Full transcript from the top-three interviews and press conference after the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 13 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Spa-Francorchamps.
Featuring first time F1 race winner Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), second-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and third-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Track Interview conducted by David Coulthard
Q: Charles, I’m sure mixed emotions there. We saw you step from the car, point to the sky, an emotional weekend and your first every victory in Formula One, congratulations.
Charles Leclerc: Yeah, on the one hand I’ve got a dream since being as child that has been realised. But on the other hand it has been a very difficult weekend since yesterday. We have lost a friend first of all. It is very difficult in these situations, so I would like to dedicate my first win to him. We have grown up together – my first ever race I have done it with Anthoine and there was Esteban here – and just shame what happened yesterday. I can’t enjoy fully my first victory but it will definitely be a memory I will keep forever.
Q: Beautiful words and certainly echoed by the entire motorsports community. It puts a dampener on this celebration, but this racer’s race: you raced, you won, and you’ve been dominant all weekend. It seems amazing that it’s taken this long for you to get the first victory when we consider what happened back in Bahrain. So how do you reflect on the technicalities of this race and the delivery of the team?
CL: Yeah, it’s been a very difficult race, we have been struggling quite a bit with the tyres towards the end, but a lot happier than what I have done in Budapest on my side. I’ve managed the tyres better but Mercedes were very quick in the race and we expected it yesterday but it’s a good weekend performance-wise – pole position and the first victory – so with that I’m quite satisfied.
Q: And when you take a victory in front of a multiple world champion it’s particularly satisfying.
CL: Yeah, and the end of the race was definitely not easy. He was catching very quickly, so I had quite a bit of pressure but happy I kept him behind.
Q: Congratulations. Lewis, difficult race for us to really understand. At various points you looked like you had the pace, at various other points you looked like you were struggling. But the opportunity was there and you were still pushing right to the end?
Lewis Hamilton: Oh yeah, I gave it absolutely everything that I had. You know we had a great crowd today. I think more people than we have ever had here. A very difficult race today. The Ferraris were just too fast on the straights and very, very hard to keep up with. I got as close as I could at the end – maybe another couple of laps. Forty-four is usually my lucky number but maybe we needed a few more laps today. Nonetheless, congratulations to Charles, his first win. He’s had it coming all year, so really happy for him.
Q: Finally Valtteri. It looked fairly lonely out there. You were in viewing distance of the race ahead but you just didn’t seem to have the overall pace today?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, race pace felt OK, as we were expecting, but Ferrari was always since the beginning really strong. Strong on the straights. Always at the end of the stint we were better but there was no chance really for me. I was trying as hard as I could and we took the advantage of saving the engine a bit in the end and the gearbox for the next few races.
Q: Charles, sensational performance from you all weekend. What does this victory mean to you after what has been a very difficult 24 hours for everybody?
CL: Yeah, very difficult to enjoy this first win with the situation we have had yesterday, but overall it is just a dream come true. Since I was a child I’ve been looking up to Formula 1, dreaming to be first a Formula 1 driver, which happened last year, and then driving for Ferrari this year and then the first win today. It’s a good day but on the other hand, as I said, losing Anthoine yesterday brings me back to 2005, my first ever French championship. There was him, Esteban, Pierre, myself and we were four kids that were dreaming of Formula 1. We’ve grown up together in karting for many, many years and to lose him yesterday was a big shock for me but obviously for everyone of motorsport. It was a very sad day and, as I said, very difficult to enjoy it fully today, but hopefully in two or three weeks I will realise what happened today.
Q: Thank you and well done. Lewis, you came close today – less than a second at the flag. If you had executed the race slightly differently do you think the outcome might have been different?
LH: How do you propose I execute it?
Q: Around the pit stops perhaps?
LH: Well, I mean I executed it as best I could. Strategy I think maybe could have been slightly better. I think after Seb stopped… actually I completely lost where I was. I was obviously trying to keep up with him but he was very strong on the soft tyres and we just stayed out too long, I think, because by the time he came in and the next lap the gap was twice as big. So I was chasing that up and also I got stuck behind Seb. But ultimately he did a superb job, so even if we had different strategies it would have been hard to beat him today I think. Ultimately he deserved the win and did the job, so…
Q: Well done Lewis. Valtteri, your 50th points finish for Mercedes today. Do you think you got the maximum out of it?
VB: It felt okay. Honestly I think it’s definitely my best result and feeling of performance I’ve had in Spa. It’s normally one of the more difficult ones. Maybe first stint lacking a bit towards the end with tyre drop-off. Second stint was really strong and at the end we were really just getting to the flag. We knew there were no more opportunities, so saving the engine and gearbox quite a lot. It was a bit of a Sunday drive at the end. Not that many opportunities along the way. Obviously we managed to make up one place with better strategy than Sebastian so that was positive so I was just really waiting for the opportunities but there wasn’t that much.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Charles, it obviously wasn’t the easiest win. What were you thinking when, first of all, you came out behind Sebastian after he’d stopped earlier, and then, as you felt Lewis closing in, in those last laps when you appeared to have had a comfortable lead, after all the disappointments you’d had this year up until now?
CL: When I came out behind Sebastian, first I was not completely confident that the degradation was that much on the medium, that I could actually catch him – but after two or three laps, there was quite a big delta pace, so then I was like ‘OK, I don’t think we’ll lose time together’, which is exactly what we didn’t do. And then, towards the end, I was checking the mirrors and obviously every lap on the radio, my engineer was telling me the gap with Lewis, and he was very, very quick. On the Softs, I felt quite comfortable but on the medium I was struggling a bit more. So I was just trying to focus on my own job. Trying to bring the car as quickly as possible to the end – but it was very close. I think one lap more would have been difficult to keep Lewis behind but yeah, it ends up like this, which I’m very happy with.
Q: (Luke Smith – crash.net) Question for all three drivers. A very difficult weekend under the circumstances. Could you talk a bit about how you cope with getting back in the cockpit today and pulling the visor down and going racing after a tragedy such as the one that struck on Saturday?
CL: Yeah, I guess for everyone but for me it was definitely the first situation like that where we lose someone on track – a track that you need to race the day after. So it’s obviously quite challenging to then close the visor and go through this exact same corner at the exact same speed you do the day before – but that’s what you need to do at the end. So yeah, that’s what I tried to do at best today.
LH: Pretty much the same. You just compartmentalise it and you move forward. Get in and do your job. From a racers point of view and an athlete’s point of view you switch into a zone. It’s quite easy to switch into that zone.
VB: When you put the helmet on, there’s not much in your mind than really concentrating on the thing you do. The thing you love to do: driving. And focussing on that. For sure before and after it’s on the mind and always in the back of your mind but when you go to the zone, there’s nothing, no distractions.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To Lewis and Charles, Lewis, when a driver wins for the first time in Formula 1, that’s when they announce themselves. Obviously Charles has come very close this year, in Bahrain especially. How good a job do you think he’s done coping with the pressure, first year racing at the front of F1 and for Ferrari. And Charles, those last few laps, did it feel more nervous knowing what had happened in Austria and Bahrain – or were you able to keep focus, as you said, and keep him behind?
LH: I don’t really know what to say. I think his results speak for themselves really. It’s not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari, against a four-time World Champion, in the sport more than double… God knows how much more experience, and then to continuous from race one, out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive a four-time World Champion is not easy to do. So I think that speaks for itself. He’s been really unlucky in quite a few races this year. Could easily have been the third win today. So, there’s a lot more greatness to come from him and I’m looking forward to seeing his growth and racing alongside him. It was fun today, trying to chase him. He was just a little bit too quick.
Charles, your thoughts. Were you more nervous?
CL: I wasn’t more nervous. I’ve started to get used to being in that situation where I’m first and I’m chased by someone that is quicker. Obviously I knew it was Lewis and I knew I could not afford to do any mistakes because he will take the opportunity. But yeah, apart from the last lap, he was never really close enough to try something. But yeah, as I said, I was just trying to focus on my own job and finish the race.
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) First for Charles, do you have any flashbacks and were you prepared to do something more muscular than you did in Austria if Lewis had come closer – or were you comforted by the idea that you were quick were it mattered at the end of the long straights. And, for the Mercedes drivers, given the speed differential we saw here this weekend, how difficult is Monza going to be against Ferrari?
CL: In the position I was, I was just focussing to try and keep Lewis as far as I could from me. And then obviously, if there was an overtake, you rarely think about it before, you just try and deal with it once it’s happening. I was, as I said, focussing on my own things. Trying to fix a little bit the balance issues that we had. I had quite a lot of degradation on the rear tyres. I was struggling with that, so I was fully on that to try and gain some pace.
And Lewis, looking ahead to Monza?
LH: It’s all straights, so Ferrari… it’s going to be a happy weekend for Ferrari, most likely in that respect. I mean, this weekend, I think just in qualifying we’re losing over a second a lap. So, there’s not much me and Valtteri can do in that instance and there’s not a lot of corners there to catch that up. So, it’ll be interesting. In the next few days we’ve got to make some drastic improvements to our straight speed, somehow. I don’t know if that’s possible – but if anyone can do it, it’s our team. So, we’ll do our best – but position is also everything. We’ve got slightly better degradation than them, so maybe… and it’s a longer race, isn’t it, so hopefully we can have another close race like we’ve had this weekend.
VB: Yeah, I think they’re going to be quick there – but last year they were quick as well but we managed to make their life pretty difficult. I think that’s where we got booed on the podium and everything. We try to do the same again.
LH: It’s probably better for me that I didn’t catch you and overtake you today – I don’t think your fans would have let me leave the track.
CL: You have more fans than me!
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for you Charles, could you talk us through that situation when you closed the gap to Seb? Because I think the initial plan for everyone was to go on a one-stop and he undercut you and gained the position. Was it always clear he would let you pass – or did you ask the team?
CL: Actually, I can’t remember… I don’t think I’ve spoken on the radio from the first lap to the last lap. So no, I haven’t asked anything. Obviously at the beginning of the race we are making our own plans. It was not planned that he would stop earlier but I think that was just a result of the degradation he had on the first stint. But yeah, I think it was pretty clear to me, considering the delta pace we had at that time, once I arrived behind him, that something will happen and that we wouldn’t lose too much time. So, yeah. Nothing was planned but I think everything was clear.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – LivioOricchio.com) Charles, Friday we saw in the long runs you didn’t have great pace. You were slower than Mercedes. Saturday we came to the qualifying, you kept the speed of Friday but also today you showed the performance from Friday that we didn’t expect. Did the team change the car in a very correct way; can you explain to us?
CL: Yeah, I’ve been working a little bit, especially after Budapest, as I’ve said, to try and improve the race pace. On Friday night, we changed the car a little bit after the race runs to try and help the race runs a little bit. I think it actually helped the qualifying pace which we didn’t expect to be that quick on Saturday. But it definitely also helped the race runs so I’m happy and it’s definitely thanks to the changes we have done from Friday to Saturday.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) We obviously have Monza up next, the fastest track. We saw accidents here. Are you concerned about the safety, could more be done, or are we doing as much as we can to keep people safe in Formula One?
LH: I think there’s a huge amount of work that the FIA have done up to this point. I think they’ve been working incredibly hard and we’ve seen big steps already. Obviously, particularly when Charlie was here he made massive steps forward so we will continue in that direction.
CL: Yeah, I completely agree. I think everyone is working extremely hard to try and improve the security of the sport which I think should always be the priority but then it will always remain a dangerous sport, obviously, once you are going at these speeds it is dangerous. And then here, Eau Rouge is quite dangerous because obviously the wall is quite close, so there will always be some corners which are challenging and that are more dangerous than others but overall I think the FIA has done an incredible job in the last twenty years to improve safety in our cars.
VB: Nothing to add.
Q: (Rodrigo Franca – VIP Magazine) Charles, I would like you to comment on your relationship with Spa where you have won in GP3, Formula Two and also about your relation with Monaco because it has such tradition as a race track and a Grand Prix but never has had a driver winning in Formula One, so if you’ve grown up in your childhood wanting to be an F1 driver, watching those streets that have a Grand Prix?
CL: Well, with Spa obviously I’ve been quite quick and it has been quite a successful track for me in the past so it’s good that it stayed like this this year and I could have pole and victory, it felt amazing. And with Monaco, obviously growing up in a city where the Grand Prix is such a big part of the year because obviously we only see the race on TV but there’s a lot of preparation before that and after that too, to put up the grandstands and then take them down. So yeah, it’s a big part of my year. I can’t remember having any memories about being passionate about Formula One before three and a half years old, it’s a bit young, but once I first tried karting at three and a half years old, since that day I’ve been completely obsessed with Formula One and motor sport in general. Yeah, I definitely think it helps to be from Monaco and having the Grand Prix here. I have always been passionate about this sport.
Q: (Zsolt Godina – F1Valag.hu) Lewis, it was an amazing weekend for you: technical problems on Friday, a crash on Saturday. What kind of lessons could be learned in order to be more competitive next weekend in Monza?
LH: Well, there won’t be a huge amount of time for us to reflect as we’ve got to go straight into next weekend but naturally when you come away from a break it’s easy to be… the tension builds up through the first half of the season and everyone’s on point and then you notice when you come back it’s all a little bit more relaxed and things don’t always go perfectly to plan so I guess in hindsight we’ll probably work harder to make sure that when next year comes round we start on the right foot and hopefully next week it will start off on the right foot and be a smoother weekend. I think from my side, obviously Saturday was not helpful and so we’ll try to avoid that in the future. Otherwise I think we’ve got some improvements to try to make to the car within four days so a lot of pressure.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) Charles, it’s your first season with Ferrari and you’re leading Vettel 1-0 in wins, 3-1 pole positions, 6-0 in the last qualifyings. Has this exceeded your expectations or been better than you expected and given the right circumstances, do you already consider yourself, in terms of ability, capable of challenging for a world title?
CL: Well, it’s a difficult question, so on the first one obviously I think I’ve been in better form especially in qualifying since six races, I’ve changed my approach a little bit. In the race, it’s been a bit of a different story. I’ve been struggling a little bit in the two previous races but I’ve changed here and it seems to pay off so that’s great. Then if I feel like I’m ready to be challenging for world titles; at the end I have the car and team for it. We obviously need to work because we are struggling a bit compared to Mercedes but on my side, yes, I’ve got a lot to learn, that’s for sure but I feel ready and you always need to feel ready, once you are in that position, otherwise I shouldn’t be in the seat that I am in today.