PART TWO: DRIVERS – Fernando ALONSO (McLaren), Kevin MAGNUSSEN (Haas), Jolyon PALMER (Renault)
Q: So, Fernando, twice a winner here in Bahrain but really only one thing to ask you about this afternoon, which is the Indianapolis 500. First current F1 driver to do Indy, I think, for around 40 years. What’s in it for you, and what’s in it for Formula One?
Fernando ALONSO: As you said, it’s something that is not very common now. I think the past it was all about the best drivers in the world with the best cars in the world and the best races in the world. Then it became more and more professional, the sport, and everyone was dedicated or fully committed to only one series and I think that changed over time. This possibility, it was there for us this year, and I think I am excited to try a different thing. If I want to be the best driver in the world there are two options: I win eight Formula One World Championships, one more than Michael, which is very unlikely; the second one is to win different series in different moments of my career and be a driver that can race and win in any car, in any series. So, that’s very challenging – but attractive as well. So, this is the reason behind. With the same team is a win-win situation. I think it is good for Formula One. This big market in North America that we’ve been pursuing for many years: I think it’s good to go there now and show the respect for the Indy Car series; good for Indy, I guess, to have some Formula One drivers in the competition, and same for McLaren-Honda. I think, as a team, to be racing in the same day in Monte Carlo and in the Indy 500, two McLaren-Hondas in different series, is an amazing thing for motorsport fans. As I said, I think it’s a win-win series for everyone.
Q: It’s obviously a very different kind of driving discipline. In terms of the preparation, how many days of running do you expect to get before race day and what kind of preparation do you think you’re going to be able to do?
FA: There is not a defined plan yet, it’s still on-going, so I cannot answer 100 per cent sure what will be there. The plan, at the moment is that next weekend I will be in Alabama just visiting the race and meeting the team members to see how things go there. Probably on Monday after the race I will do the seat fitting, and then I will fly to Russia for the race. After Russia, I will try to be in Indianapolis for a couple of simulator days and hopefully test the car – but it’s not 100 per cent sure. And after that I will go to the Spanish Grand Prix and then fly to America on Sunday after the race because the free practice is on Monday at midday. So, definitely busy weeks in front. On the planes, I will try to look at some videos and some races from the past years and try to learn as quick as I can. It’s completely different skills that you need there, to adapt to the car, to adapt to the circuit, strategies, ways of racing: that close, at that speed, so many things that I have to learn and I’m not ready yet, at the moment – but in the next couple of weeks I am confident I will be able to adapt as quick as I can.
Q: Just before you came in, Lewis and Sergio were talking about it and thinking about the challenge ahead of you, they were both saying they think you’ll go great because you’re outstanding at race management: if you need to save fuel, save tyres, managing the tyres – but also moving through traffic. When you look at those races do you feel confident that there’s a lot of areas like that that you’ve got in your game that will really help you?
FA: Hmmm… not really. I never thought about that before making the decision. I think… I don’t feel prepared now. I don’t feel… let’s say I’m not in my comfort zone driving those cars or thinking about those cars. But I’m not afraid of trying and I’m not afraid of not delivering a good result – but knowing at the same time that there are very important weeks ahead. If I want to win one day the triple crown, I have to make this step. This year was the best opportunity for us as a team.
Q: Kevin, coming to you. Eighth, obviously, in China, scoring Haas’ first points of the season. We asked Sergio earlier on about the intensity of that midfield battle this year, with Haas’ best-ever result coming here 12 months ago. Do you feel this again is a circuit that gain you can rise on, as a team?
Kevin MAGNUSSEN: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be as good as China, or even Melbourne. I think we have a good car that works well in most conditions and I think, yeah, as I said, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to perform here. The midfield is very close and competitive, so getting points, you really need to be on top of everything. That’s our target: to be on top of everything and to try and score points again – but it’s not easy.
Q: You’ve raced with two well established operations in McLaren and Renault. How different is it racing for a start-up? Does being in a team like this actually suit you?
KM: In some ways it does. Being small some things are easier, some things are more difficult. I think there’s a lot of talent in the team. They’ve got together a really strong, small group of people that work really well together. In some situations, it’s difficult when you’re small. For example, when we need to go into FP3 with no practice; when we miss Friday like we did in China, it’s not easy because our preparation before the race weekend is not as strong as the big teams, of course. But, we react quickly and we take decisions well and, as I said, if everything goes well, I think we should be strong.
Q: Jolyon, a brutal weekend in Australia but then in China, qualified 18th but finished 13th, it’s clearly not gone as expected so far? So, what have you had to deal with?
Jolyon Palmer: Australia was very tough for many reasons but China was much better, to be honest. The car was feeling good, I finally had a clean session in FP3 and we were in the top ten. And then qualifying I really feel I could have been in Q3 as well but I didn’t get a lap in in Q1 really. Starting from the back, it’s difficult to do much and we couldn’t make a lot of inroads in the race. I think the performance of the car is pretty good, as Nico has been showing, especially in China qualifying, so it’s just a matter of putting a clean weekend together, getting some laps on Friday – I think I’ve done about ten so far across two weekends, so yeah, would be nice to have a clean weekend and I think we can get in the points.
Q: Do you think this generation of cars suits you?
JP: I like it! That’s for sure. I think probably every driver is enjoying driving one of these cars: there’s a lot of downforce. For me, having never driven a V8 or a V10 era of F1 car, this is really exciting. It’s easily the quickest I’ve ever driven. The downforce is the main thing that we feel and it’s exciting.
Q: Do you feel you’re more comfortably in race mode than in qualifying? Is qualifying an area that’s a particular focus for you going forward this year?
JP: No, I just think we’ve had particularly difficult weekends. Qualifying in China would have been fine. The lap that I was on in Q1 would have easily seen me through to Q2, so I’m really sure I could have been in Q3 but it’s just how it goes. The Sauber crashing meant that meant I couldn’t complete the lap properly.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Fernando, if you win in Indianapolis, and you’re able to win at Le Mans after that – and both are big ifs unfortunately, it would still only pull you level with another double World Champion who won the triple crown. So, what other iconic event could you aim for to really set yourself apart from everybody else, as you said earlier on you’d like to?
FA: I don’t know. That’s thinking too much ahead. Go-Kart World Champion. I don’t know if the other guy was.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Fernando, two-part question: would this have happened had Ron Dennis still been in charge. And b) more significantly, would you be doing this if you had a competitive car beneath you this season?
FA: First part of the question, I guess not. Zak is a man who has a bigger vision that other team principals or bosses that I had. He sees motorsports differently; he sees McLaren bigger, not only concentrated in Formula One. McLaren won Le Mans a couple of times, won the Indy 500 in the past as well a couple of times. I think he is a true racer. I think it is great that McLaren and Zak joined forces last year It’s a good thing. Secondly, if the car was competitive this year and we were with 43 points together with the other two guys, you cannot afford to lose 25 points possibility missing one race. So, probably the feeling was different if we were competitive.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Fernando, do you have any idea when you think you’ll be able to race Le Mans?
FA: I don’t know. It’s between Canada and Baku no? We’ll see how many flight connections there are! No, I think definitely… it was something also on the table this year, also because Zak, as an American was pushing for the Indy 500, Eric as a Frenchman, he was pushing for the Le Mans, so I had two good friends in one moment pursuing the race. I think the McLaren-Honda partnership, to be able to run this in the Indy 500, was very attractive this year. For Le Mans it is something I will do – probably as soon as I can. I don’t know if it will be next year or from the following years. The only and first priority is Formula One, so if I can race together with Formula One and other series, as I’m doing this year, will be great. If not, I will do only Formula One.
Q: (Simon Lazenby – Sky Sports) Just to follow-up again, on what Ian Parkes was saying, you said this wouldn’t have happened under Ron Dennis potentially but it’s happening under Zak. What about the new owners, Liberty, have they given it their blessing – they don’t have to but have they done so? And could you imagine you being allowed to do this, or would the squeeze have been put on for you to not, one of the leading Formula One drivers to have done this, under Bernie?
FA: As you said, I don’t think they have a key role on all of these decisions. It’s more of a team decision but yeah, I think they are also more open than in the past. We see that also with all of the things we are allowed to do here now. A little bit more relaxed environment. I think it’s also great for Formula One.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) Two part question to Fernando: firstly, who would you like to see replace you in Monaco, who do you think would be the ideal driver to do that? And secondly, when you say good result at Indy, what do you mean? Are you going there for the win, or is it too early to set that target? Do you see winning this year a realistic prospect at Indy?
FA: I think for the Monaco replacement I don’t know. I have no idea of what the team is thinking of at the moment and I don’t have any preference either. I think whoever will be in the car will do great because the team will try to make the best decision possible. Also I’m sure that Stoffel will put the car where he will need to put it because now with some more races and also testing next week here, I think we will get to the maximum speed as soon as possible, so I’m not concerned for this. It will be a good weekend in Monaco for the team, I’m sure. In Indy, I don’t have a clear target, let’s put it that way. I’m going there just with the feeling of enjoy this experience, learn as much as I can from the track side with the different skills that I will need to drive those cars – and also from the outside which I think… the event is quite big, it’s a 14 day event with many things happening there. So (I’m) very open to anything that comes, but at the same time I’m a racer and if I want to win the triple crown one day I have to win that race. If that win happens earlier than expected it’s welcome. Otherwise I need to go again.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Fernando, was McLaren’s desire to keep you for 2018 any part of these discussions?
FA: No, no. At the beginning of the year, the team asked me what was my intention and my thoughts for the future. I told them the same thing that I told you guys at the launch of the car. After the summer I will think and I will make a decision of what I will do next year, so nothing has changed after this discussion. It’s not that I’m thinking ‘away from Formula One’, so this will be my last year because this decision and obviously it’s not that thanks to this decision… You know I’m closer and closer to McLaren and to renew the contract so it’s completely independent. After the summer I will see.
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday, Motorsportweek.com) Fernando, you said you’re open to other things in Indycar as well. Would you be open to other Indycar races, bearing in mind there’s a double-header the week after Indy before Canada, and you’re in North America already? And it’s a street circuit?
FA: No. I don’t think so. I think it’s a one-off. I will do the Indy 500 because it’s the race, it’s the biggest race in the world and the fastest race in the world but after that, especially after Indy and Canada I will probably be two weeks in the living room watching television and relaxing.
Q: Just before we move on, I just wanted to ask the other two gentlemen what do you think of this and is it something that you’d like to do?
JP: I think it’s cool. I think it’s obviously something pretty different, it’s exciting for everyone, for him especially but the whole of F1. For me to do it, we’re in quite different positions right now so maybe in 15 years if I’m in a similar position then maybe.
KM: Yeah, I can see that with his situation it makes sense and it’s a really cool thing to do so I can understand it.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Fernando, two parts: was it your idea to go racing elsewhere, Indy or Le Mans, and secondly, you had some tough times physically in Bahrain – I don’t remember when, 2006? Did you prepare differently for this race with the new cars?
FA: Indy and Le Mans – I don’t know, it was a conversation at dinner in Australia that we were sharing our ambitions for the future: me as a driver, of my karting school and different things, different projects that I’m in and as a driver to win something else other than Formula One that we succeed to win a few things was attractive. Zak was telling me his vision about the team in the near future, expanding McLaren into different series in motorsport so I think it was a conversation that began casually but it didn’t come from my side or his side. It was just a conversation. And then in Bahrain, it was 2009 when I lost five or six kilos of sweat, five or six litres of water. We had a problem with one of the looms on the radiator. I completely burnt all my back in the race and after the race I was completely off, so hopefully everything will be in place and we will not burn the skin any further than in the sun in the morning.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – Globosport.com) Fernando, what is the influence of the difficulties of your team today in your decision to compete in the USA 500? And will this decision interfere in your presence in this Formula One season this year in other races?
FA: It will not influence anything for the remainder of the year. I will be back in Canada, stronger, hopefully, because there are some improvements also during the year which will put us in a more normal position. Right now we are very uncompetitive and we are not happy with the situation so I think it’s going to be much more fun for us, the remaining races from Spain onwards, let’s say. And what was the first question? Not really. I think it’s true that it’s a good motivation and the possibility to win a big race, a big trophy like the Indy 500 in the middle of a year is like winning a World Championship in one weekend so you have two possibilities in one year, so it’s very attractive but it’s not that it came to our mind because this year we’re struggling or last year or the last two years we’re not competitive. This is something that I keep repeating since 2014. I remember leaving Ferrari and talking about this possibility to Mattiacci and people at Ferrari, even racing the 24 hours of Le Mans with a 458, so you’re competing in two different categories in the first year in the same year. So it’s nothing new because of the performance of this year.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Fernando, given what you’ve just said, if you don’t win in Indianapolis would you consider putting a clause in your future contracts regardless of which team, that you can actually compete in say Le Mans or the Indianapolis 500?
FA: No, no, I think if it’s something that comes naturally from the team and from myself and we want to do it, it’s one thing but my commitment and my desire to win in Formula One is bigger than any other challenge that I can find outside Formula One so it’s Formula One or nothing at the moment but if, together with a team, we arrive at a decision that maybe could be interesting for both sides to try something else we do it but I will never put a clause or anything in a future contract because Formula One is the only thing that I want to do and the only thing that I’m probably prepared to do. The other things are just a question mark.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto Motor und Sport) Fernando, how hard is it then to miss the race in Monte Carlo, the one where you can probably overcome the deficiencies of the car more than at any other place?
FA: It’s very hard. Definitely Monte Carlo, we know with the package we have in the last couple of years, it was our best opportunity, it’s where we achieved the best results in the last couple of years so it’s a very magic event in Formula One so with all respect to all the other races, any other race to miss was fantastic compared to Monte Carlo. I will try to follow it from Indianapolis, also that that weekend is more or less free there, it’s only the race on Sunday so I will miss Monaco massively.
Q: Abhishak Takle – Midday) Fernando, I know that you said you haven’t yet set any targets but you must be reasonably confident of being able to run at the front because without that, to give up competing in Monaco is a pretty big decision.
FA: Yeah but in a way Monaco is the biggest race of the calendar in Formula One and the event is amazing, not only the race on Sunday but the whole weekend is amazing but the best result that we achieved was last year, fifth. Thinking that we are a little bit less competitive this year, you know and maybe you had a possibility to do another top five or seven or six or wherever, it’s great to have some points but I’ve won a couple of times there already and two times World Champion so to have fifth, seventh or ninth in Monaco will not change my life. In a way, it’s impossible to compare… to have the minimum chance to win the Indy 500 compared to a fifth or sixth or seventh in Monaco. It’s much bigger, the other possibility.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Kevin and Jolyon, your fathers both raced at Le Mans in the endurance championship etc. Could you see yourselves going there?
JP: It’s possible but yeah, I think for me, I’m so focussed on Formula One at the moment, only my second year so yeah, my position’s pretty different. Still all eyes only on Formula One. I think I love the sprint racing but wheel to wheel racing which is not so much endurance. But Le Mans is still a legendary race so maybe.
KM: I think, for me, I want to be in Formula One and focus on that but my Dad is still racing, he’s in a competitive team in his series and also racing at Le Mans, so I think it would be a shame not to try and do a race together. Me growing up with him racing all the time, it would be a really special experience to do a race with him and imagining winning something like Le Mans with him would be fantastic. It’s weighing up those two things that Formula One is my main priority, that’s what I want to do and what I want to focus on but there is the desire to do something like that with my Dad as well so we will see what happens.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Fernando, just saying then that coming fifth or sixth at Monaco isn’t going to change your life, is that the approach you’re also going to take when you look at where you’re going to be next year as well and who you’re going to be racing for?
FA: Yeah, yes, definitely. I want to win, I’m here to win. I think this year I prepared harder than ever for this year. There’s also the change of regulations. We have high hopes for this year. I feel great with these cars, I’m able to extract the maximum from the cars while during the last couple of years it was difficult because especially with the tyres you had to manage the tyres in a strange way: the less you push, the more performance was there in the tyres so this year is coming back to more normal Formula One and I really enjoyed the race in Australia and in China as well. We were running and securing eighth place. With the performance we have now, it was completely unexpected. Even the most optimistic simulation we had was telling us that we were around 14th or 15th. So I think I’m really at the best of my career right now in terms of driving so for next year, the target has to be only one: fighting for the World Championship, so not any more fifth or sixth.
eom/FIA transcript of the press conference.