News of Fernando Alonso’s contract extension at McLaren gave another storyline to what promises to be a thrilling United States Grand Prix.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton could win the title at Austin if the race falls his way, but the Mercedes star was giving little away in Thursday’s driver briefing.
Brendon Hartley also spoke ahead of his F1 debut for Toro Rosso, while Carlos Sainz Jr and Nico Hulkenberg faced the media for the first time as Renault team-mates.
ALONSO PLOTS MCLAREN RESURGENCE
Alonso confirmed that his fresh deal with McLaren runs beyond the end of next season, with an eye on returning the famous squad to former glories as they hope a switch to Renault power can do the trick.
“We have enough to do for next year, to put McLaren again at the top of the grid and that’s the first priority right now,” he said, before reflecting on a first competitive return to the States since taking part in the Indianapolis 500.
Fernando presents his special #USGP edition helmet – an awesome nod to his @McLarenIndy lid. #F1 #Indy500 pic.twitter.com/4vlK00t7RA
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) October 19, 2017
He’s signed a new contract, now time to get McLaren “back where they belong”, says Alonso #F1 #USGP pic.twitter.com/71CIWoDu47
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 19, 2017
“I think on my personal side there are no other priorities than Formula One at the moment but with a door open for different series and different goals that I always believed that you need to win in other series if you want to be a more complete driver, a better driver, because motorsport is not only Formula One.”
HAMILTON KEEPS HIS CARDS CLOSE
A Hamilton win, combined with Sebastian Vettel finishing outside the top five will see the Brit crowned champion in Austin for a second time in his career.
Not that the 32-year-old would entertain such talk…
“Nothing has changed for me,” he said. “Everything is exactly the same as it was going into the last race, going into the second half of the season; it’s exactly the same mentally for me. Maybe it’s changed from your perspective, but for me it hasn’t.”
Just don’t tell him that Ferrari have thrown away the title amid late-season reliability issues…
“If I was to win this championship I think I would say that I’ve earned it.”
HARTLEY SAYS HELLO
A former reserve and test driver with the Red Bull stable, Hartley turned to endurance racing after his F1 dream seemed to have ended.
But the New Zealander is suddenly back in the limelight, filling in at Toro Rosso as Pierre Gasly chases the Super Formula title in Japan.
“I didn’t know about it much sooner than the press did!” – @BrendonHartley ahead of his #F1 debut at the #USGP pic.twitter.com/Gp580dnmoC
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 19, 2017
“There have been no expectations set,” said a calm Hartley. “To be honest, some of the team members I’m just meeting for the first time today, and yesterday during the seat fit. Obviously, I want to do the best that I can.”
The 27-year-old was also measured while reflecting on his F1 past.
“I guess I wasn’t ready,” he explained. “I had some success in the early days, I won the Formula Renault championship, I became the reserve driver, had my first F1 test at 18 years old and I guess I just didn’t deal with the pressure.”
HULKENBERG EXPECTING STRONG SAINZ
Both Hulkenberg and Sainz had been effectively one-man teams in terms of point-scoring in 2017, with Jolyon Palmer and Daniil Kvyat’s struggles leaving both to pick up the slack.
There you go! My helmet for my @RenaultSportF1 era! pic.twitter.com/FdDAcW6gHs
— Carlos Sainz (@Carlossainz55) October 19, 2017
But Renault now have the two highly rated racers together, with Hulkenberg perhaps cheekily putting some pressure on his new colleague.
The German is expecting “definitely a harder time probably than so far this year”.
He explained: “Obviously he’s got a few challenges on his plate, changing team at the back end of the season is not the easiest situation. There are a lot of new things that he has to get used to: car, team, people but I’m sure he will be on a decent level straight away.”
Understandably, Sainz was keen to remain grounded.
“Let’s wait and see, no? I think my main target has to be to go session by session,” he said.
“I’m the first one who wants to be on the pace straight away, but I cannot get too excited about that. I need to cover all the procedures, all the steps that I want to take, little by little, to get to know the car.”