Following the deserved tributes to FIA Director of Formula One Charlie Whiting the topics at the first Drivers' Press Conference of the 2019 season turned to thoughts on winter testing, feeling of the bonus point for a fastest lap (intrigued was the reply) and being the hunted or the hunter. The Conference concluded with a round of applause (inadvertently started by Daniel Ricciardo) for the return of Robert Kubica to the Formula 1 starting grid.
Daniel Ricciardo had told the press that the drivers will race with a lot of passion this weekend in tribute to Charlie Whiting and then he went on to comment on his busy run up to the race itself being his home race.
‘Busy’s good, people care and they’re excited about the start of the season and a lot of things have changed, I’ve changed teams...there’s been a lot of change in the F1 Paddock.’ When asked how close Renault are to the top 3, Ricciardo’s answer was simple ‘Not sure, not sure, we’ll see how we go…we left the test more encouraged…two more days and you’ll know.’
Robert Kubica reflected on his feelings ahead of his first Formula 1 race since 2010:
‘It has been a long time away of the sport. Emotions to be honest, I’ve not really had a lot of time to think about them and I am purely focused on the job…learn as much as I can about new F1 as things have changed a lot.’ Kubica admitted to a lot of unknowns. ‘We didn’t have the perfect start of winter testing so there are a lot of things to be checked…we cannot change it so we have to make sure and concentrate on what we have.’
Max Verstappen agreed Red Bull had a good winter test working together with not too many issues:
'Integrating the new engine into the chassis didn’t seem like it was giving us problems so – very happy about that.’ ‘We are happy with what we did but it can always be better.’
Lewis Hamilton was eager to tell the press that the performance of the Mercedes in pres season was not difficult to read: ‘We said that we had work to do, we weren’t talking b.s. you know we have work to do.’
Sebastian Vettel reflected on the luck of last year and the readiness of the team for 2019 ‘We got a bit lucky during the race weekend with the safety car to grab the win but we are more prepared and our care seems to work fine but having said that obviously we can’t do better than last year’s result.’ However, when questioned if the performance in testing felt like more overtaking is possible ‘it didn’t seem to make a difference’ At this point I think we are all hunters and we all hunted…but hopefully going away from here we will be in the position of the hunted – that’s the target.
Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo were on great form ranging from Vettel quoting Crocodile Dundee or Ricciardo patting Seb on the back when it was announced how he had been the fastest driver in winter testing. Towards the end of the Press Conference Ricciardo would go on to pay tribute to the effort of Kubica to return to the grid.
'I don't think we all actually know to the extent of what he's been through, it's awesome to see him back...just a testament to his character.'
The conference concluded with Hamilton revealing his fear of encountering a shark whilst surfing - hence staying out of the Australian waters.
The winter break is over, the time with family and friends is over - tomorrow we see what these drivers can produce round Albert Park.
Who will be the hunted and who will be the hunter...time will tell.