We’re gathered under very sad circumstances, following the news that Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s Director of Formula One died during the early hours of this morning. I’d like to start this press conference by asking each of the drivers present for their thoughts and memories of Charlie.
Sebastian VETTEL: Well I guess I was as shocked as we all are still now, when I head the news this morning, especially because I spoke to him yesterday and walked the track for the first couple of corners together with him. Difficult to grasp when somebody is just not there anymore. To add to what Lewis said. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s sort of been our man, the driver’s man. Obviously there are regulations and all that and then there is us and he was the middleman. He was someone you could ask anything of, anytime. He was open to everyone at any time. His door was always open. He was a racer. He was just a very nice guy. Shocked. I don’t think there’s that much to add. I think all our thoughts, the whole paddock, the whole circus, the whole family of Formula One; all our thoughts are with him and especially with his family in these difficult circumstances.
Q: Sebastian, coming to you, fastest in winter testing. Do you feel you’re in a better position now than you were at this time last year?
SV: Yeah. Quite frankly because I think last year’s winter testing didn’t go well for us and we actually had some issues with the car to fix and obviously we got a bit lucky during the race weekend with the safety car to grab the win – but yeah, I think in this regard we are more prepared. Our car seems to work fine: no problems at this stage. Having said that, obviously we can’t do better than last year’s result. So, it’s a tough weekend ahead of us. Always the start, you’re a bit nervous, you don’t know exactly where you are. You don’t know what’s going to happen but yeah, I think we are… y’know… the spirit is good, the atmosphere is good, we’re happy to be here and start racing.
Q: And just a quick word on the technical regulation changes that have happened over the winter. Do you feel that it’ll be possible to follow another car closer this year than last year?
SV: Well, testing isn’t about following other cars and overtaking. So I didn’t get much of that – but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Hopefully it turns out to be better and easier this year. We will see. Obviously the DRS is a bit different. It’s a bit bigger delta – so let’s see. I didn’t have that much experience in testing to make a full conclusion.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
(Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Seb, you talked about being more prepared this year. Does it feel different coming here, arguably as the hunted rather than the hunter?
SV: Well, at this point, I think we are all hunters and all hunted. We have zero points. At this point I don’t feel like either. But hopefully going away from here we’ll be in the position of the hunted. That’s the target.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Sebastian. Your team boss has said that, in particular situations, you’ll be favoured. What do those particular situations mean? In what way will you be favoured at the start of the season?
SV: I don’t think there’s much point in going into certain situations. I think it’s very clear, and I think Mattia also made it very clear, we are free to race, free to race each other. I think Charles will do his best to help himself and help the team and that’s the same for me. I will do my best to help myself and to help the team. So, in the end we’re racing for Ferrari and that means we try to get Ferrari back to where we’ve been trying to get it back to for the last couple of years. That’s the main priority and the rest, it’s a long, long season and I think it’s a bit pointless at this point to start pointing out certain scenarios.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) If I could ask all of your briefly, what do you think of the new rule of a point for fastest lap?
SV: I don’t know. I don’t expect much change. We’ll see after a couple of races if there is actually a change.
Q: (Joost Nederpelt – NU.NL) Max, you said some things could have been better. What could have been better?
MV: Some things. I cannot go into detail, can I? No, I can’t.
SV: Otherwise what? Daniel comes after you with his knife!
Q: (Giles Richards – Guardian) Lewis and Sebastian, how important to each of you is it to stamp your authority for the championship early on this season, in these opening four races?
SV: Yeah, pretty much the same. I don’t think we will win it here, I don’t think we will lose it here. It’s a long way. Hopefully we have a strong package, a strong team that carries us into a position at the end of the year to fight for it.
Q: (Stylianos Alepidis – F1fan.gr) Sebastian, the last couple of championships you did not reach your target. You had the weight on your shoulders from the Italian media about the expectations of the tifosi. Now under the new leadership of Mr Binotto, do you think that with the new attitude of the communications department towards the media that the more intense later stages of the championship will pan out somehow differently?
SV: I’m not sure the media is going to make a big difference unless you can somehow transfer points to my account. I think it’s a new year, obviously (there have been) some changes. Of course we will be focused trying to do our job as good as we can. I think there’s a lot of passion inside this team that’s willing to get out and expressing ourselves, I think, through winning, is the best we can do so that’s the target but as I said, there’s so many races, such a long way, so many things we are depending on but as much as we can control things we try to take them in our hand and get our job done. As I said, so far the atmosphere is good, the spirit is right inside the team and yeah, we try to carry that into the season. In terms of expectations, I think it’s normal when you finished second the year before that the way to look at it is that it is a disaster because you finished second so in that way, finishing second, third or fourth is all the same disaster. The winner takes it all, so in that case Lewis has been in that position the last years and we try to turn it around.
Q: (Rene Oudman – Racing News 365) The first Grand Prix of the season means the end of the winter break, a time in which you have more spare time. What was the nicest, funniest or weirdest thing you’ve done in the winter of 2018/2019?
SV: I don’t know. I guess just spending time at home, making my own breakfast which I quite enjoy. Yeah, pretty boring maybe but I enjoyed it. Went skiing a couple of times, the weather was good, the snow was good.