At the Australian Grand Prix Thursday press conference Lewis Hamilton talked about the coronavirus, Ferrari engine controversy, winter testing and more. Here is the transcript of his answers.
Q: Lewis, coming to you, before we talk about track stuff, I just wanted to ask you about your detour on the way here to New South Wales. Tell us what you were doing up there and what you found?
Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, I got here on Monday morning and went straight from the airport in Sydney out to the Blue Mountains and got to see… Through the winter I was watching the news and seeing the devastation out here and how it was affecting people but more so than anything how many animals that perished. That, for me, was too big a number to even comprehend. I wanted to get out here before that but it just wasn’t possible and I was like ‘when I first get here I want to go and see it first-hand for myself’. So, I landed, took a two-hour drive up to the Blue Mountains and slowly started to see a lot of the burnt trees, the forest, as far as the eye can see. A really beautiful place. There was already regrowth, but I went to visit an organisation, Wires, that was helping during the whole period, whilst the animals were suffering, while the fires were going on, and they are helping rehabilitate some of the animals. It’s all just people living in local homes around the area who volunteer and so it was really quite amazing, they are the heroes. It felt amazing to see it for myself and see all the hard work that has been done and it meant a lot to them, the people that I met, that we took the time to go out.
Q: And Lewis, just on the on-track stuff, you completed more laps than anybody else in winter testing, how confident are you coming into this race?
LH: I don’t really ever use the word confidence. I think we just worked as hard as we could. The runs went well or the days went well in Barcelona. We did leave with reliability issues, which I know the guys have been trying to move mountains over the past couple of weeks so we arrive in the best shape possible. So I truly believe in all the hard work we’ve done. We’re hoping we start off on the right foot. I think we arrive here with two less days of testing compared to last year. I think we’ve got quite a good grip on the car and we arrive as best prepared as we can be. As Seb was saying, it’s going to be interesting to see where we all stand, but that’s the exciting part of coming to your first grand prix.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Lewis: with the winter testing, is there some driver and some car you may see as your main rival for your title?
LH: Force India, maybe?
Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris: Racing Point.
LH: I don’t call it Racing Point, because I don’t like the name! I prefer Force India. No, I think it’s the same – Ferrari and Red Bull. I think Red Bull have been particularly strong so I don’t really know where they stand between them, but Red Bull were realty strong particularly at the end of last year. Obviously Ferrari have taken a little bit of a step, it seems they may have… they have definitely taken a bit of a step back power-wise, but maybe the car is better, so we’ll see tomorrow when we get in the car over the next couple of days how that plays into effect.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, regarding the Coronavirus situation, are you comfortable having travelled all the way to Australia and are you satisfied with what Formula One and the FIA have done so far regarding that situation?
LH: I felt OK travelling out here. Naturally, being on a flight with God knows how many people and then stopping in an airport full of so many people, I didn’t really think too hard on it. I was just trying to make sure I was taking all the precautions I could in terms of not touching things and always using hand sanitizer. I am really very, very surprised that we’re here. I think motorsport is… I think it’s great that we have races but for me it’s shocking that we’re all sitting in this room. So many fans are already here today and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting probably a little bit late but already this morning you’re seeing, with Trump shutting down the borders from Europe to the States, you’re seeing the NBA’s been suspended, yet Formula 1 continues to go on. I don’t know: I saw Jackie Stewart this morning, you know, looking fit and healthy and well in the lift. Some people, as I walked into the paddock, some elderly individuals. It’s a concern, I think, for the people here. It’s quite a big circus that’s come here. So it’s definitely concerning for me. So, no, is your answer.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, just as a follow-up to that. We’ve seen several team members have gone into isolation because they’re been tested for the Coronavirus. If any of those results come back positive do you think that the race should be postponed or called off on Sunday?
LH: It’s not for me to make that decision – but I heard that result’s not going to come back for five day or something. Coincidentally. So… yeah. Unlikely.
Q: (Matt Dixon – The Times) Lewis, you’ve been outspoken where others have maybe not dared to be about Corona. What do you think is the reason this race is still going on? Obviously there are… well, is it business interests? Why are we still here?
LH: Cash is king. Honestly I don’t know. I can’t really add much more too it. I don’t feel like I should shy away from the fact of my opinion. The fact is we are here and I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be. Touching doors and surfaces, and I hope everyone’s got hand sanitisers. And, really for the fans, I really hope they’re taking precautions. I was walking through and seeing just everything going ahead as normal, like it’s a normal day – but it’s… I really don’t think it is. I just hope all the fans stay safe. I really hope we go through this weekend and we don’t see any fatalities, or things that come along in the future.
Q: (Craig Slater – Sky Sports) Sebastian, the FIA have had this inquiry into your power unit. They haven’t found the team guilty of any specific wrong-doing. Are you disappointed then that they didn’t clear the team, could this have been handled better in terms of what’s been said in public? And to Lewis: it’s been a friendly rivalry between Mercedes and Ferrari; are the gloves off now?
Sebastian Vettel: I took the gloves out once to Lewis and it wasn’t the right thing to do so I said it afterwards. Remember Baku!
DR: Well done Baku.
SV: Everyone remembers that race so… who won the race? Anyways, what was the question, sorry?
Q: (Craig Slater – Sky Sports) That the team wasn’t cleared, Sebastian, given that they couldn’t find a specific illegality with the engine.
SV: Um, well, I don’t know. As far as I understand it was cleared so I think… For me it’s very simple. Obviously I trust my team to do the right things, within the regulations, at all time. I think we all trust, all drivers, the governing body as in the FIA, to do their job for all teams on the grid. I think that’s probably the answer, so there’s not much else to add. If you have further detailed questions and so on, then I’m not the one to answer because I think the cars are quite complex now so probably I’m not the best person to give you enough insight. I think the other one, that I would like to add, which I think from your second question, I can smell might be a hint, is that for me it doesn’t change anything in terms of the relationship that I have with other drivers and in this particular (instance) with Lewis. I think the respect that we share we’ve grown over the years is untouched and I don’t think is at threat.
LH: What was the question?
Q: Are the gloves off?
LH: Well, no. Firstly I think I repeat what Seb has just said. Between us our respect has continued to grow over the years and that doesn’t change. I think that what goes on in the background between teams and the governing body, I think is a separate issue. I think it could have been handled better, for sure but again, that’s really something that should be directed to Toto. I think for us athletes, us drivers, we just want to arrive at the races. Naturally all the teams are different in their performance but you want to feel that you’re playing on fair grounds. That’s the approach that we have and I think… I don’t really know. I won’t add too much more to it because it will just cause more trouble.
Q: (Roger Barne – Beyond the Racing Line) There’s a bit of talk about having some changes to the track in the next couple of years here in Melbourne. What’s the drivers take on what would you like to see at Albert Park track changed in the next couple of years? Possibly resurfacing, widening the track, possibly going on at 12 to lengthen that end to add another straight?
LH: I think it’s firstly, this is a fantastic place to come to every year, I think the best opening race in a country that probably Formula One’s ever had. It’s such an exciting place to come to and the track is fantastic but probably a bit like Monaco, a little bit more so on a single lap for us in qualifying, but in the race I think it’s the third or fourth most difficult track to overtake on so if they were to make some modifications, make it longer, particularly right now when we’re getting faster and faster, you’re probably going to see less overtaking I would imagine, potentially this year also being that we have more downforce, more drag which affects the car further behind even more so. So yeah, I’m definitely for them adding some really cool modifications. I just hope that we do stay, keep the race here. I don’t really know what they would have to do to the actual current layout; just extending that’s going to make a big difference. I don’t know the answer to that but I’m all for it.
Q: (Inga Strake – Pole Position Reports) Lewis, your team press release said that at the beginning of the season you feel really fit, probably fitter or more ready than before. How much is that is down toward what you’ve been posting over the winter, your vegan nutrition and what did the change in nutrition mean for you? And is it more about food and eating, what you take in or also about sustainability and environment?
LH: I think my health has just got better and better over the last couple of years as I’ve gone to the plant-based diet. It is not the easiest thing to straight away go to and you’re constantly learning about the foods and discovering more foods… things that you probably would never… no, things that I would have never really eaten before, to give you some variability. I focused on having consistent good solid meals; I had a chef during the winter so that was really why it was particularly a better period of time for me but I do feel a large part of the reason I have gone that way is because of the environment and for the animals. It’s a little bit difficult, sitting up here, because I know not all of us do… you know, vegan, not everyone continues but not for me, I’ve definitely felt the benefits from that on the health side of things and physically, it’s just enabled me to… you know people do think you’re going to lose muscle if you don’t have your protein, that’s… a lot of the time people say I need my protein but it’s absolute rubbish. You just need to do some reading on line. I’ve managed to… last year I bulked up, I put a lot more weight on. This winter I trimmed down, like cut but have more muscle and I’m able to lift more weight than I’ve ever done before and I haven’t been able to run further than I’ve ever been able to run before. That’s just enabled me to train better. But you’ve seen it in other sports, other sportsmen and women around the world are trying these things. Serena (Williams) has been working on it, Djokovic, you’ve got a bunch of people out there that are doing it. I think it’s a positive and important way to go for us all. I think there are lots of areas that need to… not just in food but there’s a lot of things that we all need to do better moving forward but one step at a time.
Q: Have you ever tried a 40-hour fast, Lewis?
LH: Why would you do that?
DR: Why do you ask? He asked me in Abu Dhabi. What was my answer? I was bored, wasn’t I?
Q: You said you’d done a 40-hour fast.
DR: Yeah, so a bit of experimenting so I guess on the diet stuff so, lot of vegan stuff now you hear and fasting comes in. I guess I’ve stayed open-minded through it all so yeah, I tried a little bit of fasting over the last few years but yeah, I’m not going to go on a spiel and say I did it because of this reason, that reason. I just… a few people did it and said it was quite good so I thought I’d try it.