really intense race. I was trying to push him all race. I probably had  a chance but he was very clever defending, up the hill, up Eau Rouge.” 

“I think it’s been a fun year. Obviously when you are racing that close, with hardly any mistakes, I think it’s fair to say also that this year Lewis probably made less mistakes and in the end he was just the better man and he deserved to win.”

Hamilton as well singled out the Belgian Grand Prix as one of his favourite moments, and one he hopes to repeat in the future.

“Spa was awesome. To be fighting a four-time world champion whom you respect, you expect nothing but the best from them and no mistakes, so when you have races like Spa where it’s really down to one of you making the smallest mistake, and none of us did, I’m looking forward to many more of those races in the future.”

Red Bull aim to hit the ground running in 2018, and can their driver partnership survive a championship battle?

After a gentle teasing over his Movember moustache, Daniel Ricciardo was asked what he was doing behind the scenes to make sure that he starts next season right at the front.

“On a personal level, just make sure that I fill in the blanks I guess. There’s been some great races. Obviously I would love all 20 to be great and not all 20 have been. I think, yeah, for me, just to assess the year once it’s all settled and then just try to understand what I could have improved.” 

I’m sure there’s on-track stuff but also off track. Obviously I give every year a good crack, but give next year a proper crack. I mean between us all we’ve got eight world titles, so it’s pretty good!”

Talk also turned to how a potential title winning car could affect his relationship with teammate Max Verstappen, which is well known to be quite friendly, especially for an F1 driver pairing.

“I hope so (that they would remain friends), keep him on my birthday list. So we’ll see. We said at the start of this year it would be a good problem to have, if we’re both fighting at the front and having some battles. If it’s ultimately deciding a world title we would happily run with that challenge. So, yeah, we’ll see.”

Drivers set out their 2018 wish list

All three drivers from part one were asked about F1’s new approach in terms of its expansion in digital and social media realms since Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport earlier this year. All the drivers were very positive about the changes, but still expressed that more could be done.

Lewis Hamilton chose to focus on the driving side. “I think it’s been great to be able to drive and push the cars as we have. I think there is still work to be done in lots of different areas. But I think in general, Formula 1 has taken a good step forward, obviously with Liberty coming in.”

“On the racing side, I hope moving forwards, overtaking gets easier. Not easier, but being able to follow each other is really what the sport needs. The more overtaking the more fun it is for people to watch. That’s what I’m hoping for,”

Sebastian Vettel echoed Hamilton’s sentiments on the fun of driving 2017’s cars, but warned against knee-jerk reactions to what some may perceive as “boring” races due to a lack of overtaking.

“I think on that, wishes for next year is that everybody calms down. Some races are boring, so what? I don’t see the problem in that. I don’t think we need another record, another record every race, to have more overtaking and more overtaking.”

“It’s true that overtaking sometimes, especially if you’re behind and you’re fast and you can’t get past for those reasons, it annoys you. But then again, if you make the move there is a massive reward inside the car, sometimes out the car. What I want to say is that overtaking should be an achievement and not handed to you.”

Daniel Ricciardo was the last to answer and touched on another aspect of the changes in F1 recently, and that is the involvement of the fans.

“The off-track stuff has been pretty cool. It’s been interesting. It’s certainly opened up a lot of little things. The paddock is one area where there has been room for that to be more exciting for fans. People in the paddock, to have a common area to go to, to get a bit more of an atmosphere in there, whether it’s through some music or they’ve set up the bar. Yeah, they’re experimenting and it’s going in the right direction so it’s been cool to be a part of it.”

Alonso’s tests

Fernando Alonso has made headlines in between the last two races after he took part in a WEC test with Toyota, as well as sampling Daytona 24 Hours cars. Asked how the cars felt, the Spaniard was enthusiastic.

“They felt great. I’m behind a steering wheel, probably every week with different cars, obviously the last two were public and were probably a little bit bigger series.” 

“I was happy, first in Bahrain, I had this opportunity to test the LMP1, obviously different cars, some technologies that we don’t get have yet in F1, or that has been banned recently, like traction control and four-wheel drive and things like that, that obviously required a different driving style.”

“With LMP2 in Spain, testing for Daytona, it was also good fun. Cars again very different. More raw, a little bit and more simple and yeah, good fun and ready for next winter in Daytona, and not to have too much free time.”

Surprisingly, when given the opportunity by James Allen to talk about how versatile he is to be able to jump in to various different types of cars and be quick straight away, Alonso declined (sort of).

“I mean obviously, you believe in yourself. You believe that you can adapt very quickly to things, so (this) has been probably one of my strongest points in my career here in Formula 1.” 

“Maybe I’m not the fastest in qualifying, not the fastest in the race, not the fastest in the wet but I’m quite good in everything – so I was ready to challenge on different series and compete against the best drivers in that particular series or that particular driving style, learning from them, taking all the advice that I can and that’s quite a challenge.”

Bottas’s’ season review

Valtteri Bottas was asked to review his season at the start of part two today, and as ever, was refreshingly honest about it and gave himself a fair evaluation.

“Yeah, I think the balance sheet is a bit up-and-down for me. There was for sure many good moments, and good performances but many disappointments as well.” 

“The main think I think from this season, for me, is the amount I’ve been able to learn. The amount I’ve been able to grow as a driver and things I can take for the future. That’s what matters, you know? Lewis won the title, as my team mate, so we had a car to do it and he beat me this year. So, I’ve learnt a lot, and that’s why I’m really looking ahead.”

“This sport is all about details, and yeah, I’ve learnt a lot from those tough races and just need more consistency in different circumstances, different conditions and I know by working hard, I can do it.”

Let’s hope so, otherwise he may well find himself without a 2019 Mercedes contract if he cannot keep up with Hamilton next season.



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