Part one of Thursday's Japanese GP press conference saw Daniel Ricciardo, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll answer questions.
Felipe, let’s start by talking about your future. This time last year you knew what you were going to be doing, or not doing, in 2017….
Felipe MASSA: No, I didn’t know anything last. What I decided didn’t happen.
Well you weren’t going to be racing in Formula One, that was the plan, but there seems to be some uncertainty now. Where are you at ion your head, how much do you want to stay in Formula One and how much do you want to stay at Williams?
FM: To be honest in my head I’m pretty relaxed, so I’m enjoying and trying to do the best I can in the last races this year and I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. But I’m quite relaxed. I’m quite keen to do maybe another season. I think I can do it in a great way. I can give a lot to the team, like I did already and I think maybe I can do another year. But I don’t decide; the team decides. Yeah, I’m pretty relaxed, trying to enjoy the races, trying to do the best I can in the car, trying to the give the best to the team, and that’s the most important thing. I’m talking with the team definitely for next year and we are in discussion. So everything has some directions around, so I have my direction as well to follow, like a professional driver, like I was always in my career in Formula One and I am very happy for that. That’s the way it is and definitely I can do a good effort for the team but we need to find a good solution to carry on in the right way, that everybody is happy. But anyway, I’m quite relaxed and definitely gave a lot to the team, to Formula One as well. If people are happy that I stay, I stay, and I will do everything I can to stay at the top level. But I’m quite relaxed and I’m trying to do my job in the right way in the last races and we’ll see what’s going to happen.
When do you need to know by? Have you given the team a deadline?
FM: Well, we don’t have a deadline. Definitely I think it would be good for the team and also for myself that we know what’s going to happen before the race in Brazil. We’ll see if this will be possible but I really hope so.
Turning to matters on track now, you hold the pole position record here at Suzuka, for your Q3 time in 2006. Tell us a little about what’s the secret of stitching together a good lap here and indeed is there any advice you can give a rookie, like your team-mate Lance Stroll?
FM: Yeah, I remember it was 2006; it was around 29.5 lap time. That was pretty amazing. A long time ago, many things change from that time to now. If you see also that the car we race now is one hundred and something kilos heavier than how it was the car in 2006. But maybe this year it can change. Maybe this year we can see some records around this track and I’m sure it will be great to drive the car we have this year on this track, which is definitely one of the best tracks in Formula One. I’m sure Sector 1 will be quite fun, but also quite difficult for all of us in terms of our neck and in the race and also to do one lap in qualifying will be pretty interesting, to see that feeling. Lance knows already the track, but definitely it is a different car so I think it will be nice for him to drive the car this year.
Thank you. There is clearly a good dynamic between yourself and Felipe, and there’s a lot of speculation around who is going to be your team-mate next year. Do you have a preference?
FM: We’ve had a really god relationship this year and we’ve done a good job to help the team score as many points as possible, between the both of us. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the team, who are the drivers. I’ve just got to focus on what I’m doing, but definitely we have a good relationship this year.
Is there one particular thing that you have learned from Felipe this year?
LS: That’s it.
FM: We should say, no?
LS: No. It’s between the two of us. All in all, he brings a lot of experience to the team and I’ve been able to use him as a benchmark throughout my rookie season. He’s really helped to develop the car in many ways, with these regulations, and as well I think I’ve been able to pick up a few details along the way that I could apply into my work at the track, so all in all there have definitely been a lot of things I’ve picked up throughout the year.
And you’ve now scored points in six of the last nine races. You’re looking very assured in the car. How much more confident are you now compared to Melbourne at the start of the year?
LS: I’m a different driver to where I was in Melbourne at the beginning of the year. It’s just experience that you soak up through the year and every race there is always something that I think I could do better. I just feel that I’m getting better every single race and that’s just experience and time in the car.
Thank you Lance. Daniel, can we start by talking about what you’ve been up to since the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend, have you been having fun in the Land of the Rising Sun?
Daniel RICCIARDO: It can be a dark place… the sun doesn’t always rise (laughs). It can get emotional in Tokyo. But no, it’s been OK. A more positive experience in the last few days, was actually with this man here [Felipe Massa]. We went to the famous sushi… I’m going to get it wrong now, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and it kind of became more on the map to let’s say the western world after there was a documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and I was told about it a couple years ago and I was like ‘oh, we’ll just call and get a reservation for tomorrow night’, but you’ve got to book like a year in advance, so two years later we finally made it. It was a good experience. Yeah but… well, anyway…
FM: It was good to see his face, when some fish that he is not really keen to have…
DR: I only started eating seafood a few years ago, like properly, like raw fish. I like some of it, but some is still new to me, but you don’t want to disrespect.
FM: There was no salmon.
DR: There was some different stuff, but anyway, it was a good experience for sure. And you’re in and out in 30 minutes, so it’s bang, bang, bang, but it was good. I did some Kendo as well, a Japanese martial art. That was quite cool and I enjoyed that. So two good experiences this week.
You’ve been having a good time! Thanks for that. Well, let’s just cast our minds to the race last Sunday. Can you describe your emotions on Sunday night, because on the one hand you had scored your eighth podium of the year, but was there a sense of what if? What if, for example, you had got past Bottas sooner, what might have been possible?
DR: I guess there was a small what if. If I had got Bottas or he hadn’t got me on the start I guess then my chances of having a battle with Lewis would have been higher. But I still didn’t look back on the race like ‘aw, it was a missed opportunity’. After the race I thought the start, I was like ‘if only I went to the outside I could have braked later and held my position’, but I think if I had pulled out early of Max’s slipstream to the outside, I think Bottas would have probably just gone through the middle of us. So in hindsight it would have been difficult probably to do anything better on the start. I was still happy, another podium. Although I won there last year it’s actually never really been a track I’ve… I wouldn’t say enjoyed, but had much success on, so to finish on the podium there in the last year I was going to take that, so it’s OK.
Well, the car has been competitive on three very different tracks now, Monza, Singapore, Malaysia. Would you agree with Helmut Marko that it’s now the best chassis in Formula One?
DR: We have to be close. If it’s not then we’re certainly close, and a lot closer than we were in the first handful of races this year. Like Monza, you surprise yourself on Sunday but then in Singapore, Seb puts a few tenths on us in quali. So you’re like ‘we do and we don’t, we do and we don’t’. Obviously, in Malaysia we were quick. If Ferrari has started at the front they would have been tough to beat. But we’re certainly close. If we’re not the best, we’re certainly close and I think this circuit is another chance for us to show that and I’m looking forward to it very much.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Daniel, Dr Marko has been quoted this week as saying that you are already on the market. Could you elaborate on that, are you aware of that, have you discussed anything with them and what does your future look like within the Red Bull family?
DR: I mean the only thing I’m aware of is that my contract with them is at an end next year. I guess he’s referencing that. He’s not referencing next year, I guess.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) You hope!
DR: Ha, ha! I’m 100%, well 99.999% sure I’ve got a seat with Red Bull Racing next year. But I guess he’s talking about beyond that, but nothing’s been said between us beyond next, so I guess he’s more stating facts than… I don’t think he has a plan yet beyond ’18. But yeah, I should be racing next year! He wasn’t too disappointed after Malaysia; I think he was OK, so I think I’m still OK.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Daniel, in the beginning of the season you were not that close to Valtteri’s pace but in the last four races you have overtaken him twice and beaten him three times. Are you surprised at this change?
DR: I think it’s been… we’ve been getting stronger. So, we have been able to compete more regularly now with Mercedes and yeah, since the summer break he hasn’t had as many – I guess – good performances compared to Lewis at least. I think it’s a combination maybe: he hasn’t performed at his best the last few races and we have got better, so it’s given us a chance to steal some points from him. Obviously my chance of winning the title is very, very, very little but there’s still a small chance at least to get top three again. Valtteri still has a good gap but if I can keep closing on this, then I’ll be pretty satisfied.
Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) Daniel, Red Bull are really good at developing through a season and getting better and better, as you’ve just said. From your perspective isn’t it about time they stopped developing through the season and started developing in the winter and gave you a car to win a championship from the outset. If that doesn’t happen next year, is that make or break for you with the team?
DR: It’s certainly our plan. It has been obviously… I still don’t know why the last few years we’ve had slow starts and then found a way to come back. So I guess the idea is again what we learn, because there’s not many changes next year, what we learn hopefully from this year hopefully we take to next year and we start stronger. So yeah, that’s obviously the plan, that’s everyone’s wish and yeah, I guess we go from there. Look, if next year’s not a very competitive season at all then, of course, that will then, y’know, be addressed. At least… I feel I’ve said it every time this year but where we are now this year, you’d think next year we should be competitive. Hopefully as competitive as y’know, I would like to see. So, yeah. Mercedes has been winning for too long. We’ll try to change that.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Mid-Day) To Felipe. It’s been reported that Williams are going to be evaluating Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta for next year. Knowing that, how does that factor into your plans for the future?
FM: I think it doesn’t change anything for me. So… it doesn’t change anything for me. Williams know 100 per cent what I can give to the team and, even if you do a test with a car that is four years before, completely different. You cannot evaluate too much, as well. So, doesn’t change anything for me, to be honest.
Felipe, will you attend that test?
FM: No! I don’t know. I don’t know even if it’s true, that test, or not. I don’t know. To be honest… I don’t know.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Lance, on the topic that Felipe’s just mentioned about a four-year-old car, you’ve done a lot of testing with a four-year-old car and you’re obviously driving the current car. What comparison is there between the two? Do you believe that one could really evaluate a driver that way?
LS: Well, the cars we drive today are really quick. Back then, in ’14, the cars were, I believe, the first year with the new regulations, so there has been a lot of development, obviously the rules have changed this year, so lot more down downforce, different tyres and all that. So, they are very different, yeah, we’ll see what the team thinks about it. It’s not up to me to decide whether it’s a good evaluation or not.