Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN (Alfa Romeo), Alexander ALBON (Toro Rosso), Romain GROSJEAN (Haas), Sergio PÉREZ (Racing Point)
Gentlemen, I’d like to start with a moment of reflection, given that this is Formula 1’s 1000th race. Growing up and watching the sport, what made you want to become a Formula 1 driver? Romain, if we could start with you, please?
Romain GROSJEAN: Good afternoon. I started watching with my dad, a long time ago. It was the time of the Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost fights and that was pretty exciting to watch. My dad was always passionate about cars and one day he brought me to a race track – not a Formula 1 race – and I saw the cars going and I thought ‘you know what, that’s what I would like to do’. Then, eventually, I was lucky enough to go to the Monaco Grand Prix to watch the Thursday practice and I saw the car and heard the noise of the engine and it was just something very unique and special, a good memory of my life. I remember going to the toilet and DC was there and he said, ‘oh, you go first son’. He still called me son by then! And I said ‘no, no, you go’. Pretty amazing.
Q: Thank you. Sergio?
Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah, for me similar, a similar story. I remember the first race I watched with my dad was ’94 actually, when Aytron had his accident. That was the first race I ever saw. A shock moment, more for my dad than for me. At the time I didn’t understand well what was happening. Obviously from Mexico, Formula 1 is not very big so it always seemed too far, too difficult. It’s been a while since we had a driver, so the history back home wasn’t big. But as a family we always loved the sport and I always wanted to become a Formula 1 driver. At a very young I went to Europe to fight for it. I remember watching so many races, always waking up very early in the morning, because in Mexico the races are very early, six or seven o’clock in the morning. So always on a weekend, when you don’t want to wake up early, I had to, to watch Formula 1. I actually remember watching Kimi back then, at a very young age too.
Q: Thank you Sergio. Kimi?
Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN: Yeah, I don’t know what year it was, but it was a long time ago, ‘80s, that’s for sure. I think the first memories were somewhere where Keke was racing when he blew up his tyre or something, maybe Adelaide or something, with the long straight, maybe the last races that he did. So anyhow, obviously I was cheering for the Finnish guys, but I didn’t think that I… maybe you dream when you’re a kid, but once you start doing go-karts and everything I didn’t really believe that it was going to happen, because obviously you need a certain amount of money to get from go-karts to racing. Maybe I believed a bit more when I got my managers helping and then actually got to race in Formula cars and then obviously it went very quickly. I guess it was a dream but not very realistic at that point, but it went fast once it started to go there.
Q: Thank you Kimi. And Alex?
Alexander ALBON: My hero was Michael Schumacher. That was the guy I always looked up to. I was Ferrari mad actually – even if I should say that or not, I don’t know. But I loved Schumacher. I think I was about six. I was a bit like Romain. I was at Silverstone and there was a competition. You had to fill out the top three drivers that you thought would win the race, or finish in that order, so I just put Michael, Rubens and Montoya. For some reason at that race that’s what happened. I think Barrichello was finishing last or something. So no one wrote what I wrote down. I think it was in hospitality at Ferrari. So I won the prize and got to meet Michael and got to meet Rubens. It stuck with me that. I was always a hardcore fan.
Q: Thanks to all four of you. Alex, if we could stay with you. Going well so far, you’ve outqualified your team-mate in Australia and Bahrain. Can you describe the learning curve you’ve been on so far in Formula 1?
AA: Yeah, it’s been steep. Getting in the car in Barcelona, getting up to speed. The speed bit… the cars are so refined now that you do feel quite comfortable with the cars straight away. It’s more the interaction with the team and kind of just extracting performance outside the car, which definitely is a lot about experience. So just being Dany, listening to him really, listening to his feedback, how he communicates with people, it really does help me. But yeah, it’s been going well. Simulator driving, that’s helped a lot as well. But it’s going well so far.
Q: And are you doing anything different with your helmet this weekend?
AA: Yeah, so I’ve got a Prince Bira tribute. I thought it would be cool to go back and bring out some of the Thai history in Formula 1. I have a couple of photos, I have his number, well, my number but in his style, because he had the blue and yellow racing scheme. So that’s about it.
Q: Thanks. Romain, you’re a man in need of some good fortune this weekend in China. Just how was last week’s test session in Bahrain? Did you understand why the car’s pace dropped off in the race?
RG: Well, it started with three wheels, which didn’t help, after the contact in the first corners. No, we had some good testing. It was a bit disrupted by the rain, which was a surprise to all us in Bahrain on Tuesday, but we did manage, on Wednesday afternoon, to get some good data and info, some interesting set-ups that we should have been running during the race. I think the car is fast and it’s good. You don’t qualify twice in the top 10 if you don’t have a fast car. I think we just missed something in Bahrain that we found at testing, which is good. I think what we need right now is a bit of luck on our side, and to make sure we go through the race with no incident or no issue and we should be able to have a good weekend.
Q: And anything different with your helmet?
RG: I’ve changed the design, using the F1 1000 logo – that looks really cool - just the full white helmet. Nothing really from the past of Formula 1 but I was not very… I used to throw all my equipment to the bins of the season, but luckily my wife pushed me to keep at least one thing from every year. I know I’ve got one overall per year, from all my racing career, from go-karts to 2019 season, and actually when I look at them now I think it’s pretty cool. I’ve got some helmets back home that mean more than others. My 100th grand prix helmet and obviously being part of race 1000 in Formula 1 is going to be something big, so that helmet is going to go on the shelf and I really like the design that we have produced. It looks pretty classy and really cool to be driven in China.
Q: Sergio, it hasn’t been the easiest of starts for the team in 2019, though you did finish in the points last time out. Are there any underlying issues with the car and if there are, what are they?
SP: I think the upgrade that we brought to the start of the season, given that we didn’t have enough to test or to work on it, I think that put us on the back foot at the moment in the midfield group. We scored points in Melbourne and now in Bahrain. At the moment we are not fast enough, we are not where we want to be, but I think we have proven in the past that it’s a very long season. It doesn’t matter where you are now, it’s where you get to by Abu Dhabi. We are understanding our issues, we have a lot of work to do and I’m pretty sure we will meet all of our targets for this season.
Q: And your helmet design for this weekend?
SP: My helmet design didn’t change much. I just wanted to put the 1000 race logo on my helmet just to… it’s obviously very special as a driver to race here, at such a special venue for Formula 1, it’s a very special weekend also. I want, as Romain said, to remember this weekend in many years, to look at this helmet and remember that I was part of the 1000th race in Formula 1.
Q: Kimi, great start to the season for you and Alfa Romeo, points in both of the opening two races. Can you tell us, what are the strengths of this year’s car and has the performance so far changed your goals for the season?
Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN: No, it hasn’t. I didn’t really have any goals, so it’s pretty hard to change them. I can’t really talk about last year’s car. Obviously I did a test but it’s one track so from my side it’s hard to say what is better on this car than the one they had last year but for sure they did a good job over the winter from the car that I drove in Abu Dhabi in the tyre test to the one we have now. Obviously there’s a lot of things to improve still and it’s a never-ending story and an ongoing thing to try to make it better, holding more downforce and stuff like that – but yeah, I think in general it’s quite a good, solid package and we understand it pretty OK and they seem to have good guys on all areas to bring new stuff. It never comes fast enough but that’s a normal issue in any team you go to. Yeah, I think the basis there is to make it faster all the time, so keep it up and see what we’ve got when we get to the end of the year.
Q: Anything different on the helmet design to celebrate 1000 races?
KR: No. I wanted to have an open-face helmet but there were some regulation issues…!
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines / racefans.net) Checo, you say your helmet design hasn’t changed much but I’m hearing from an insider that your helmet has actually changed. Do you have a different brand for this race?
SP: Yeah, in that regard yes. I’ve moved to Bell. I’ve been in a long term partnership with Schuberth which I’m very thankful for, I think it’s a fantastic helmet. Now I had the opportunity to change and I think Bell is also a fantastic helmet. I’ve tried it, and it’s my first race with them now. I started my career in Formula One with them and now I’m going back to Bell.
Q: (Steven Wade – AP) Kimi, we see that this summer you’re going to break an F1 record for the most races contested, how do you stay motivated? You’ve had tremendous success already, how do you stay motivated and stay on top of your game?
KR: I don’t know really. I don’t have any special things that I try to motivate myself. It’s become more of a hobby for me lately than anything else and probably that’s why it’s more fun again, so, yeah, I always try to do the best that I can. Some days it goes a bit better than others – but that’s how it goes when you do a lot of racing. Some days it’s a bit more tricky than others. It’s never really been an issue. A lot of people think so but, y’know, everybody has the right to say what they think. I just try to do what I can and hopefully… when I feel myself that it’s not what I expect from myself then obviously I try to find a new hobby after that.
Q: (Michael Butterworth – Xinhua News Agency) To all four drivers, keen to know your thoughts on the Shanghai circuit and if there are any particular features or characteristics that make it especially challenging or unique?
AA: Well, it’s my first time here, so a little bit hard to say but just coming from watching videos and being on the simulator it just seems like there’s about a thousand lines you can do here. A lot of corners leading onto other corners so it seems like there’s a lot of different styles, pushing entries or pushing exits. So yeah, it seems to be a really technical track. So, it’s interesting for the drivers, that’s for sure.
KR: I think it’s a nice track. It’s been the same since I came here the first time but some good overtaking opportunities and quite good fun to drive.
SP: It’s quite a long circuit: long straights, very long corners, like Turn One which is quite hard when you first get here. First lap it’s always very hard to reach the apex because it’s so late in the corner that it kind of gets you. Also, the wind is very difficult here. So it’s quite a unique place, I’d say. Normally good racing and a nice feeling on one lap – it’s definitely a circuit I enjoy.
RG: It’s a good circuit. One of the challenges is to get here on time in the morning. Racing it quite fun, as Kimi said. Qualifying laps are always good and then in the race the challenge is to look after your tyres, especially the fronts with those long corners: Turn One, Turn Seven-Eight, 13. That can really make a huge difference if you’ve used your tyres too much or not. Then you can have some really good racing. It’s a pretty good place to come.
Q: (Stuart Codling – Autosport) Question for Alex. The 2021 technical regulations are currently taking shape and are under discussion. The desired outcomes are for a more level playing field, for there to be more overtaking opportunities. Do you think that reducing the amount of data capture would provide that – or would it actively be a problem for drivers, such as you, who are just coming into the sport? Would it be a disadvantage?
AA: To promote overtaking? I wouldn’t say reducing data would effect overtaking. On my side at least, data is just for getting lap-time, it wouldn’t be a tool to affect passes, no.
Would if make your job harder if there were no data?
AA: In general, yeah, I would say so. I think data now in Formula One is huge. Especially for me, it’s a fast-track to get getting up to speed and even just about getting performance. It’s definitely something I use a lot, I compare with Dany quite a lot. I think some drivers look at data more than others. I’m a driver that looks at data quite a lot. Just to get up to speed. I’m using it a lot right now. For passing or overtaking, no.
Q: (Velimir Jukic Avto-Focus) Question for Kimi. They say you are slower for each kid by about one second. How are you compensating for this now that you have two seconds slower conditions to drive?
KR: Maybe I somehow go faster at the same time to compensate it! I don’t think that kids make any difference. There are an awful lot of stories based on nothing in F1. I didn’t ever feel that there’s something happening on my driving when our family got bigger – but I don’t know. I guess it depends from people to people also. Sometimes it might have an effect but at least on our side, on my side, I don’t feel it. Obviously the life changes a lot outside of racing but yeah, pure driving they didn’t really effect on my side.
I might just through that to Checo and Romain…
SP: Similar to Kimi I think it doesn’t…. Formula One drivers are all normal, when we’re driving we don’t think we have family, we have kids, we just want to go as fast as we possibly can. I think outside of racing it changes, you sleep a lot less looking after your kids! All of a sudden a Formula One race weekend becomes a holiday, because you’re able to sleep longer, and so on – but it’s a lot of fun and it doesn’t really affect at all. If it takes one second it means in the past we were really quick! Because we have a couple of seconds in th pocket, it means a lot.
Romain, anything to add?
RG: No, no. I think what the boys said is the truth. It changes you as a man back home. It changes your whole life and perspective and probably helps you more than it slows you down. When you’ve had a tough weekend and you come back home, it doesn’t matter, they love you and you love them more than anything, so it puts things in perspective. But yeah, with three kids now, three seconds off the pace, my goodness… quite happy to be qualifying in the top ten!
Alex, any children we don’t know about?
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) How do you think Formula One will look for race number 2000 in forty or fifty years’ time? Will car racing still exist and what kind of cars could we see on track? Or would you like to see on track?
RG: Actually I already answered that question. It’s a tough one. I’ve got no idea what the cars are going to be like in forty, fifty years. The only thing I would say is that I hope there is still going to be a driver driving the car because that’s where the emotion goes. If you hold a football game with just robots it’s not going to be much fun so I hope there are going to be drivers. Technology will be very different, I’m sure, but the sense of racing has been here since 1950, the first F1 race where the guys driving at their best, trying to overtake the guy in front of them and going as fast as they could with what they had and oversteer was oversteer back then and understeer is back today so I think the feeling was the same so I hope the guys would have as much fun as we do have today.
SP: Yeah, same. Technology these days is developing scarily so I really hope that in the future we still have the drivers and that they are able to have as much fun as we do or because I think things are going to change massively. I really hope that things change the same, at least. Obviously they were will be very different, I think, probably they might be electric in a couple of years - I hope in many more years. For the drivers, they will still be important. I don’t know if it was in the past but these days the driver is less important, the driver can make less of a difference and it’s now all related to the team so I think for the future and for the time that I’m here I can see a different Formula One where the driver can make the difference instead of the team.
KR: Yeah, it’s impossible to know what will happen. Probably there will be racing, some sort of racing, who knows what? It’s been 1000 races so I don’t think it’s going to disappear suddenly somehow but who knows? We’ll find out.
AA: Yeah, same as them. As long as we have a job or the future racing drivers have a job then I’m happy.
Q: (Zoran Zivkov – Top Speed Magazine) When you look at the past and history, if you’d had a time machine, in which period, in which era, would you like to come back?
AA: I haven’t really thought about that. I’d say old school, 1950s. I want to see how the sport was back then. I know it’s dangerous so maybe I will bring my HANS device with me and we will see but I think that kind of racing is cool and I’d like to try it out.
KR: I’ve gone back for the second one any more. I guess in the past, I would look at seventies, sixties, late sixties, seventies. For sure it would have been more fun, more relaxed, more pure racing but obviously much more dangerous but that’s normal at that time.
Q: We saw you with a James Hunt helmet a few years ago, didn’t we?
KR: Bit more than a few years but yeah.
SP: Yeah, I think that 1960s, 70s, those times were good fun. The driving looked very dangerous of course; for the driver, it depended on the risk you took that maybe made the difference. I think it’s something that all my career I have missed. Always the difference is made by the cars and not so much by the drivers. I think back then it was good fun. It looked really good. Also the atmosphere was really relaxed. I think these days Formula One is too posed. I wish it was a bit more relaxed and people enjoying themselves more.
RG: Yeah, not going that far (back). I’m really in love with ’93, ’94 and then 2005 and 2006. I wish that Kimi was back then: yeah, you were racing. I love the cars around that time and they looked amazing and there was a tyre war as well which was quite fun to watch from outside, I thought, and refuelling and the cars looked really really cool in mid-2000. I drove a 2007 car, it was quite good then.
Q: (Duan Yiyi – Titan Sports) Kimi, no matter which team you are in you always seem to be the fans’ favourite here in China, so from your perspective what characteristics do you have to attract so many fans in China?
KR: I have no idea. You should go and ask them. I think generally in Japan, China we Finnish people seem to have a lot of fans. It’s great, especially here. I cannot go anywhere but that’s a part of… the other side of the fans. I’ve always had a lot of fans here, since the first time we came here so I’m happy about it. I don’t know the reason. I guess you would probably get the answer if you go and ask some in front of our hotel, you can ask them there. Or at the airport.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines, RaceFans.net) You may have noticed that in Bahrain McLaren was sponsored by an e-cigarette brand, Vipe. Particularly the three fathers there, how do you feel about this? Do you feel it sets the right sort of example for your children?
RG: Oh dear. I’m going to dig my own oar. Right. I think you want to watch on Netflix, because they are our friends now, whatever content you can. I am the first one to tell my friends to stop smoking and I’ve actually achieved that a few times and I’m quite proud of that. I think e-cigarettes are maybe less bad. I think if they want to sponsor Formula One why not. I’ve been with Total for many many years which is an oil company in France or worldwide and we’ve actually done some amazing experiences together and you could say that oil is actually not good for the environment and so on but I think companies like Total are trying to do a lot for the environment and just producing oil. So I think, in the end, I don’t know much about e-cigarettes to be fair, but if it’s better for health reasons, if it’s less smelly as well… You know, we just came up the stairs and it smelled of cigarettes like hell. Same when you leave an airport. First thing you do when you go out of an airport, everyone is smoking his first cigarette and it stinks. If this year it can be better somehow then great. If it’s better then why not and if it helps our sport then great.
SP: Yeah, Romain did a good job with that one.
KR: No, I have no issue. I don’t see the connection that if my son sees advertising on any of the… doesn’t matter if it’s alcohol or cigarettes, something, I don’t believe that that affects his choices whatsoever. That’s my belief on that. Did it affect my choices when I have seen them in the past? Rules are rules, whether you can do it or not, that’s not my business but I have no worries.
RG: … point that Kimi’s bringing in, because we watched Formula One when there was a lot of cigarette advertising on the cars: Williams, Jordan, Ferrari, McLaren. I’ve never smoked all my life but I’ve been watching a lot of races so I don’t think there’s any connection there.