The fight with Ferrari is extremely close and every single bit is going to count
Valtteri, you made a step forward in qualifying last time out but, to use your own words, the race was a disappointment. Given you have a good record here in Sochi, are you confident that this is the place to make that final step?
VB: Yeah, I think definitely it has been getting better in each qualifying of the year and I'm feeling that I can definitely extract more and more out of the car. I had a nice lap in Bahrain on Saturday but, yeah, it is Sunday that counts and to be honest I think the first race of the year in Melbourne, as a Sunday, was the best one for me. It was the most trouble-free race for me. I've been having quite a few difficulties in China and Bahrain technically, with different kinds of things in the race, so I'm hoping for a good one here. We have a strong package. Obviously, the fight with Ferrari is extremely close and every single bit is going to count. So, yeah, just hoping for a good weekend.
You just referenced the technical problems you had in Bahrain. But you then went and did 143 laps in testing after the Grand Prix, during which you said you'd learned a few tricks. What might those tricks be?
VB: Like I said, it's all about fine details with the fight between us and Ferrari and obviously it's very close between team-mates as well, so every single bit helps. It was quite critical in Bahrain with the tyres, in terms of keeping them in the right window, and with the tyre pressure issues we had it made it even more tricky. Bahrain testing allowed me to try a few different things for that really – how to manage the tyres. In terms of race pace and temperatures and pressures and everything, we could experience a lot of different things. We found small things as a team – but small things are going to help. It is completely different conditions here in Russia – different tarmac, different temperatures – so we are facing different challenges here.
The team is really helping me with that
You've now completed your first 100 days as a Mercedes driver. How would you sum it up? How's it gone?
VB: Busy! Especially since January, when everything was signed and announced, it has been a busy time. But I have to say these 100 days, I've never in my life learned so much in that short period of time. I feel like I've been developing well. I've managed to get really into the team, I feel completely part of the team and I feel like I'm in a very good place. The team is really helping me with that. I've learned massively but that's going to continue.
It looks like it's going to be tight, obviously, between yourselves and Ferrari this year. With that in mind, have you had a conversation with Toto or any of the management about when one of you or Lewis might become the number one or number two driver?
VB: No, we haven’t had the conversation because I don't think there is any need to. This team has never really had number one or number two drivers and is not planning to. They’re always trying to give an equal chance to both drivers. But what is different this year compared to the last three years is that the gap to the second quickest team has been bigger before. So maybe every single detail – letting the drivers race hard, or one being stuck behind the other at times – hasn't cost anything. But I do understand the fact that this year it can cost points. If, for any reason, like for me in Bahrain, the pace of the other car is not good then the team needs to think and be clever to not lose any points. We've only had three races this year and I feel all my good results are still on the way, so at least I am not thinking about anything like that and I'm sure also for the team there's no need to.
We are doing this as a team and our target is to get maximum points for the team
If you were given an instruction in this race to move over for Lewis, would you do that? And as well as that, if they sat you down more broadly over the next few weeks and said: “Look, there's only one way we can get a driver to win this year and we've got to back Lewis to do it”, would you agree to do it?
VB: Your question is very hypothetical. There's a lot of 'ifs'. I definitely haven't thought that far about things and I don't think that is going to happen. So, I prefer not to say much to that. But, for example, if I have some issues in this race for whatever reason, or we are on different strategies and Lewis is stuck behind me, if the team tells me to move over, I will, because we are doing this as a team and our target is to get maximum points for the team. Of course, as a driver I'm going to do everything I can not to be in that position and to have my own race. I like personal results as well but I've always been a team player. In the long term that is going to reward you and the team. But in terms of what's going to happen in the future between me and Lewis and team orders and so on, you know we are not planning anything like that. I'm sure we are going to be racing very hard together on track but, like I said before, this year the team needs to be more careful and maybe more clever in terms of how we collect every single point possible in the race. And that one, I completely understand.
I think it's definitely a good step compared to the Halo
Valtteri, if you're quicker than Lewis, would you expect him to move over for you?
VB: Of course. If the team thinks there is a possibility to gain more points or, if we are in any way allowed to race freely, it's no different. We are being respected and handled the same way. It can all be vice versa in this race or the next one. Who knows?
Based on the latest information from the FIA, it appears as though the cockpit Shield has received the nod for 2018 over the Halo. What do you think about the Shield and which one would you prefer the Shield or the Halo?
VB: I don't mind the Shield. I think it looks quite OK. I think it's definitely a good step compared to the Halo. That's my personal view, how it looks, so I don't mind that. I think the safety aspect is always important. It's always important to keep things improving and developing. Safety always needs to be improved. So I wouldn't mind trying out the Shield, seeing how the visibility is and if there are any other issues with that. But I think in terms of safety, it would be a good step compared to what we have now.