Drivers reflect on their 2014 seasons.
Lewis HAMILTON (FIA Formula One World Champion), Jose Maria LOPEZ (FIA World Touring Car Champion), Anthony DAVIDSON (World Endurance Champion), Sébastien BUEMI (World Endurance Champion), and Nasser AL-ATTIYAH (World Rally WRC2 Champion) talked about their seasons and capturing the title in their respective discipline.
Lewis I have to start with you. Your title win was only a couple of weeks ago, have you had a chance yet to sit down and take it all in and reflect on it?
Lewis HAMILTON: Good afternoon everyone. So far no, it’s been quite a busy period of time, I’m sure for all of us. This year, after the race, back doing tons of interviews and radio and television… enjoying it though, I’d happily do that every year! At the factory, working on next year’s car already and seeing the team, thanking the team for all their help, both the teams, where they build the engine and also the car. Trying to fit in dinners with the family as well. It’s been a whirlwind but I’m looking forward to the break that’s coming up and in that break I’ll get to do some partying for sure.
In terms of the whirlwind, I’m sure it kind of all blurs into one amazing moment but, as a fellow Brit, what is it like when you hear Prince Harry on your team radio congratulating you?
LH Well… you’re obviously very into Prince Harry!
I don’t think you ever want to have it easy. You always want to have a fight.
F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton
I think most of the ladies in our country are!
LH: It was obviously an honour to have part of the royal family talking on the radio, but at the time I was so excited, I had the whole year flooding through my mind, so anything… one of my engineers spoke to me but I didn’t hear a word he said. It wasn’t until the last word, perhaps, that Prince Harry said, that I actually realised that it was him on the radio and what he said. I was just so elated. It’s been a long, long time in coming and the pressure was immense, as it would have been for all of us [here]. To keep your cool and get through the whole race, especially when there were moments when you thought perhaps you wouldn’t make it – whether it be the car or whether the double points system [had an effect] – I was just so happy, I was kind of shouting a lot, so that’s perhaps why I didn’t hear anyone.
57 years since the last world champion in Argentina, so it was a big thing in my country ... I really enjoyed it
WTCC champion Jose Maria Lopez
Both of your world championship titles have been epic battles right to the very end. Are you looking forward to an easier one another time, where you can just coast to the chequered flag?
LH: I don’t think you ever want to have it easy. You always want to have a fight. Easy championships, I don’t know, they’re just not as… you want that climax. Obviously in the last race it was a climax going into the last race, obviously Nico’s car had an issue, so then from halfway through the race the pressure was different to having to defend in the race. But still, throughout the whole year, just trying to keep your cool, stay focused and all those kinds of things. It was great. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have had the championships I’ve had. This one definitely feels sweeter than the first but that’s probably just because I’m older and because of what I’ve gone through to get to this one and the decisions that I’ve taken and all those kinds of things. For the next one – if there is another one – at least in the championships I’m going into I want to fight as high as possible and try to work on and improve on the things that are not strong enough and could be better but overall it’s been an incredible year and I’ve been very blessed to have a great team around me.
Jose Maria, what a year you’ve had, you’re the first Argentinian champion since Juan Manuel Fangio, how big a deal is that?
Jose Maria LOPEZ: Good afternoon everyone. It was an amazing season for me. It was a long time, 57 years since the last world champion in Argentina, so it was a big thing in my country as well. So I really enjoyed it. Every race was surprising for me, arriving there, being on the pace. We had an amazing car so we fought inside the team for the championship. Still, waking up in the morning feeling very happy.
You’ve been waking up feeling happy for quite a while because unlike Lewis you tied up the championship quite early. In terms of you saying it was a big deal for your country, what was that double victory like on home soil in Argentina?
JML: It was a the best moment for me in the year, because when I arrived at my home race, the only thing I wanted people to know was how fond we are of motor racing, how crazy we are for motor racing. We have football and then it’s motor racing, so I just wanted to arrive on Sunday and see a lot of people. It was quite like this. We arrived and there was like 45,000 or 50,000 people, in a city, which is very far from the big city, so a lot of people came by bus to cheer my name. I ended up winning the two races, making pole position, scoring the maximum points possible, so it was amazing. Then when I arrived on the podium and everybody was singing the national song, it was quite an emotional moment as well.
You say there was competition within the Citroën team, you were up against a four-times World Touring Car champion in Yvan Muller and a nine-times World rally champion in Sébastien Loeb. How brilliant was it to beat them and how much do they dislike you now?
JML: Sometimes it sounds stupid but I arrived on the first day of the Valencia test and I saw Sébastien coming. I’m from Cordoba so I lived rally for many years, I used to go two days before the stages with a tent, with my friend, making a barbecue, waiting for the cars to come. To have him next to me… to be honest in the beginning I wanted to make a picture with him all the time! But at the same time I was saying ‘no I have to keep cool, we are working’. Honestly, even with Yvan it was a little bit the same. The good thing is they received me in the team and they put me next to them like I’m one more. I felt like I was in the family already for a long time. That helped me, you know, for starting the season in strong shape. So the team was great, Sébastien, Yvan, everybody was very kind with me. Even if there was a competition between us because we end up winning many races this year, it was a nice competition. We knew our places in the team, we knew we could fight, we knew the objective of the team was trying to win the championship, so, it was a great year.
Anthony, let’s talk about you and Sébastien [Buemi], both of you experiencing a world championship title for the first time in a few years, since your karting days. How sweet is that world champion title? It has a nice ring to it.
Anthony DAVIDSON: The last world championship I really aimed for was back in karting and that was back in 1996, so it’s been a long time coming. To finally achieve that, it’s easily the biggest thing I’ve ever won in my life. I’ve won big single-day events before but not a world championship. Yeah, it was very sweet. To do it with a team-mate as well is always a pleasure. You share that emotion together, so it’s very cool. Yeah, wrapped it up in Bahrain just a few weeks ago and then we did the constructors’ championship just last week in Brazil.
The WEC is growing in popularity and stature and you have a lot of interest from current F1 drivers – we’ve got Nico Hulkenberg racing next year – do you think there will ever come a time again where Formula One drivers can compete in sports cars and F1 at the same time?
AD: We’ve seen it in the past. Sébastien Bourdais competed with Toro Rosso and also competed with Peugeot at Le Mans. Le Mans is one of the biggest races in the world. It’s got that gravity that draws drivers to it, no matter which discipline you’re from people want to give it a go. It’s a cool race to do and it fits nicely into the Formula One calendar as well, so it does give that chance to people like Nico to come along. I think Mark Webber’s been really enjoying it this year, apart obviously from Brazil and it’s great to see that he’s OK after that big crash he had. They’re nice cars to drive, they look sexy, it’s a good championship, it’s growing all the time and you never know maybe it will come back to the glory days of Group C in a few years. With Nissan arriving next year there will be four manufacturers fighting it out – Porsche, Audi and ourselves – so yeah, it’s an exciting championship at the moment.
For a driver you always love to race and eight races is not really enough from my point of view. It was good to combine it with Formula E.
WEC LMP1 champion Sebastien Buemi
An honest answer on this answer one: what’s more exciting, dangerous, nerve-wracking, going flat out at Le Mans or working in television with Johnny Herbert?
AD: Oh working alongside Johnny, that’s always scary. You never know what’s round the corner with him. It’s interesting for me seeing two sides of it – from the media’s points of view and also from inside the cockpit. Two very different worlds, you both want two very different things, so yeah it’s nice to have that. The TV stuff isn’t something I really pushed for it just kind of happened. After Super Aguri pulled out of Formula One I didn’t really have a drive and the radio thing with BBC turned into Sky TV and it just all went along. I never stopped it and then my racing became more important again and here I am with two jobs!
Nice. Sébastien let’s have some thoughts from you. What’s it like to be a world champion?
Sébastien BUEMI: Like Anthony said, it’s been a great year for us, so obviously to become world champion in Bahrain was something very big for us as individuals and also for the team because Toyota has been trying very hard in the past few years to win races and championships. It was a great moment. We were leading the race in Bahrain until we had alternator issues, so it was a bit strange to win the championship by not finishing in a good position in that race but still it was a great feeling and last week in Sao Paulo we won the constructors’ championship, so it’s been a really good season for us.
You spent the majority of the season as a two-man team. How much extra pressure is that and how exhausting is it?
SB: Yeah we started as three with Nicolas Lapierre and obviously at the last four races we did it as two. You’ve got some positive. By being two you drive more in free practice, you get a better feeling for the car once you get into qualifying, but a race like Sao Paulo was not easy to do as two, you have something like 150 laps to do. It’s a tough one but all together I think we managed it very well and it was not an issue at all.
You also drive in Formula E. How do you balance those commitments?
SB: There are eight races in the WEC so for a driver you always love to race and eight races is not really enough from my point of view. It was good to combine it with Formula E. Obviously it’s completely new so it’s difficult to compare it. So far it works. In the winter I’ll do a few of those Formula E races and then we’ll see once we get back in the WEC car.
The technology in both of those championships is fascinating. Is that something that particularly interests you?
SB: I think today it’s like that. Even in Formula One, with the hybrid car, everyone is going in that direction. You’ve got to understand it. I think, as a driver, it’s a great opportunity to experience those kinds of cars, because you just get a better overall knowledge at the end. I quite like the technology, working on it, trying to make it better. But as a driver you just like to push hard and whatever happens with the engine you don’t realty care so much.
Nasser, how special is it to be picking up a world title at a prize-giving ceremony that’s happening in your home country?
Nasser AL-ATTIYAH: Good afternoon everybody. I think we really had a good year this year. If you start with Dakar and you finish top three, third place, it was amazing for us. We continued to compete ion the cross-country, we finished second; the difference was only one point. After we follow the WRC2 and we win the event and it was great for us. And last week we win the Middle East championship – 10 times the title here in the Middle East. I think it’s a good thing for us. I’m really so happy. Also thank you to everybody for coming here to Qatar, in my country, and I think it will be a great event. Even yesterday, it was a great time and we race all together so it was fantastic.
The WRC2 title wasn’t plain sailing. I’m thinking in particularly of the Wales Rally GB. Was there a nervous moment when you felt like it might have slipped away?
NA: Absolutely. We needed to finish in Wales in the top seven and when you start to say it’s very easy to finish in the top seven but then you start to think maybe something happens with the car or maybe you slip off the road or something like, because Wales Rally GB is very, very difficult, raining and you know it was a difficult race for us. OK, we finish in the sixth place. It was great for us. We needed a point to win the WRC2.
There were questions from lots of Facebook and Twitter followers and one of the questions that came in, and I’ll stay with you Nasser, because you’ve done this, is if there was another sport you would play what would it be? Brilliantly, Nasser, you have competed in two Olympics as a skeet shooter and you go bronze at London 2012. That’s amazing. How are you doing those two disciplines?
NA: I’ve been in this sport a long time, 20 years ago. But OK, I compete in five Olympic Games and I’ve always been in the final, but suddenly I lose the medal. During the last Olympic Games in London I was really pushing myself a lot. I find myself in this Olympics very strong and I finish third, bronze media, the only difference was one target to the gold medal. I was really so happy, My next target is Rio, because I need to make at least a record, for competing, like six Olympic Games.
Sébastien, same question: if you weren’t competing in motor sport what would you do?
SB: I don’t know to be honest. Since I was a kid I always wanted to be a racing driver. I’ve been skiing quite a bit, you know we’ve got some nice mountains in Switzerland. I do believe I would have done something like that. I never asked myself the question. Since I was four when I received my first go-kart and I just wanted to race it.
Anthony was it the same with you?
AD: No absolutely not, I was set on becoming a basketball player but it never happened for some reason!
What have you learned from the TV side of things that has perhaps given you a different perspective in being a racing driver?
AD: From the media’s perspective they need to learn and understand that racing drivers have emotions and you sometimes say the wrong thing and you do the wrong thing and we’re only human. That’s the one thing I’ve learned from being a driver and seeing it from TV’s point of view as well.
Jose, what happens for you now sir?
JML: Just keep going with WTCC with the team. Of course, trying to defend the number one will be harder. I think it’s easier to get it but it’s more difficult to try to keep it. Competition will be stronger and my team-mate will be stronger as well. The objective will be the same: try to do my best, try to do 100% and keep growing in the series.
Lewis a question that came through to you. Which other athlete do you most admire?
LH: Past or present?
LH: Muhammed Ali was always my favourite. I still get to watch a lot of sport. I love watching MotoGP, I love motorbikes. It’s quite neat being up here because I’ve pretty much raced with all of these. I don’t know if I’ve raced with Anthony… you were doing a world championship in 1996, where was that? But we’ve all come through pretty much the same ranks so it’s great to be up here with drivers whose paths have crossed or almost crossed at some stage and gone elsewhere but have all been successful in their own categories, so it’s a privilege to be among them all.
Questions from the Floor
It’s one for Lewis really. Congratulations, it’s great to have a British world champion. Who do you think will finish second next year, to you of course?
Same as Daniel (Ricciardo), we live the dream, and we’re happy and happy to do the same questions and answers all the time, no problem at all.
World RX champion Petter Solberg
LH: Going into the next season, as Jose was saying, you’re going into next season, you’re hoping that you’ll be competitive again, you hope you’ll have a chance to fight for the championship again. The good thing about this period of time in Formula One is that when I won the championship in 2008, the following year we had a year like this with some new rules and regulations and as a team we didn’t do a good job to adapt to that, so I didn’t have a chance to fight to keep my championship. Next year will be an evolution of this year’s car so I’m hoping that we’ll be at least able to fight. Nico’s going to come back stronger and I’ll have to make sure I come back even stronger to stay ahead of him. You know Daniel Ricciardo has been doing an amazing job, it will be interesting to see what Fernando does in his car. It’s very difficult to kno but I don’t particularly care who’s behind! You don’t car do you? You just want to look ahead!
My question is to Lewis. Africa has the highest statistics on road accidents. What are you intentions in helping to reduce such statistics? I feel that as an ambassador if you visit Africa it will do a lot to help?
LH: We do work with the FIA in their road safety campaigns and there are several different ones with different partners that perhaps each of our teams has. I haven’t been to Africa for a few years. The last time I went was to visit Madiba who invited me over. That was an amazing experience, going there and seeing a game reserve in Johannesburg and seeing Capetown. I’m aware that my dad is pushing very hard to try to get the grand prix over there in the coming years, which I think would be amazing for the country. Of course as racing drivers we have to be responsible on the racing circuit. I think we do have an opportunity as we are representing the younger generation, which obviously will be the future, it would be great to make change and help. Perhaps it might be only small pebble in the pond but if we save even one person’s life by encouraging them to be safe on the road that would be huge for me particularly and I’m sure I speak for all of us.
Daniel RICCIARDO (FIA Formula One World Championship 3rd place), Petter SOLBERG (FIA World Rallycross Champion), Stephane LEFEBVRE (World Rally Championship Junior WRC champion), and Lando NORRIS (World Karting Championship KF champion) were up next.
Daniel, first of all, you heard it from Lewis that you’ve had en excellent season and that he’s slightly concerned about you next year. What is 2015 about for you?
Daniel RICCIARDO: Hopefully better things. I think this year was a big step forward in my career, a big step in the direction I wanted it to go in. Obviously the Mercedes were dominant, but I was able to score the only other three wins of the season, so that was a big year for me. Once you make one step you want to keep making more. I won’t settle for anything else now. We’ll see. I’m sure Lewis was very humble but I’m sure Mercedes are going to very quick again next year. But the gap’s there for us to close, so hopefully we can do that and looking forward to the future now.
The fact that you keep your smile on the whole is a winning attribute. In terms of the tension in Formula One and the pressure, being a jovial character, has that helped you? Is that part of your strategy?
DR: I wouldn’t say it’s something I’ve planned in terms of a strategic move, it’s just who I am. Obviously it helps in a lot of ways. I think it relieves a lot of the tension and stress that surrounds the sport a lot of the time. It’s intense, so to have this light-hearted approach makes it easier to handle and manage. For me, I’m just having fun. When I’m in the car it’s serious. I treat it with 100% seriousness. After that just have fun. There’s a lot of interviews and stuff and you get asked the same questions a lot of the time. You just have to roll with it and try to enjoy it. I tend to joke around a lot and that makes it easier.
On to another joker – we’ll pass to Petter. Your nickname is Hollywood because you put on great shows. Is that just your natural personality coming out in your racing?
Petter SOLBERG: I think it’s a lot about where you come from in life, you know, from a small farm in Norway. I’ve enjoyed motor sport since you were six years old. Same as Daniel, we live the dream, and we’re happy and happy to do the same questions and answers all the time, no problem at all. This is something that not everybody has a chance to go through in life and when I look at the young guy over there [Lando Norris] I was that age one day, many years ago, and I can imagine what his thoughts are about what his future will bring, so enjoy every moment.
For all of you, what advice would you give, not just Lando, but even your 14-year-old self, knowing what you do now?
PS: Well, the thing is I have a son who is 13 and who is champions in three different countries this year and the only thing I say to him is to just go out there and enjoy. I know there are a lot of managers and a lot of things around but that day when you start to lose your passion and enjoyment for fighting and pushing your limits and doing things 110 per cent then there’s no point. It has to come from your heart, not from anybody else. Keep smiling and drive fast. You [Daniel] are the same. That is a dangerous weapon to be honest with you – that enjoyment. The results come automatically. Don’t rush and don’t stress about doing things. You see I was world champion in 2003, after so many years I still have the passion and enjoyment like I have and get it again this year in a different motor sport. It’s all about what’s your dream, your goal. Even though I’m 40 I’m still dreaming.
How special has this championship been, coming 11 years after the last one?
PS: The thing is, if you are in a factory team, it’s a lot of people; it’s a very special moment the first one you did in rallying. But this championship is all about my own motivation and pushing the limit. The [amount] of people we have in the team is quite small but to drag them with you in the same direction and giving up… their wives some of them! But giving 110% for winning their own dream with me, that’s unbelievable. Whatever you do, rate everything, even it’s small, as high a pleasure for everybody and they can go to the biggest goal and that’s about winning.
Talking about wives. I don’t know many wives or husbands would be brave enough to get in the same car to even go down to the shops. But you and your wife won the historic stage of the Sweden stage. That is unbelievable.
PS: To have your wife beside you as a co-driver on Rally Sweden I don’t know if that was… I didn’t get a lot of pace notes. But the thing is Ok I have the experience so I can still go fast but on the last stage I remember she just closed the book and I said ‘what are you doing?’ and she said ‘no, I just want to look at your feet and how you’re driving the stage’. I said ‘ come on, not now!’
Stepahane, tell me the moments that have stood out for you this year?
Stephane LEFEBVRE: Hello everybody. Yes of course for me this year is very amazing. To win the title the title on Rally France is incredible and is a very big moment for my career. Before this year I had no experience in WRC events. I’m learning always and I make victories on five events and I win the title in my country. I have not the words to explain this feeling.
Lando, I’m told you go to a school that is very sport oriented. Does that help in terms of what you are doing in terms of what you are doing?
Lando NORRIS: Sometimes. I’m not in school a lot of the time because I’m training or racing. But it is a sporty school and there’s a lot of gym or whatever. But to be honest I don’t do many sports at the school. I don’t have much time. I have to catch up on a lot of the work I missed during the weekends. It helps but now I do more of it at home because I have to concentrate on my school work a bit more.
You are the youngest ever winner of this category, what does the future hold for you? You’re going into Formula 4 next year aren’t you?
LN: Yeah, next year I’m in the new series MSA Formula. It’s obviously quite a bit step from what I did this year, racing in the Ginetta series. That was more of a stepping stone to get into car world. It should be a good season. I’ll have to work hard as we always do and hopefully I can do roughly what I did this year and win some races.
You’ve just celebrated your 15th birthday, why are champions like yourself becoming younger. Are you better prepared?
LN: I don’t know really. I have a great team behind me. All of us have worked really hard this year and last year. This year I haven’t won as many things. I only won the world championship, which is the main things, but last year I won quite a few more races and not the world championship, so there was a lot of preparation going into it, obviously testing the weeks before it. I think it’s more people want to try to achieve their dream to get to Formula One, which is mine and they’re just more eager to win.
Let’s get the wisdom on Daniel on this. Would you echo Petter’s thoughts of just going out and just enjoying it?
Deep down I always believed that I could do it and that if I had the equipment and the opportunity I could do it but looking back on it ... That (winning three races) surprised me a little bit.
DR: Yeah I can completely relate to what Petter said. I think it’s the core of it. If you want to be successful at anything in life the primary thing is you have to enjoy it. You have to have fun doing it. It can't be someone else’s dream, it’s got to be yours. This year I put it down to that. I had the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car and the results came. You look at the big picture: be grateful. All my friends back home in Australia would love to have my job, so even on your bad days you have to look at the big picture and just be grateful for it.
We’ve had some more Twitter questions. This one comes from Oliver Jones who asks whether you have any superstitions before a race?
DR: I do not.
Is it just not part of your make-up?
DR: For me it’s just an excuse from something else to go wrong. You can blame it on ‘ah, I didn’t do that’. It just fills your head full of crap to be honest. I don’t like superstitions. Sorry if you guys have ‘em!
I do a lot of work in MotoGP and they have so many superstitions…
DR: yeah, that’s a bit sad!
Petter, what about you?
PS: You mean like not wearing underwear? No, honestly, I’m not into any bullshit at all, I’m into flat out. I don’t know why but normally it’s not good to think too much is it? Think about the driving and everything around that.
SL: I don’t know. No.
Another question that’s come from social media. Stephane, is there any other category you would like to race in?
SL: I make only the rally. I have not a lot of experience on other discipline. I like rallying and I hope I get another title next year in WRC2.
Lando, who at the moment for you, is someone you’d like to emulate?
LN: I don’t want to be picky or anything! My main dream is to get into Formula One. Just to get to Formula One is a big enough dream to be honest. Anybody in racing or motor sport I’d be happy with. I can’t really say who I like the best.
PS: Obviously you always have to look up to somebody. I remember when I was watching rallies, freezing my feet off at the Swedish Rally and looking at Tommy Makkinen and Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae and a few years later you come into a team with Colin McRae it was unbelievable. You always look up tot someone. Look at them, see what they do and how they act. I think [Daniel] will be a big star next year so maybe look at him!
Questions from the Floor
Daniel, three grand prix wins this, and it’s the first really competitive car you’ve had. What did it teach you about to race and what did you learn about Formula One and your own competitiveness?
DR: It grew. It grew a lot. My love for the sport grew. My love for competition. This year I think knowing you’ve got a car that can fight for a win or a podium and just race at the front with all these world champions that I looked up to when I was young. That just gives you so much more motivation. I’m not kidding you, every race this year I was more and more excited. Sunday would come and I though I couldn't get more pumped up for the race and the following week I was more and more the week after. It just got better and better. I think having that opportunity, knowing that if you have a good weekend, if you do everything you have a chance of standing on the podium that makes it a lot easier I guess.
Did you surprise yourself this year?
DR: A little bit. Deep down I always believed that I could do it and that if I had the equipment and the opportunity I could do it but looking back on it, looking at Mercedes domination and for me to be the only driver that broke that, yeah that surprised me a little bit.