Wed Jun 15, 2011 10:37 pm
Q & A with Drivers Tony Stewart & Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International
Posted: 14 Jun 2011 09:28 PM PDT
An interview with TONY STEWART and LEWIS HAMILTON
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get the drivers up here and take a few questions, explain whether that was as much fun as it looked. Before we throw it open to the floor, I’ll get a few questions going here.
Lewis, tell us your experience for the first time in a stock car.
LEWIS HAMILTON: Well, it was definitely good that I got to go out in the F1 car just to kind of get an idea of where the track went. The track is absolutely fantastic. It feels like a real classic. It just feels historic when you’re driving around. They don’t make tracks like that nowadays. When they build new Formula One circuits, they don’t build them like this.
Being in a stock car, I was a little nervous pulling away. I thought I was in the wrong gear or something because it sounded like the rpm was dropping a little bit. I just gave it some power. I don’t know.
TONY STEWART: You did good.
LEWIS HAMILTON: I was really, really surprised. I was thinking this could be rolling quite a lot. I didn’t know how stiff it was going to be.
I tell you what, it handles really well. It’s absolutely fantastic. The shifting and the engine, the way it’s pulling through the rpm was fantastic.
THE MODERATOR: Certainly not ideal conditions out there for you with the weather. Can you make any form of comparison to your regular ride?
LEWIS HAMILTON: It’s not the same. They’re completely different. But the driving skills that you learn, the braking into corners, throttle shifting, that’s all very, very similar. That’s why I think it was easier to pick it up quicker than perhaps I would. I think it’s the same for Tony. He went straight out there and picked it up. It was no problem for him.
I could definitely see myself having some fun with it a little bit more (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Is this ever anything you could imagine racing in the future?
LEWIS HAMILTON: I tell you, with the problems I’ve been having recently, I think changing might not be a bad thing (laughter).
TONY STEWART: I just want first dibbs on trying to hire him.
THE MODERATOR: He’s not cheap, but you’re not cheap either.
TONY STEWART: I just look cheap (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Moving on from that, Tony, maybe if you could share with everyone your experience. Looked like when you pulled away like you were being cautious. Lulled us into a false sense of security, then you were flat out.
TONY STEWART: The funny part is I couldn’t even get it up high enough in the revs to get it to pull away in first gear. It goes into a default stall mode. I was trying to tell myself, Just get on the gas a little bit.
Once we got rolling, it was unbelievable. The good thing is you have somebody like Lewis that can sit there and guide you through it. As silly as it’s going to sound, I ran a couple hours yesterday in an iRacing simulator. It gave me such a good base to have an idea where shift points were going to be, seven-speed transmission, versus the four-speed that we have in the Cup car. With the simulator and Lewis’ input, it made it easy to feel like you could relatively get up to speed quick.
It’s just amazing what the capabilities of the car are. I told the guys on pit road out there that it’s probably going to make my crew chief a little more stressed during the weekends because I’m going to want it to handle like that all the time. I don’t think we’re ever going to get it there.
It was fun. That is truly an experience of a lifetime. I just can’t thank the people at Mobil 1 enough for helping facilitate this, everybody at Watkins Glen. I’m glad I didn’t know what these cars were like 20 years ago because I may not have put a fender on a racecar after that. I’m glad I had the experience and thankful to Lewis and his entire team for letting us do it.
THE MODERATOR: Maybe just explain a little bit, not ideal conditions, but what is the single standout thing that impresses you with a Grand Prix car?
TONY STEWART: I have a background with IndyCar racing so I’m somewhat familiar with downforce, but not this level of downforce. And I never drove them on a road course. I think probably the thing that stood out the most was how incredibly efficient and good the brakes are, how far you can go.
I never got to full potential of what the car was capable of doing in a braking zone. It’s just amazing how far you can charge the corner. It’s easy to see why it’s hard for these guys to overtake because it’s not a long distance from the time you get off the throttle on the brakes to where you’re changing directions. It gives you a much greater appreciation for how hard it is for these guys to overtake each other, what that car’s actually capable of. It’s just incredible the technology behind it.
THE MODERATOR: Maybe at this point we’ll throw it open to the floor.
Q. Was there any pressure not to wreck the car, Tony, did you feel after he went out and made clean laps?
TONY STEWART: I don’t want to wreck any racecar, let alone somebody else’s car. I don’t feel near as guilty about it nowadays when I’m paying the bills on it. If I crash it, I don’t have to be responsible to too many people.
Knowing this was the car that Lewis won the World Championship with, that didn’t really put a lot of pressure on as much as you want to enjoy the experience. As a competitor, you want to go out and find the limit, but at the same time you realize if you make a mistake, the penalty for that mistake is going to probably be large. You may back it off a little bit to enjoy the experience.
There was never any pressure from our side. We told him this wasn’t a car that, if he crashed it, don’t sweat it, just have fun in it. They were very much the same way. They didn’t tell me not to worry about it, but at the same time they never said, Please don’t crash our racecar today.
Q. Tony, what did you think of the long course? Lewis, what did you think of the weight of the stock car?
LEWIS HAMILTON: The weight, I was trying to calculate that before, because you do everything in pounds here, we do it in kilos. I think I measured it, it’s three times the weight of a Formula One car. It actually doesn’t feel that heavy. I think the brakes were surprisingly very good. Tony was telling me usually where they brake. I don’t think I was braking too far away from it. With the damp conditions, I was braking early thinking this car is not going to stop. In actual fact, I could brake quite a lot later.
Whilst on the TV it looks like I’m drifting all the time, I didn’t feel like I was drifting in the car. Felt like I had quite a stable rear-end. I was able to pick up the power. The grip was quite good through all the corners.
TONY STEWART: I enjoyed the long course. I had never been around it till today. I told Brett Bodine when we finished our setup runs, I would like the opportunity to see us have a shot at running the long course. I think it would create more passing opportunities for sure.
Like Lewis said, it’s such a historic racetrack, there are some really cool corners down there that we don’t get a shot to run on a Cup weekend.
Q. On a scale of 1 to 100, how much were you on it? Were you 75% of the car, 95%? If you were going to do this full-time, how long would it take you to get to the point where you were fully up to speed on it?
TONY STEWART: The first thing I’d have to do is lose about 25 pounds right off the bat. I would actually have to go and work out in a gym again.
What I think the limit is, the reality of it’s probably further than what I still imagine it is. Like I say, I know I did not reach the potential of what that car is capable of doing. Like I said, you don’t want to make a mistake. You don’t want to find out that you’re 5% over the limit and put yourself in a bad spot.
It is incredible how well these cars handle. Obviously being out on rain tires, they’re a real grippy tire. If you had to run them more than three or four laps, you probably would have a handful. Just had a ton of grip.
I don’t know. I would say I was running probably 80 to 85% of what my potential or what I think my potential would have been. Now, the car was 20% more than that on top of it. You definitely would have to learn. There’s no way that you’re just going to jump in one of these cars and get to the caliber of what Lewis can do in it.
Q. What really stood out is the pure joy of both of you. Now that you’ve come back in, as you watched each other race, do you have questions for each other in retrospect.
TONY STEWART: I guarantee you it’s going to take a couple days for all of what just happened in a short amount of time to sink in. It’s going to create a lot of questions of, How do you do this? This is what I felt, how do you do it different? I’m sure I’m going to start wearing his email out and have questions about what to do, how we should have done it different.
The cool thing is maybe I can talk him into showing me the telemetry and comparing our laps, seeing how much it was different. I think that’s an advantage that we’ll both have from going back and seeing the telemetry.
LEWIS HAMILTON: I just feel like a kid today. Good to be out there and be a kid again. Like when I used to go go-karting, used to have so much fun. Whilst driving a Formula One car is fun, the competitive side of it’s so serious. Where today, after such a tough weekend, I was also feeling the tough weekend this morning. But as the excitement built up, when I got in the car, once I got out, I completely forgot about last weekend.
I was saying to Tony, in the olden days, they used to have racers doing races in different classes week after week. I said, It would be neat if you wanted to drive Formula One for a weekend, and vice versa. I know that’s not possible nowadays, but that would really be cool.
Q. Tony, about NASCAR and foreign drivers, we’ve been having a lot of foreign drivers in the last couple years. Do you think Brazilians can have a little bit of success in the Sprint Cup< and will you maybe hire one someday? Lewis, many people talk about in Brazil the fact that you are the driver who best resembles Ayrton Senna’s style since he passed away. How do you think about the similarities you have in your career, the way you drive, also the way you live? He was also a driver who was often labeled as too aggressive, but maybe that’s why he became so charismatic.
TONY STEWART: I’m good friends with Juan. I like talking to him about what we did in IndyCar racing, his stint in Formula One. He’s a great competitor in the Cup Series. My driver on our team, they had a little run-in earlier this year which put me in a bad spot because I’m friends with both of them.
It’s fun to watch guys like him. We had him at our charity dirt race a couple years ago. He had never been on a dirt track, never driven that type of racecar. To watch him adapt to that type of car so quickly, it shows there’s great racecar drivers around the world. It’s a matter of where do they want to be, do they have opportunities.
Seeing Nelson get to run in the Truck Series now, there are opportunities out there. Guys like Juan and Nelson being able to have the success they’re having will create other opportunities for other foreign drivers to come into the series.
Our sport has evolved so much over the last 15, 20 years, it used to be a regional sport in the States, now it’s a nationwide and worldwide. I think NASCAR welcomes everybody with open arms.
LEWIS HAMILTON: Firstly, I grew up a huge fan of Ayrton. From the first time I started watching Formula One, the way he approached things, the things he went through, it definitely does seem that I have experienced similar situations to him.
I have so many videos of his that I used to watch. I used to literally study it when I would get home from school straightaway, put that on, see how he approached things, how he drove. Maybe subconsciously by watching him I naturally have progressed to be an aggressive driver as he was.
I feel very privileged when people put my name in the same sentence as his. I feel very honored actually. I would never say that myself. But he was the best driver of all time, I think. I always aspired to be like him and emulate, do something similar that he had done in the sport. So I’ll continue trying to do that.
Q. You were speaking about the seriousness of Formula One. Do you think NASCAR could bring something to Formula One to make it more fun and popular?
LEWIS HAMILTON: I wanted to ask Tony how serious it is in your business. These are questions that I’m going to be asking. For us, there’s a certain format of Grand Prix weekends, as you know. I’ve not been to a NASCAR race, but I would love to go and get a feel and sense.
I’m sure around the world there’s things that we all can learn from each other. I’m certain there’s things in NASCAR that we have in Formula One that they could learn from us and vice versa. I’m sure the guys at the top who are running both sports have looked into that already, so…
TONY STEWART: Seems like doesn’t matter what form of racing you’re involved in, when you’re at the top level of it, it’s very competitive. It’s that way on a Cup weekend. You can tell by watching the coverage on TV, the Formula One weekends are stressful, the IndyCar weekends are stressful. No matter what division of racing you’re in, when you’re at the top level of each division, it is very competitive, very serious.
They don’t pay us a lot of money to come have fun; they pay us to come in and work and do a good job and compete and try to do the best we can. Anytime that you’re giving a hundred percent at anything, doesn’t mean you still can’t have fun, but it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of pressure and stress. That’s what makes it so gratifying when you have a good weekend and you are successful.
Q. Lewis, did you ever think when you got into a Formula One car you would be driving on a circuit like Watkins Glen where a lot of the history of the sport has been made? Tony, if he can arrange it, would you put him in ha late model car for The Prelude?
LEWIS HAMILTON: That’s what I was saying. No, firstly I only ever dreamed of being a Formula One driver. I’m one of the very fortunate few that get to do such great events. These are the perks of the job when you get to come. I’m very grateful to Mobil 1 for bringing us down here. I never thought in a million years I’d get to have a chance of driving one of the NASCARs. Pretty cool. Probably the coolest thing I’ve done outside of racing Formula One.
TONY STEWART: If he wants to come run The Prelude next year, I will personally pay for a brand-new car to come there. If he wants it, he’s got it. We’ll have him a brand-new one sitting there ready to go.
Q. Lewis, I know your contract comes up sometime shortly. You obviously have a taste of something that you could do. You also spoke earlier about how you admired Senna who left to go to Williams. Could we look to see you going to Red Bull or coming to run for Stewart-Haas when your contract is up next year?
LEWIS HAMILTON: I grew up wanting to be Formula One world champion. I’ve definitely not achieved all that I want to. I’ll definitely be spending as much time there until I do achieve what I’ve always wanted to do.
In terms of where I am, I’m again just very fortunate to be a part of McLaren. It’s one of the best teams there, again with great history. We have a car that is capable of winning, as my teammate showed at the weekend. We are the only other team that has won Grand Prix’s this year.
I don’t see why you would particularly want to move when you have the most competitive car. So as long as we have the car that can do the job, there will be no reason to leave.
Q. Did you meet with Christian Horner this weekend?
LEWIS HAMILTON: I know all the mergers, the bosses, all the teams. I know Stefano Domenicali, we chat all the time. I know Al, we chat all the time. I know Christian. When I was going from Formula 3 to GP2, I went and had a meeting with Christian when he was running the Red Bull team back in Formula 3000. I have spoken to a lot of people during the weekend.
Q. Tony, early on the track was wet. Did it ever get raceable? Lewis, Tony said he was at about 80% maybe. What were you percentage-wise on his car when you were in it?
TONY STEWART: I’ll be honest, I was glad to see it drying off. It was a little sketchy I thought in the car in the rain. Obviously, if we had a chance to go and work on the car more, we would make it better. Definitely was glad to see that it dried off for Lewis so he got a better idea of what the car was really like.
Q. Were you on rain tires?
TONY STEWART: Yes.
LEWIS HAMILTON: Yeah, I think as Tony was saying before, when you have opportunities like this, the last thing you want to do is put the car in a wall. You should never take things for granted. It was just about enjoying yourself out there. I’m sure there’s a lot for me to learn in the car.
Whenever I get in the car, whether it’s a road car, a rally car, whatever, as racing drivers, we tear it up. That’s what we love, trying to push it a little bit more each time you approach the corner. So bit by bit, more and more laps, I’m sure we could have got a bit faster. I think for both of us it was drying up quite a bit.
THE MODERATOR: We want to thank you both for giving us that demonstration, the drivers, to Mobil 1, to Watkins Glen for opening up the racetrack. Thank you.