Drivers – Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Felipe Nasr (Sauber), Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull Racing), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
This truly was the Fernando Alonso show as the other drivers sat and watched, or in Kimi’s case looked overtly disinterested and bored.
Q: Fernando, if I can start with you. This has been a happy hunting ground throughout your career – you got your first pole here, you won with three different manufacturers – so a good place to come back from what was a difficult episode. What can you tell us about what you’ve been through in the past few weeks?
FA: Happy to be here in another Formula One season. I start one race later than I should be but, yeah, unfortunately I had the accident in Barcelona and following the recommendations by the doctors I missed the first race. But, yeah, happy to be here, as I said. Malaysia has always been a very nice circuit for me in my Formula One career. My first pole position was here in 2003, my first podium and then as you said three wins with three different teams give me the possibility always to enjoy this circuit and I know it’s going to be very tough this year to repeat such a result but, yeah, happy to be back in the cockpit and ready to enjoy the weekend.
Q: You’ve only done around 500km of testing with this car so far. How do you see the journey ahead and the challenge now to hit the targets the team has set?
FA: Well, I think we need to be with the feet on the ground knowing that we are not in a position that we wanted and not in a position that we will be hopefully very soon. It will be like a test session for me, the first races. As you said I did in this car more or less the same number of laps that another guy do in one day, so obviously I’m not probably confident with the car in this moment and I will need to learn many things, not only on the driving style but also on the approach McLaren has to the weekends. So, many things to learn for me; very challenging moment of my career and ready to take it.
Q: Okay, thank you. Kimi, coming to you, obviously you had some problems in Australia towards the end of the race but the pace all weekend was good and you were close to your team-mate Vettel throughout, so it looks like it’s going to be a good in-house battle between the two of you. How do you see it?
KR: Obviously we are in a much better position than we were say even at the end of last year so in that way it’s a nice place to be but obviously we still have to improve quite a bit. We want to be in front and we still don’t have the speed exactly, at least in qualifying, to be there. In the race I think we are a bit stronger compared to Mercedes. But I think it will be a fun year, obviously not an ideal start of the year and we got some damage from the start and had those issues in the pit stops but you know it can happen sometimes but at least we had pretty good speed. I’m sure we’re going to have strong races and good battles but like I said we still have some work to do to be absolutely where we want to be but we have done a good job so far.
Q: Can you tell us what it is about the chassis and the way it handles in particular that makes it a better race car for you personally?
KR: I think it’s the whole package. It’s not just the engine we improved. Yes, we improved that a lot but we improved the chassis itself a lot as well. It’s the whole package, you cannot just point to one area that has been improved from last year, it’s the whole thing. I think how everybody works and it’s one team and things are going in the right direction and people are pushing and doing a good job. Like I said, it’s still early days. We still have to work hard and improve things but where we started, so far we have done a good job.
Q: Carlos, coming to you, a great debut obviously in Melbourne for you. It could have gone even better without the long pit stop. I guess you dream of your grand prix debut and then when it goes well, like it did, is it a feeling or elation or relief, or both?
CS: A bit of everything to be honest. It was a good debut, which I’m very happy with. It obviously gives you a boost of confidence and also a big boost of motivation to keep up the good work and keep improving because I’m sure I still have a lot, a lot, a lot to improve.
Q: Did all the attention that was on your team-mate Max Verstappen help to take the pressure off you a bit and allow you to perform better?
CS: This may be a bit what it looked like from the outside, but obviously from the inside I perfectly know the amount of pressure I put on myself and the amount of pressure STR and Red Bull are putting on us and for sure I can tell you we have exactly the same amount of pressure to perform. So not really, to be honest, I think we were pretty equal in that sense and it was just a good weekend.
Q: Felipe, another rookie and another very good result in Australia with fifth place, which is the debut result ever for a Brazilian in Formula One. What does that result… it must be very emotional to even hear that… what does that performance mean to you and the team?
FN: It was very unique I have to say, coming from a very troubled weekend. My very first ever weekend in Formula One was not ideal the way it started, with all this trouble, going to court and everything else; missing first free practice, a track that I didn’t know. So it was a very good outcome to come up fifth in my first ever race and I think for the team as well it was something they really needed. It’s important. It shows the team was ready, myself was ready to put the things on the side and being able to deliver in the race. It was something very special.
Q: During the race you were able to keep Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull behind you and you were even able to drive away from him. So how do you feel about this car and how excited are you about what’s possible this year?
FN: I was a bit surprised to see that happening. I knew the car had the potential to do it but to hold back Red Bull was unexpected. It could only show that the car has… the engine has done a good improvement over the winter, over last year. I think we need to take the profit from these early races to maximise our potential and getting the opportunities right. I think there are still teams struggling out there to finish races and we need to use that as an advantage for us.
Q: Coming to you Daniil, obviously a challenging first weekend to say the least for you and Red Bull, you qualified behind the Toro Rossos and didn’t even manage to take the start. What progress have you made with Renault since Melbourne in particular on the driveability of this power unit?
DK: I think we will only find the answer tomorrow to be honest. I hope we did. The whole team now is working really hard to overcome the difficulties we are facing right now but myself and the whole team we are used to working realty hard and that’s what we are going to do and we are going to try our best to put ourselves in a strong position once again.
Q: Last year, of course, you were in the points on your first visit to this Sepang circuit. What features of this track do you enjoy?
DK: Well, generally, it’s quite a challenging circuit I think for all of us. It’s famous for the heat, for the warm, hot conditions. Generally this track has been good to me, I have been here a few times. I enjoy driving it here. It has a few fast, high-speed sections that you usually enjoy quite a lot as a driver. I’m looking forward to this weekend and hopefully we will keep moving forward.
Q: Nico, Melbourne looked like Mercedes had doubled the advantage in terms of relative fastest laps across the weekend over your nearest rivals compared to the start of 2014, but do you expect a smaller gap on this type of circuit?
NR: I don’t think it’s right to say that. Of course qualifying pace was very strong, yes, but more important is the race pace, especially from Kimi we saw an extremely strong stint, so not really fair to say that I would say. I think Ferrari especially have definitely closed the gap and are closer than our nearest rival was last year.
Q: Specifically this type of circuit, do you expect the gap to be smaller?
NR: It’s very difficult to say. It’s early days, we need to wait and see how it goes here.
Q: You said after the race in Melbourne that you could follow Lewis but it was hard to mount an attack, so presumably qualifying is crucial to get the advantage this weekend to make sure you start the race on the front foot?
NR: Qualifying is definitely important in this internal battle especially since we have the same cars but it’s not everything, because we have seen in the past, even in races, playing around the tyre order or things like that it’s still possible to overtake and this weekend here, there might be a bit more leeway in the strategy to try to launch a better attack.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Fernando, how long after the accident did you start to get memories of the accident back, what did you learn about it when you went to the factory last week and do you now believe that there was no problem with the car?
FA: Everything was more or less as a normal concussion. So, I had this concussion, went to the hospital. I went to the hospital in good conditions. There is a time that I don’t remember from two o’clock to six o’clock or something like that, but everything again was normal due to the medication that they give you to go into the helicopter and to do some tests in the hospital.
Everything was normal. I didn’t wake up in ’95, I didn’t wake up speaking in Italian or all these things that probably they were out there. I remember the accident and I remember everything that following day.
Obviously with the team we have been very close working on that and with the FIA, they were very helpful all the times, and we were in close contact, all three parts constantly and yeah, there is not in the data anything clear that we can spot and we can say it was that, the reason. But definitely we had a steering problem in the middle of turn three. It locked into the right and I approached the wall I braked in the last moment, I downshift from fifth to third, and yeah, unfortunately on the data we are still missing some parts. Also the acquisition of date on that particular part of the car is not at the top so there are some new sensors here at this race and there are some changes we do on the steering rack and other parts and yeah that was the main thing. The last week at the factory was more a work on the simulator and trying to explain to me these new sensors and these new parts that will go on this race.
Q: (Jaime Rodríguez – El Mundo) Fernando, after this episode, have you got more respect or more fear to your job?
FA: No, not really. You know, at the end of the day we know motorsport is dangerous. We know that sometimes you have a big accident, spectacular and the car is completely destroyed and nothing happens, and sometimes you crash in a low speed corner or something, and it depends on the angle, depends on how you hit, or which part of the body you hit, you have more or less injuries. It is the same in the normal day life: sometimes you live an extreme life and nothing happens and sometimes you walk on the street and have a big issue. So, no more respect than before, it’s just, y’know, a very normal thing. I felt ready to go to Australia as well but I understand also the recommendation from the doctor that it was maybe too early and, yeah, we wait for one more race. That, obviously, creates even more feeling, no? But happy to be here, happy to help the team. Obviously we’re struggling a little bit at the moment and the winter has been quite difficult and the same at the first race. It was hard for me to watch on TV with the team not performing so well. So yeah, we are here to help and to give McLaren and Honda the experience that we can have, Jenson and me, and trying to recover from this form as soon as possible.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto Motor und Sport) Fernando, you said “the steering just locked”. The steering is for a racing driver, let’s say, a very delicate thing in the car, like the brakes if it fails. If you still don’t know why there was a problem with the steering is that a thing that is worrying you despite the new sensors you have on the car?
FA: Not really. I think, as I said before, together with FIA and with the team, we were constantly doing some checks, investigations, some possibilities, and as I said, there are some areas in the car that, instrumentation-wise are probably not at the level to see this problem. It’s like a problem that may occur, in this phrase, 20 years ago, Formula One did not have the technology to spot that problem. I’m sure that we are missing something on the data acquisition that we will spot in ten years’ time or whatever when the technology is available. So, that’s one reason and, yeah, I have zero doubt or zero concern.
Q: (Daniel Johnson – Daily Telegraph) Question for Fernando. Given that you remember the accident, as far as you are concerned, it wasn’t a driver error or, as the team put it, a gust of wind blew you off course in any way?
FA: No, no, definitely not. I don’t know if you see the video but even a hurricane will not move the car at that speed. Also, if you have any problem or any medical issue, normally you will lose the power and you will go straight to the outside, never to the inside. In a Formula One car you still need to apply some effort on the steering wheel. So, that’s one thing. Honestly, y’know, obviously with an accident, with the repercussion of the accident, the news, being in Spain, a lot of attention on that day and probably the first answers or the first press conference that the team have, my manager, whatever, all the stuff around in these early days, it was just some guess. The wind, maybe other possibilities. That creates a little bit of confusion obviously – but you cannot say nothing for three or four days until I remember everything because these three or four days then will become even worse. So I think they say the theory of the wind, etc., but obviously it was not a help.
Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports) Apologies to the other five members of the panel but it’s another question for Fernando. With everything that’s happened over the winter and to yourself personally and to the team as well, one of the big things that’s been debated by the fans and I’m sure many journalists in this room is whether you’ve made the right decision, returning to McLaren. What would your reaction to that debate be?
FA: I’m one of the happiest persons in the world. Yes, I am. I have a challenge in front of me. A tough challenge clearly. I think it’s difficult but it’s going to taste better when we do it. I grew up watching TV with McLaren-Honda domination and Ayrton Senna in the cockpit. I understand that we are now too far back and we will be heavily criticized and it will be fair to receive that criticism because we are not at the level we will be – but it’s nothing we can do now, just work, it’s a long-term project and all my career I experience some beautiful moments – even the last five years – with Ferrari we didn’t win the championship but it was a fantastic experience. But five was enough – I didn’t want to be seven years second or third so I prefer to risk and challenge for victory. Even if you need to take some risk for the first year.
Q: (Ralf Bach – Sport Bild) A question to Fernando. Coming back to the accident, can you remember one thing, if you lost consciousness before the first impact or not, and when, why?
FA: No, I remember everything obviously. I don’t want to go through every detail because it’s going to be long but I remembered everything. It was Sunday morning, all the setup changes, the lap times, I think Vettel was in front of me before Turn Three but cut the chicane to let me go, exiting the pitlane. After the hit I was kissing the wall for a while and then I switch off the radio first, because it was on, and then I switch off the master switch for the batteries to switch off the ERS system just because I saw the marshals coming and, if not, they cannot touch the car. So, yeah, I was perfectly conscious at the time. I lost consciousness in the ambulance or in the clinic at the circuit but the doctors said this is normal because of the medication that they put you, just for the helicopter transportation and the checks that they do in the hospital: the MRI and the evaluation needs this protocol, needs this medication so this is normal that maybe you don’t remember.
Q: Is is normal the marshals didn’t touch the car?
FA: This I don’t know.
Q: (Manuel Franco – Diario AS) Two questions, the first for Fernando, the second for Fernando and Carlos. Fernando, what had you learned from the accident? About people, about you, about life? Second question. In this race will be three Spanish drivers: you and Roberto Merhi. With England and Germany it’s the country with most drivers in the race. What do you think?
FA: What I learned is that I have so much support from so many people. It’s been amazing how many messages from people I’ve received. So many warm wishes from all the sport and government and everyone. Everyone was so interested. And in the Formula One paddock as well because even from the flight on Tuesday that I arrived here until today has been a very nice experience to see really, truly, wishes of health for me. That was something that I learned, probably, after the accident. You don’t realize until you have a problem, or you miss one or two races that, y’know, so many people are behind you and are supporting you. And then, about the race, yes, it’s nice to have three Spanish drivers. Hopefully we can see for many years. We had three previously with Marc Gené and Pedro [de la Rosa] and now hopefully we can have many more years because Carlos and Roberto, they are very young and they have good possibility and a good future and I wish they can stay very long.
Q: Carlos, your view on that?
CS: For me it’s obviously great. I’ve always had a good relationship with Fernando and I now have a very good relationship with Roberto. I think the more Spanish the better and, yeah, that’s it.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Speed Sport) Accidents can happen to experienced drivers, so Nico, and Kimi, do you every worry about having accidents? Has there been a time in your F1 career where you maybe thought ‘I don’t want to go out?’
NR: Yeah, of course sometimes I think about it and there is a certain element of fear when I’m driving sometimes but that, I think is natural, and holds me back sometimes to go too far beyond the limit. But it doesn’t make me slower in any way.
KR: I’ve had quite a few accidents in the past and last year one not so nice one. But it’s part of the game. If you make a mistake, you pay a price. It’s up to you. If you’re not prepared to take the risk or if you’re scared, I’m sure there’s plenty of guys that are willing to jump in a car and race. So, no, I think you… obviously it’s part of the thing but I think you have better chances to get hurt in normal traffic than on the race circuits.
Q: (Byron Young – The Mirror) Fernando, the team was saying even up to a couple of days ago that there was nothing wrong with the car, and yet you’re saying the steering locked. How do those two statements work together?
FA: Yeah, as I said before, I think it’s clear that there was a problem in the car but it hasn’t been found on the data at the moment. It’s one of the things that I did also in the factory last week, not only the simulator but going – with all the engineers and all the data available – going through the moments and there are some spots here and there but there is not a clear answer. So I understand completely and support the team until they find a clear answer that it was this or that, it’s impossible to say or to lie that it was this or that. They need to go much further. If they will find something any time, I don’t know because if after one month we didn’t find anything on the data, it is maybe because whatever part was the problem, it was not available on the data, so maybe it will never be.
Q: (Byron Young – The Mirror) But they have gone further and say there is no problem.
FA: Well, I don’t think that they say this any more.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Kimi, can you expect this circuit to give your car the same chance to have a good position, as you had at Melbourne?
KR: Well, I hope it’s better than Melbourne for me. Like I said, we had the speed and I think things are running smoothly, we just have to avoid mistakes. We had some bad luck at the start but the car’s been quick at every circuit we’ve been to so far so I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be here. I think it could be even better than it was at the last race. It’s a proper circuit and I think it will be good, fitting well at this circuit so we’ll just wait and see.
Q: (Anne Giuntini – L’Equipe) Fernando, do we now have a precise idea of the violence of the impact that gave you such big concussion?
FA: No, I don’t exactly know the details.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) I’m a bit confused by this: there’s no problem, there’s nothing on the data, you’ve lost consciousness, someone said you didn’t lose consciousness, your team also said there was a gust of wind. It’s all just very confusing but one thing for me, if there’s no data and the team haven’t found anything, could the problem happen again?
FA: Well, as I said, I think some of the confusion comes from the very early quotes and very early explanations because the attention was very high at that moment. The stress was very high, I was in intensive care, there was some urgency to say something because there was a lot of attention so that was probably part of the confusion. On the data, as I said before, I think there was some lack of instrumentation maybe on the car, to miss the exact problem and there are some actions taken for this race which are probably not necessary but there is extra care with some parts on the car that were unique to me, that I requested because of my driving style when I joined McLaren and here we will go back to the normal steering rack and things that they’ve been using with Jenson and Kevin for the last couple of years. Of course, there are some actions for this race and as I said, there is zero problem, zero worries on my side. Everything is OK.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, could you tell us exactly what happened this morning during the test?
FA: Today, we’ve been through the normal processes as we have during the last month. As I said before, everything that I did or that happened in the last month were completely normal, the concussion, the rehabilitation, the checks, the extra checks, the recommendation to wait two or three weeks before any dangerous activity again, so everything went normal and this morning, again, it was a normal procedure after a head injury to do an impact test with the FIA and some reaction tests and some examinations with the Malaysian Grand Prix doctors. Everything went as smoothly as possible and I have the green light, so that was a very positive moment.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) You’ve partially answered this before, Fernando, but seeing Ferrari is so strong, do you think that maybe you might have waited a little bit longer before leaving and achieved some results?
FA: Obviously, as I said, with the performance that we have right now, it’s easy to criticise our team and my decision, whatever, but as I said, I’m first of all so so happy that this is the most important thing. When you’re happy with yourself or you’re a healthy man inside, that is the first victory and that is what I am now, because I’m following my dream now. And secondly, I could wait and achieve some nice results as you’ve said probably yes, but after 14 years of Formula One and two championships, a podium or fourth place or fifth place is no longer a nice result.
Q: (Carlos Miguel -La Gaceta) Fernando, I would like to know your feelings after 14 years, watching a race on TV?
FA: I don’t think I pick the best race to watch, probably. One, it was very early in the morning, so that didn’t help the enthusiasm for the race, and secondly, the number of cars on the grid and after the first couple of laps was obviously not ideal. Yeah, it was a strange feeling, no doubt that I missed being there, I missed driving. It was strange but luckily I’m here.
Q: (Carlos Miguel -La Gaceta) Carlos, is it a big motivation for you to beat the new Ayrton Senna as you did in the first race?
CS: For me the first motivation is always to extract the maximum potential from myself, focus myself and with self-confidence and knowing that you can extract the full potential from yourself then you should believe that you are in front of your teammate. I believe Max is a great talent, I believe he’s going to perform really well this year and he will be a very tough competitor but my main focus, as I said, is not to beat him but first of all extract the maximum potential from myself and that will put me in a good position for sure.
Q: (Byron Young – The Mirror) Fernando, I’m a bit confused: how can you not be worried? From what you’re saying to us, the steering was locked, heading towards the inside wall. You’re fighting with the steering wheel so that’s a car problem, and you’re getting back in the car this weekend and you don’t know what caused that problem. How can you not be worried?
FA: I fully trust the team. They’ve been looking at every single component of the car for a month, they’ve been simulating the efforts, they’ve been doing so many tests, they’ve been changing every single part that they had some doubts about so I think we have the safest car right now, because of all the studies that they’ve done. And after one month, I’m probably the most medically checked driver in history so we should be fine, both of us.