Chinese Grand Prix: Thursday Drivers’ Press Conference

Highlights from Thursday’s driver press conference ahead of the third round of the 2018 Formula One season in China. The trio of drivers in the spotlight during today’s press conference include Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso), Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), all of whom have been in the headlines this week for better or for worse.

Walking Through the Desert

The trio of drivers were first asked to reflect on last weekend out in Bahrain starting with Pierre Gasly, who finished a sensational fourth for Toro Rosso.

“I must say it’s been amazing,” began Gasly. “It’s a big investment for a long time, since I’m a kid. It’s a lot of work, a lot of preparation and, of course, it’s my best result in Formula One—but just to see that all the work I’m doing at the moment is paying off and actually we are going in the right direction, so of course, I’m really happy about it.

“And secondly, for the team, it’s only our second race with Honda and already we can see that we are actually going in the right direction, communication-wise everything is going well and the car is competitive.

“So, this was really amazing, and also the support I got afterwards, after the weekend, I’m just super-impressed. A lot of articles, a lot of TVs, and media writing as well. It was something impressive but really nice, a lot of support from the people as well. So, it’s been great.”

Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson also enjoyed a very successful weekend in Bahrain, finishing the race ninth and scoring his first F1 points for 50 races.

“It was a big relief,” said Ericsson. “I think I’ve had four times P11 since then. So, I was close a lot of times, and had some great races but it’s very difficult when you’re in the worst car on the grid. Some races I had a perfect race—and finished P14 or something like that. It’s frustrating, but, yeah, of course we’re all here to try to score points. So to be back in the points last weekend was a great relief.”

“It was a great race for us, great to be in the points and also a great reward to everyone in the team. It’s been a lot of things happening over the winter. We’re coming from two very difficult years, where we’ve been always at the back as a team, and then this year we’re coming into the year with Alfa Romeo coming on as a main sponsor, and partner to the team and it’s like a new chapter for Sauber.

“It’s been a lot of work put in to make a step forwards and to move up the grid. And to be already at the second race of the year in the points, it’s, I think, a great result, a great team result and a great boost for everyone. So yeah, it was very nice. And also for myself personally, I was super happy to be back in the points. It’s been a long time. So, yeah, overall it was very positive.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a very different affair for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The Dutchman’s race barely lasted three laps after contact with reigning champion Lewis Hamilton at Turn 1 on the second lap of the race.

“You can say whatever you like about the incident,” said Verstappen. “I think I had a fair shot at it. It was nothing crazy, nothing risky. But yeah, unfortunately this time it didn’t work out. Looking back, for example, in Mexico last year it did work out. This time we gave each maybe not enough space, but that’s racing as well at the end of the day. Like I said, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.”

“It’s always important to score points and that’s always the target, but we are here to finish on the podium or win races—that’s why we’re here. That’s what I will try to do again this weekend. So, for me, there won’t be a change.”

Chaos and Controversy

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© Jerry Andre/Sutton Images

Verstappen’s coming together with Hanilton was one of the hottest headlines over the last week. The drama came to a head during the post-race press conference in Bahrain when a Dutch journalist queried Hamilton on a post-race remark in which the four-time world champion labelled Verstappen a “d***head” after viewing his bold move on TV monitors.

Sitting beside Hamilton at the press conference, Sebastian Vettel immediately intervened and launched into a tirade in which he accused the journalist of “trying to make a story out of nothing”. The media assembled in Shanghai were ready to hear Verstappen’s side of the incident and whether he had spoken to Hamilton since.

“I might have a talk with him,” began Verstappen. “It depends if it’s really necessary. But why should I change something. I don’t think I did anything wrong in terms of my approach. I was just trying to overtake a car.

“I think it was a fair chance. I went for it. For example, last year in Mexico it could have gone wrong as well—maybe for me, maybe for another car. As you could see in Mexico it did. It’s racing; it’s very simple. I don’t understand why everybody is so on top of the topic. Those things happen in racing, you know.

“It’s quite easy and simple to blame the younger driver. That’s the only way I can see it. Like I said, these things happen. There’s no reason for me to change anything.”

The 20-year-old was also asked about Red Bull’s lacklustre result in Bahrain and whether the team had time to analyse what went wrong.

“From my side, we put a new wheel on the car, a new floor, because that was destroyed. No, I think it was mainly more from Daniel’s car of course and in the race I think we had the problem quite similar to me last year in Canada and I think in testing this year as well.

“It’s definitely something to look into but what can you do about it? It’s something that Renault needs to sort out. They are of course working really hard on that. They will again try their very best to provide us with the best possible equipment here. I’m actually not too worried about it and at the end of the day, if it happens it happens. You can’t prevent it.”

Brand New Chapter

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© Simon Galloway/Sutton Images

Marcus Ericsson scored his first F1 points for 50 races after finishing ninth at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ericsson has previously spoken about this being a new chapter for Sauber with their new title partner Alfa Romeo coming onboard in 2018. The Swede was asked how this year’s car compared to 2017 and how it felt to score Sauber’s first points with Alfa Romeo branding.

“It’s like a new chapter this year,” emphasised Ericsson. “A lot of things have been changing over the winter, especially, obviously, with Alfa Romeo coming on board, a lot of new people coming in to the team. A lot of things changing, completely different resources. It’s been a big change and you can feel it inside the team. You can feel the motivation is very high, people are believing again.

“It’s a big motivation to move up the grid, whereas it’s been more about the team surviving the last few years, so it’s not so much been pushing for performance, it’s been more pushing for trying to survive every week, every race. Having that mindset, it’s then difficult to get the results whereas now we go into the season to push, to make results and to move up the grid.

“It’s just a completely different mindset. For me, that’s been very nice to see. So far it’s been very good, but we still have a long way to go and we need to keep working hard but it’s been very positive.

“On the second part, to score points, being the first one in this new chapter with Alfa, I think it’s something that makes me proud. First of all I’m proud to represent Alfa Romeo in Formula One again, I think it’s a very legendary brand. It’s very special to represent them in Formula One again and of course to score points with them.”

Honda Gives You Wings

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© Jerry Andre/Sutton Images

Much was made of Toro Rosso’s decision to bring Honda onboard for the 2018 Formula One season considering their previous track record as engine supplier for McLaren. However, Gasly’s impressive fourth place at the Bahrain Grand Prix helped to silence critics and give Honda a much-deserved reward for all their efforts.

“We expect to be quite competitive, after what we learned from Bahrain,” admitted Gasly. “But as I say, we don’t know if we’re going to be on top of the midfield, if we are going to be in the middle, we just know that to have a similar performance as Bahrain we really need to be on top of everything and just make everything perfectly.

“The track layout, for sure, is not one of our favourites, or is not going to be as easy, with the long back straight. But still you need to have a really strong car in the middle part of the track, so I think we can still expect to be competitive. But to have a clear picture, we have done only two races.

“We were pretty slow in Melbourne. We were very competitive in Bahrain, even faster than what we expected, so it’s still difficult for us to know for us exactly where is the performance of the car. I think we are going to be in the fight for the midfield, but hopefully on top of it.”

Gasly also stated that the result was a just reward for Toro Rosso and Honda for all their hard work. Furthermore, the Frenchman was asked for a comment after claiming that Toro Rosso can fight now and whether that was in response to McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

“It was simple, it was just a little joke, that’s it. I think we need to give credit back to Honda. In the end, they have had a tough three years with McLaren and to finish P4 in the second race with them was just amazing, so it was a way to give them credit, because they are working really hard and yeah, I think they need credit for the hard work they are doing. But don’t get me wrong, I must say I had pretty tough messages after that, after the race, by some Spanish people who are actually quite crazy.

“I have huge respect for Fernando so I’m just making it clear. Don’t get me wrong. Fernando for sure is one of the best drivers of all time in Formula One, and one of the drivers I looked up to when I was young, one of my idols actually. No, I have huge respect for him, so it was nothing related, just a high comment for Honda because I think they deserved the credit.”

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