Lewis, you’re 17 points ahead, the biggest lead you’ve had this year so far. Which poses the greater threat do you think – Nico or reliability?
It’s a good question. I don’t know, I think they are both threats. But the guys have worked very hard to eradicate the problems through the year so I hope that we can all go through these next races together as a team, without any of those issues.
Do you feel a bit more in control of things now, though?
It doesn’t feel any different to several races ago, really. As I keep saying – I’m just fighting and chasing the ultimate goal.
You’ve won twice here in the US, once in Indianapolis and then the first race here at COTA. You have a great affinity for this country – how do you see the potential for Formula One here in the US?
I think there is a huge market for Formula One. If you watch all the different sports here, people in this country are so passionate about sport in general – whether it be basketball, baseball, NFL, NASCAR or IndyCar. So they are extremely enthusiastic about competition and wheel-to-wheel racing or just real, out-and-out, heart racing competition. Whilst we only have one race here, there’s lots of opportunity for it to grow. I’ve definitely seen from 2007, even though we missed out quite a few years, that there’s still quite a lot of growth here. I was in New York yesterday, for example, and there were people waiting outside this building with signs – Formula One fans with our team tops on, which was huge.
Drivers like Lauda and Prost took a year or two off, came back, won races and Championships. Given how intense F1 is these days, plus the lack of testing, how much momentum would you lose if you took a year off?
It’s not something I’m thinking about. I would imagine that naturally you would lose some traction. Coming back into testing when you don’t have a lot of it before the season – particularly with all the controls, the new updates every single year, the technology constantly evolving – to be on top of that, I imagine, would definitely take a while to get back into. So it wouldn’t be helpful. But perhaps back in the day, when there was more running and testing, it was a little bit easier for them to come back in. Niki could tell you more.
With the demise of two teams recently, there’s been a lot of talk about third cars. How do you feel about that?
I haven’t really thought about it to be honest. I think we would have to expand the team to make sure the efforts aren’t diluted. But if it’s a position for a younger driver, it could be quite good. Especially in terms of bringing them on, giving them the best experience and putting them alongside top drivers who have experience. Perhaps they will come along a lot more than they ever have in the past. When I think about the two teams that have dropped out, my biggest concern really is for all the employees in those teams that have to provide for their families but perhaps don’t have a job now. If we do make three cars happen, perhaps they will still have space in other teams.
What is it about new tracks that you enjoy so much, being that you won here back in 2012 at the inaugural race, and also won the first race in Sochi three weeks ago?
I like the fact it’s just a new challenge for us. I’ve been in Formula One now for eight years and every year you go to the same tracks and you’ve experience them before. You’re always trying to better yourself at the tracks you know but with the new circuits, you want to be the one that masters it before everyone else. Of course, when you get a car that you’re able to do that with, it’s even more exciting. One of the most exciting races for me was here in 2012. It’s very, very difficult to follow another driver in one of these cars but this is one of the circuits that enables you to. It’s just the way the corners are laid out – you can follow a Formula One car. And also, the amount of people that were here for that race was amazing. Sochi was a great new circuit again. In ten years’ time I’ll look back and know that I was at the forefront of those debut races – that’s quite cool for me. I look back at history and at Michael who’s got the world record at all these previous circuits and also won at them the first time the sport visited them. Hopefully in the future I’ll have a couple of those records.
You lead the standings but you could still lose the title due to the double points race in Abu Dhabi. Is that fair and do you think it should be re-thought for next year?
I think the question is ‘what is fair?’ This is the rule that they have brought in for the first time; do I really agree with it? I don’t know if any of us agree with it or do not agree with it. But it is the way it is and you just have to deal with it and hope for the best. It would suck if that was the case – big time – but I’m not even going to put that negative energy out there. I’m just going to try and do the best job I can with the car that I have and what will be will be, I guess. For the future, I wouldn’t perhaps advise it for the following years.
You touched earlier on your trip to New York yesterday. What do appearances like that do for Formula One, when you appear on a major American TV programme?
New York was incredible, really. I just remember growing up watching all these movies and everything you see in New York. To be in the middle of the city with the Formula One car was amazing. People had arrived at 5:30 in the morning for the 8.30 show. There were fans there with team tops and it’s just something wouldn’t have perhaps expected over here. It really was a great buzz these guys had. There’s more and more excitement growing here in the States and, as I said, they are massive sports fans over here. I really hope that it continues to grow. With this race, they’ve done such an amazing job from 2012 until now and I hope that continues to grow too. Over here, they have a good recipe for good shows. When you go and watch an NBA game you know you’re excited the whole way through. It’s the same with NFL and the same with baseball, so they have a good recipe for entertaining fans and we can perhaps take a bit of that and add it into this race and maybe others and make it even more attractive.
You’re wearing quite an interesting item around your neck – could you give us an insight as to what exactly that is?
I’m really into art. I couldn’t afford the real Andy Warhol painting so I thought I would get it on a miniature scale. That’s what I have, it’s the Mercedes 300SL cars.
In the past couple of years you’ve been able to do this race with one stop. Are you seeing anything on the simulator, any kind of indication as to what the toll is going to be on the tyres this year and how they will work?
I personally haven’t yet, but I’m going to speak to my engineers shortly. I hope that we’re doing more than one stop. One stop is not really particularly exciting and I think it’s good for the fans to see it all changing. I know in the past we maybe complained about too much degradation but having at least two stops I think would maybe be good for the fans to see. I think it’s important to remember that Pirelli have done a really solid job this year. OK, the tyres are sometimes a little bit too hard for us – but it’s what we’ve asked for and they’re learning and improving Tyre safety has not been an issue this year which is huge because last year it was sometimes a concern.. A few more problems in terms of pit stops would not be too bad, though.
You’re going to be racing in Mexico in 2015 and Azerbaijan in 2016 – what do you think about this and the potential to lose some of the more traditional venues from the calendar?
Growing up and seeing the history of Formula One, I remember when I was younger, watching a lap of Senna’s, for example, around Monaco and then dreaming of one day driving that track. Knowing the history of it, even way before, and then driving it for the first time – that feeling was just unreal. I can’t really describe it. Obviously, when you’re at a new circuit, there is none of that history, so there is that difference. But we’re coming to a new age where in fifty years’ time people will be talking about these circuits which are at the beginning of their own history. Inevitably, things are going to change a bit.