AUSTIN, Texas – The weather looks good, the words have been flying from the drivers’ mouths, and the anticipation is building for track action to commence at Circuit of The Americas for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix starting on Friday (FP1 is at 11 a.m. ET, FP2 is at 3 p.m. ET, both on NBCSN).
With the FIA Press Conference today for drivers, most of the focus centered on how Lewis Hamilton would react in his first meeting with the media since a trying weekend in Japan.
But with Nico Hulkenberg having confirmed his departure from Sahara Force India for Renault in 2017, the emerging driver silly season that occurs as a result was also something discussed in the paddock.
Here’s a roundup of news, features and other items from the paddock at COTA today (and some from Wednesday rolled into this post):
PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES (12)
ADDITIONAL PRE-RACE ITEMS (12)
THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK
Welcome to the Lewis Conference
Thursday marked the FIA Lewis Conference in Austin – I mean Press Conference – because it was a decidedly one-man show among the six drivers selected to participate in the often relatively mundane, run-of-mill event.
Of the 22 questions asked from the floor, no less than 12 were addressed to Lewis Hamilton – many addressing his questioning of the press conference format itself, his social media presence, why certain users are blocked and rather little related to this race and this season itself.
I found it interesting that the most lucid answers came from Hamilton to three F1 part-timers – myself included – who asked questions outside the norm.
Hamilton, who works with UNICEF, addressed a question about Haiti by saying it’s devastating what’s happened there as a result of Hurricane Matthew. “I don’t know what I could do (to help), apart from taking a picture for social media, which is not really that helpful,” he said.
He also answered my own question asking him to take us inside the Mercedes factories in Brixworth and Brackley with a spirited answer of how it felt. “Honestly, it’s kind of daunting when you go back to the two factories, because there’s so many people,” he admitted. “I remember joining this team and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the majority of people that were in here, said that it wasn’t the right decision. I had the belief that this team would really go somewhere and I’ve been a part of that journey and very proud of it.”
Then he addressed what’s been another persistent issue this year – his starts. “I was at the factory last week and we were working very hard to cover up all areas so we hope that we have a slightly better formula this weekend.”
It appeared likely that the Mercedes brass had told Hamilton to respectfully engage and seem happy to be there, which he did well. That it made it a bit boring for the other five in the room was perhaps inevitable after Suzuka a fortnight ago.
A question posed by NBCSN’s Will Buxton about the format did elicit a bit of laughter though, Haas F1’s Romain Grosjean noting he’d taken a pic earlier in the conference illegally as a Microsoft ambassador, but holding another brand of phone. None of the others offered much in the way of suggestions as to how to improve the format, and the lack of ideas said as much as the words themselves.
Laser focus for Rosberg
Nico Rosberg is all-game face, all the time. Despite persistent efforts from the full-time F1 press corps, Rosberg would not budge in his media availability on Thursday about whether he’s allowing himself to think about a potential first World Championship.
Maybe this will serve him well if he achieves it, and his performances on track of late – particularly since the summer break as he’s won four of five Grands Prix – would back up that win-only focus.
Silly season starting to percolate
With this the first Grand Prix since Nico Hulkenberg’s confirmation at Renault, as my colleague Luke Smith noted in the U.S. Grand Prix preview this morning, we now have a silly season upon us in F1 after all.
Spots at Renault, Force India and even Haas are the biggest talking points. This is before we get to the lesser-rated drives at the moment with Sauber and Manor. And this doesn’t even get into the likelihood that Daniil Kvyat’s time with Toro Rosso seems near an end, especially with Pierre Gasly here and present this weekend not long after his run with Red Bull on Pirelli’s new 2017 tires at a warm Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi over the weekend (more on that below).
Sebastian Vettel didn’t seem interested in discussing his future with Ferrari during the press conference, but rest assured when 2017 rolls around his 2018 contract will be an early-season talking point.
Looking at the young guns waiting to get in the F1 door
Jordan King will make his F1 race weekend debut on Friday, taking over Pascal Wehrlein’s chassis for Manor in free practice one. The Englishman has had what he termed a “solid” season in GP2, although he regretted leaving some points on the table. Still fifth in points, King could move up with a solid weekend at Abu Dhabi, and may well enter the Manor race seat frame in 2017 if Pascal Wehrlein and/or Esteban Ocon moves on.
Pierre Gasly is another who could well be in an F1 race seat sooner rather than later. The Frenchman completed an important run of three days testing Pirelli’s 2017 wider tires at Abu Dhabi over the weekend for Red Bull, running nearly 300 laps in the process. While the GP2 runner-up at the moment will look to win that title first, he said as soon as he knows his 2017 plans, he’ll be keen to announce them. It would be a surprise to few if a shot to race with Toro Rosso arrives next season.
Haas test driver Santino Ferrucci isn’t immediately on F1’s race seat doorstep, but the talented teen is another of those on site this weekend for Haas’ home race. Ferrucci has become the first American to test for Haas in the team’s maiden Grand Prix season, earlier this year in Silverstone.
The man with the “Shoey” has some kick-ass shoes
The best way to end today’s Paddock Notebook is with the latest in “Shoey’s Shoes.”
Here’s the latest from Daniel Ricciardo as he has arrived in Austin, one of his favorite cities, with some kick-ass shoes that scream, ‘Merica.
See a post here from Red Bull Racing on Twitter: