Ferrari driver and Melbourne GP winner Sebastian Vettel also took part in the Thursday press conference where he spoke about the way the team reacted to his victory, the joy of having a stronger more reliable car beneath him and just how he thinks he will perform here this weekend.
He also spoke about Mercedes and believes that they are still the team that everyone else needs to beat and they are just taking things race by race at the moment.
Sebastian, if we could start with you. Many congratulations on that win in Melbourne. You’re now leading the championship for the first time since 2013. Just describe what that win meant to you and the reception you got when you went back to Maranello?
I think of the entire team, I think it was a great weekend, including myself obviously. With the new generation of cars, generally first race of the season with a new car, always a lot of work that goes into the whole project and it’s the best way to kick off the season. The day was very special; the fans in Melbourne, the reception there was incredible. Also for everyone back in Italy, in Maranello, obviously it was great to get a little bit of reward after such a long winter, a lot of hard work, as I said, that went into the new car. When I came back to the factory people were generally very happy and motivated to push even harder, which obviously is what we need. It’s just the first race, so it doesn’t mean much, but for sure, as I said, it’s the best way to start off.
For you personally, after what was a very difficult 2016, how much of a relief is it to have a competitive car underneath you?
It wasn’t that bad last year! It wasn’t the best year we’ve had but still I think we had a decent amount of podiums. We had a lot of races where things were not going our way, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Maybe my memory is wrong, but I remember it maybe better than what people make out of it now. For sure it wasn’t the season we wanted to have and after one race it’s easy to say that this year is better than last year, but it’s only one race. As I said, it’s only the start of the season. For sure a lot of things have changed since last year. The team has evolved. I think we generally are in a much better position; people are more comfortable throughout the whole team. The work that is going in is a lot more targeted and overall we’re more confident with the way we work now and hopefully we keep up that trend to show it also on the track.
Well, can you keep up that trend this weekend? It’s a very different race track here in Shanghai than in Melbourne?
It’s a completely different it’s true. Then, the weather is completely different, just looking outside now. It’s always a grand prix full of surprises, the Chinese Grand Prix, since the day I can remember; in 2007 I think I had my first race here. I started 17th or 18th in the Toro Rosso and I finished fourth. We had the rain helping us at that time. You never know what happens around here. It’s a demanding track with the cars, the tyres in particular, but also the drivers with the conditions, so impossible to predict anything.
Of course you had the rain helping you, too, with that win in 2009 for Red Bull Racing. A lot was made about he physicality of this new generation of cars, how did you find the opening race of the season in Melbourne, physically?
Tougher than last year.
Can you elaborate any more on that?
Well, we’re going faster but if you look compared to 10 years ago, you mustn’t forget that we have a lot more fuel in the car. We are on the tyres for longer, providing they last, and in general the cars are heavier. If you talk about load and high-speed corners they are the fastest cars we’ve ever had. I think for more or less all of us the step from last year has been quite big. Melbourne historically hasn’t been the most physical track, so I’m sure there will be tracks that will be more physical, but it’s been tougher than last year.
Do you remember the first point you scored in Formula One and was it important for your career?
Yeah, I remember, I was physically pretty knackered! I was completely destroyed after the race. So I remember, the first race I did in the United States, which obviously came by surprise, with Robert Kubica’s accident the week before and then the fact that he couldn’t drive. For me it was obviously the step into Formula One, because with that one race I was able to show whatever, what was necessary to get another chance, with Toro Rosso for the remainder of the year so it was very crucial.
Earlier this year Jacques Villeneuve that said F1 had 'lost its way’ when it first started talking to fans and asking what they wanted, but we’ve seen with Liberty the new owners are very keen on fan engagement and we're seeing an increase in the number of fan surveys. To what extent do you think F1 needs to listen to the fans?
It’s a difficult one. I’m maybe very old-school on many things, and I think that some things we shouldn’t change. The way people look at it now after one race, after a couple of races, they would like to see a change, but I think it’s wrong to change too much. I think it’s important to keep a certain framework consistent throughout time, so I think every now and then it’s important to listen to people, but I think with surveys it’s always difficult to get a very clear picture. I think too much change, equally, is wrong. Just to give an example, when there was talk about the race format, I think it would be quite bad to get rid of one race, one grand prix - I think it would take away the highlight of the weekend by putting two races, for example, or to make the race shorter because they say it’s too boring and lasts too long. I think that’s the grand prix: that’s how it’s always been. It’s been even longer in the past, if you look a long way back, and it should remain a challenge. Making it shorter, more exciting, whatever, I think it’s not a grand prix any more. So to give you an answer, I’m a bit sceptical to have change for the sake of change.
Can you tell us something about the special relationship between a Formula One driver and his car? Is there a special relationship – or is it just a human and a machine?
I name my car but it’s not like I stroke her in the morning when I come in and do the same again in the evenings. I think it’s a bit of fun to give it a bit more of a relationship than just calling it ‘the car’. For sure you need to trust the car the moment you step in – for many reasons, not just to go fast. But… yeah… it’s not like I call the factory and ask how the car is doing. I’m also happy to share it with other men, so I’m not taking it that seriously.
What is the name of this year’s car? And why is it called that?
The name is Gina. We sit down, we have a nice dinner, it’s more about the dinner than the name. But then we just decide a name. It’s a lot of fun. Gina was the outcome this year.
We know you have tested the most laps last year in the Pirelli tyre test and last race your tyre management is brilliant. So, is that experience giving you better understanding for the tyres or give you more advantages compared to other drivers?
I’m not sure. I think maybe the right answer is ‘no’. But the reason why I’m generally happy to do it is because I love driving. So, when there’s an opportunity to test, even though testing can sometimes be a bit dull and boring but still, you’re driving the car and that’s much better than sitting on the bike for a couple of hours or whatever training to be fit enough to drive the car. I think that generally track time is limited so every opportunity you get. That’s personal – but I can’t understand why you would reject it and as I said, I’m happy to drive the car and I think there’s always something you learn, so for sure the days I did last year with Pirelli to help them get feedback for the tyres etc., for sure they also helped me.
Question to Sebastian. You score your fourth victory with Ferrari. Was it something different to the first three in 2015? And here, in China, do you expect a strong reaction from Mercedes?
I think Mercedes still has to be the favourite, obviously. We had a very, very strong first race. At least the way we look at it inside the team is to look at it race-by-race. I know, we know that we have a good package which puts us in a strong place but there’s a lot of things that…
Max V: And don’t stop too early, otherwise I’ll be driving there…
Yeah, exactly! We know there’s a lot of things that we need to do to keep up with them and keep the position that we are in now, to fight for good races. Melbourne, it was the first race of the year, with the year last year that was difficult – wasn’t a disaster from my point of view – but was difficult for all the team, I think it was nice, and that’s what everyone felt. A lot of hours going in and I think a lot of people inside the team, they invested so much time so, for sure here and there in Australia the people were maybe not as fresh as they could be because they invested so much time and spent so many nights working on the car, preparing the car, as well as in the factory. So I think it was a nice feeling to get something back. For sure the victory is always the medicine for everyone. It was good, we’ve done that, and now we move on.