Full transcript from the top three press conference after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Round 21 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates – the final race of the season.
Featuring race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) and third-placed Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Track interviews conducted by David Coulthard
Q: Lewis Hamilton, congratulations, your 11th victory of the season and that looked one of your most dominant. You must be very proud? Lewis Hamilton: Honestly, I’m proud definitely but I’m just super grateful for this incredible team. To all at Mercedes, who have continued to push this year… who would have thought that at the end of the year we would have this strength in the race and even though we had the championships won we just really wanted to keep our heads down and try to see if we could learn and if we could extend and if we could extract more from this beautiful car that they’ve worked [on]. It’s a piece of art. And I’m also so grateful to team LH. I travel around the world to 21 different countries, probably even more, and I get to see people who continuously inspire me and send me messages and lift me up. So I want to send a big thank you to everyone that’s here, everyone that’s back home. Thank you for watching, thank you for supporting. I feel so happy with today, man.
Q: Now it has been a great season and I know you’re in that moment, but you’ve got on the podium two young guys, two young chargers. They’ve thrown some big races at you this year, but this is a great way for you to end the season, with such a dominant victory. These guys have still got a lot of work to do? LH: These guys, there are a lot of youngsters coming through. If you look at the grid, for example, from second to like seventh or eighth was all super youngsters, so I’m really proud to be in a period of time where there are such great youngsters coming through. These guys have been doing a phenomenal job and I really privileged to be in the period of time where they’re here and I’m looking forward to hopefully more close battles with us in the future, so I hope it gets close for us next year.
Q: Just before I move on, what have you got planned for the winter? LH: Oh, just family time, man.
Q: Enjoy your family time. Max Verstappen, it’s been a pretty good season for you – three victories, third in the Drivers’ Championship. Today that was the best you could hope for. You had some issues though didn’t you? We heard you on the radio; you were having to manage some issues. Max Verstappen: Yeah, a few little things. At the end of the day it wouldn’t have made a difference in terms of position. Yeah, we had to do a bit of a different strategy to Ferrari of course, they pitted quite early and we went long, because they overtook us on the first lap. After that our pace was quite decent, just Mercedes and Lewis today, they were just a bit too quick. As a whole I think it’s been a positive season and of course to be P3 in the championship is a nice ending.
Q: Lewis said he’s going to be spending family time in the winter but I guess you’ve got your sights on the world championship, so you’ll be at the factory, you’ll be on the simulator, you’ll be working hard? MV: I think we are all working hard but it’s also good to take some time off, be with family and friend and be fully recharged for next year and come back stronger.
Q: Congratulations. We’ve got Charles and Lewis sharing notes here. What are you discussing? They way the race played out? Charles Leclerc: Yeah, just overall how quick he was during the race. With the hard I think he did a 39.2, so yeah, I was just saying congratulations to him.
Q: Now, third place; it’s another podium. It’s been a great year, first year for you at Ferrari. I know you guys all want to win but you have to be satisfied. You are the first team-mate to have finished in front of Sebastian in the world championship in his time at Ferrari, so it’s been very positive for you. CL: Yeah, I’m extremely about this year. I’ve learned a huge amount thanks to Seb. Yeah, it’s been a great year. For me a realisation of a dream since childhood. I’ve always dreamed to be in Formula 1 but especially with Ferrari. To be now with this team is unbelievable and now it’s up to me to work, to get better, and hopefully give them the success they deserve.
Q: Lewis, many congratulations, as emphatic a victory as we have seen from you, and in your 250th race as well? LH: Jeez! That’s a lot of races. MV: You didn’t celebrate that – 250? No pit board? Two-hundred-and-fifty grands prix, they didn’t celebrate that for you? You didn’t care. LH: No! MV: Three hundred? Three-fifty? LH: No, I don’t want to reminded of the age! No, what an incredible year it has been. What an incredible stretch it’s been with this team. Yeah, after winning the Constructors’ and the Drivers’ Championship I think it was really important for us as a team to continue to push. You know, we hadn’t got absolutely everything from the overall perfect package. So we were just trying to push the limits and push the boundaries and yeah, I think this is the perfect way to end the season, on the right foot. I think it was a great weekend in the sense that there was a Ferrari and a Red Bull and a Mercedes in the top three, obviously in the finishing order but also on the grid, and then a lot of young drivers behind me, making me feel young, which is great. I’m really just grateful to my team who have continued to push all year long and just have never lost sight of the objective. We’ve all had a common goal and inspired each other to continue to push and strive for perfection. So, incredibly grateful to everyone and I hope that everyone at Mercedes and our partners. I’m sure they are pretty happy.
Q: Were you surprised by your dominance today, because you were 13 seconds ahead of Max after 20 laps? LH: Yeah, I definitely wasn’t expecting to haver the pace advantage to that extent. Our long run pace was quite good and I was told that we might be a tenth or two ahead but then in the race we had a bit more of an advantage in that respect. And once I got out in the clear I was able to manage my pace pretty well in that first stint and manage the tyres. I just had to go as long, basically, as Max was going. Then we got onto that next set of tyres and for this track the tyre was good. The hard tyres is quite resilient to any abrasion and that. It goes a long, long way. I think it can do the whole race stint. I think towards the end of the race I was like ‘I want to have some… I’ve got to push and see if I can extract any more performance from the car’. I do wish that we had some battles. I saw on TV you guys battling… MV: You could have slowed down! LH: You guys are too quick on the straights. MV: Just give it a chance. LH: I’m sure we are going to have some great races. We had some great races this year, Max and I, so congratulations to them for continuing to rise and I’m excited to be amongst those guys and fight with them next year.
Q: Max, your second consecutive podium here in Abu Dhabi and your ninth podium finish of the season. You didn’t seem happy with the car after your pit stop. Can you just talk us through what the problems were? MV: Yeah, I just had some torque holes on throttle. There were delays and stuff, so it was not great, and we couldn’t fix it, so we drove around the problem. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t have made a difference in terms of the result.
Q: What does a torque hole mean? In the olden days would we have been talking about a misfire? MV: No, just when I go on throttle it’s not doing what I want.
Q: Did it cost you lap time? MV: It did cost me lap-time – but like I said, it wouldn’t have given me the win today.
Q: Apart from that, race was fine? MV: Yeah, race was fine. Little bit of a shame about the first lap but then I think we had a good first stint, to go long and yeah, I think once we then put the hard tyres on, the pace was decent. I could get by Charles and then I could just do my own race. I mean, Lewis was too quick, so I was just focussing on my own race and lap-times.
Q: And you’ve sealed third in the Championship today. Just how will you reflect on 2019? MV: Yeah, pretty good. Few victories, poles, so that’s pretty good. I think we improved quite a bit throughout the season. Also, from Honda side. Of course, very happy about that. Now we just need to keep that momentum into the winter break as well and try to improve the car even further, together with the engine and be there from the first race, not from the middle of the season or towards the end. But we know that, so we are working on it.
Q: Charles, it was pretty tight with Valtteri in those closing laps. How worried were you? CL: Well, Valtteri was very quick towards the end of the race, so yeah, I was pretty worried at one point when he started to catch and I was starting to struggle a little bit – but then, in the last four or five laps, I think he came back a little bit slower: I think he slowed down too, so then I was a bit more hopeful and then I had some traffic, so it was very close towards the end. But yeah, it was a bit of a strange race because in the first stint I was very hopeful, I was behind Lewis. OK, we weren’t as quick as Lewis but I still thought the pace was there – but then we tried to pit pretty early to try to force them to stop early but yeah, then basically I understood I would see Lewis at the end of the race because we were just not quick enough and we never put a challenge to them in front. Yeah, it’s like this. We weren’t quick enough – but overall, I think during the season it’s been more or less the same picture when qualifying, we manage more or less to be there but then in the race we seem to struggle. So we need to work on that for 2020.
Q: So you were trying to force Mercedes into making another pit stop. How early in the race – if indeed you did – were you regretting that two-stop strategy? CL: I was not. Because it was pretty clear for me that to get this third place, if I wanted it, it was all about winning because Max was still in the race, so we had to do something. I didn’t want to stay there and that’s it. So, I just tried but to be honest with not much hope but yeah, at least we tried.
Q: And Charles, final thoughts. Are you worried about the fuel discrepancy that was discovered by the FIA prior to the race? CL: To be honest, I’ve got no idea and no details whatsoever of what’s going on, for now. So, yeah. I’ll speak to the team to understand that better.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Question for Max. We’ve heard you over the year discussing over the year that you’ve had a little bit of lag sensitivity with the car. It doesn’t always respond to your throttle inputs. Is the problem today related to that – and how did it feel from your perspective in the car? MV: Most of the time it’s fine-tuning. Today, I’m not sure yet what happened exactly, because they didn’t want to tell me on the radio, they just said there was nothing they could do from their side, so then it also doesn’t matter what it is, so I’ll have to find out.
Q: (Giovanni Messi – NewsF1.it) Max, do you think Red Bull is now in front of Ferrari and ready to catch Mercedes next year for a World Championship? And for Charles, I want to ask your opinion about the strategy today: why did you stop so early in the first laps? MV: I think it’s pretty close. It just depends a little bit on the track layout but I think from our side, throughout the season, we made good improvements so we could actually take the fight a bit more forward and win a few races and yet for next year there is still a lot of work to do of course, to catch up to Mercedes. At the end of the day, they were the dominant team over the year, or at least, the most consistent. Yeah, we will of course try everything to close that gap but of course it’s not going to be easy. CL: No. At the end, as I said, to be third in the championship we had to win the race, considering where Max was in the race so we gave it all for that and yeah, I just didn’t want to stay there in second place and follow the others’ strategy because it made no sense so we went for a gamble, it didn’t pay off but it’s OK.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsportmagazin.com) Lewis, yesterday you said you had to re-centre a bit after Friday. You were a bit behind Valtteri, I don’t know if it was because of the engine, he had a fresh engine, but can you explain how you re-centre yourself? Is that something driving-wise you look completely differently into or is it more personal? LH: It’s really just about… I don’t know, on Friday, I just had a bit of… I guess, maybe it was slightly erratic, just the balance of…sometimes you over-drive, you under-drive, just not comfortable with the balance of the car and not reacting, there wasn’t synergy between myself and the car. But I would say more so perhaps from my personal side so I don’t know, it’s just about stepping back, taking a breather and kind of realigning your focus, realising what you need to do. As I said, get your heart under control and came back the next day, there was nothing erratic, smooth, calm and collected, so I had my own ways of doing that naturally but I think it’s just the experience over the years, understanding on some days, emotions are heightened and other days it’s more mellow and that was just one of those days.
Q: (Lawrence Edmonson – ESPN) Lewis, I don’t know if you’re aware but there’s been a lot of talk this weekend about you potentially going to Ferrari in 2021. I may as well ask a straight question: is it a consideration and have you met with Ferrari’s president John Elkann? LH: Well, naturally everything that happens behind closed doors is obviously always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with but I think for many, many years I’ve never ever sat down and considered other options, because we’ve been on a… just driving straight ahead into the path that we’ve been on and the journey that we’ve been on and to be honest, I still think we’re on that path and I think there’s very little that’s going to shift it from that but I think there’s no harm in… I know Toto is also looking at his options in terms of his future and only he will know what is the best thing for him and his family. So I’m waiting to see what he’s doing with that. I love where I am so it’s definitely not a quick decision to do something else, but of course I think it’s only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want… if it is the last period or stage in my career. Actually I want to keep winning so I think that’s… I want to keep being able to fight with these guys as well. I can’t really tell you what else is going to happen moving forwards.
Q: Charles, can I just throw that to you as well. If you’re still wearing red in 2021, would you welcome Lewis as a teammate? CL: Well of course. At the end, we are in Formula One and we want to fight against the best. I’ve had a big opportunity this year to have Seb next to me who is a four time World Champion and I’ve learned a lot from him and you can always learn from this type of champion so yeah, of course.