Full transcript from the top three press conference after qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 7 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, at Spa-Francorchamps.
Featuring pole winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and third-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull).
Track interviews conducted by Paul Di Resta
Q: Lewis, I think anyone watching that session would just think you were on another level. Very dominant, how did it feel? Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, today a very, very clean session. Every lap was just getting better and better. We did a lot of great work in the background. It’s a really important pole for me because I woke up to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away. It’s been such a heavy year for all of us and that news just really broke me. It was not easy to get back in focus coming in today with that hanging on my heart, but I was like ‘I want to go out there and drive to perfection’. What he has done for our people, what he’s done for… this superhero shows all these young kids that it’s possible. He was such a shining light. So we carry that forever.
Q: I think the greatest respect goes to your focus, Lewis. Everybody else was looking for tows, you were just out at the front very confident in the job you had to do personally and that’s what you did. LH: Yeah, I studied that and of course there have been times where we have had to try to get a tow. You’ve got these three difficult sections where you’ve got the straight line in the first section, which is pretty straightforward, but getting the right wing level here is not so easy and some, as you can see, are really quick in the first and last sector but not so good in the middle sector. We are not the strongest I would say in the first and the last but the middle is really, really strong and I think for me this weekend it was my choice to go first or second out of Valtteri and I chose to go first. I just wanted to be out in the clean air not having to worry about people up ahead of me, getting a gap in the last corner, wondering whether it’s four or eight seconds gap – because you’re still getting a tow from someone at seven seconds behind and I didn’t want anything coming in my way so it worked out perfectly I think.
Q: And driving these cars around Spa? It must be pretty special? LH: Oh man, it was incredible. That session, as I said it was going better and better but it’s really been learning to exploit… the track’s a bit different to when you were driving it, in the sense of the run-off areas, so you can really pick up the gas a lot earlier. Focusing on the exits around here is actually important. I didn’t make any mistakes on any of my laps but the Q3 run one lap was ace and I was thinking ‘there’s probably no way I’m going to beat that’ but Turn 1 has probably been a weakness for me the last few years, just got stronger and stronger through there and I saw I was up out of Turn 1 and then I just kept beeping away throughout the lap, so that was a very, very, very, very good lap so I’m happy with that.
Q: Valtteri, it was your birthday yesterday, you had a very good session but it looked like you were struggling through Turn 1 and from there on in the lap you just didn’t have the edge on Lewis? Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, Turn 1 was a bit inconsistent. I think we got the car right there, just in Q1 (sic) in the first run, the tyres were too cool or something at the start of the lap, so I had a bit of a lock-up. The first run was there. The second run felt actually pretty good overall, so I don’t really know why the gap to Lewis [is big]. I’m not too bothered, because I know that second place is quite a good place to start here. It should be an interesting run into Turn 5.
Q: I was going to say the slipstream here is big and if you can tuck yourself in there ahead of Eau Rouge there are benefits above that. More importantly you’ve got to beat Lewis tomorrow to really think about the championship don’t you? VB: Yeah, of course I need to attack if I still want to keep the title hopes there. It’s not over until it’s over and I’m definitely going to go for it. The first lap is a great opportunity because here the racing is always pretty good. I know already there will be opportunities to do it.
Q: Max, lining up P3, I guess you’ll be satisfied with that coming into the session but to narrowly miss out by one hundredth at the end of the lap and I heard you say you had some energy that left you right at the end of that? Max Verstappen: Yeah, for us overall it’s been a very positive weekend so far. We came here and we thought it was going to be really tricky for us and actually to be P3 and that close to Valtteri. Of course we are still half a second to Lewis but I think overall I can be very pleased with that. The lap was decent. I might have run out of energy a bit, but of course it’s distributed around the whole lap, so it was probably the fastest way of getting the lap time, so very pleased, a good day and a lot of opportunities for tomorrow.
Q: Do you think you can fight the Mercedes in the dry or are you going to be doing a rain dance tomorrow morning to try to get some mixed weather in there? MV: I don’t know. Of course if you look at the lap time difference to Lewis I don’t think we suddenly in a race can start to fight him. Around here you never know, like you said, with the weather as well, I hope that will come into play it makes it a bit more difficult for everyone, and it’s a bit more fun as well, especially on this track. If there’s a bit of weather around it’s a lot of fun.
Q: Lewis, what a lap, what a session. It’s a sizeable margin over the entire field. Where did you find the time? LH: I think it was just a little bit everywhere. Ultimately, the team did such a great job over these past couple of days – just timing, as you saw, getting out on front of everyone at the end. It was nice to have a clear straightaway ahead of me and then otherwise just working away at the set-up. With the engineers we are just constantly pushing each other to improve. It’s not an easy thing to do and continue to raise the bar but I think we’ve done a really great job this weekend with the guys here and the guys back at the factory, so a big thank you to them. And then otherwise it was just focusing, studying the lap and then executing. That’s got to be one of the cleanest qualifying sessions I think I’ve ever had. Every lap was bang on the dot. No mistakes, no real issues. Q3 is always a hard one because you want to get the first lap and the first lap was great and I thought it was pretty much a perfect lap and then I managed to go out and find a little bit more in a couple of other areas. It was nice to have that gap, that six tenths in the first laps, then I could really explore on that next one and try to take even more of a risk. Yeah, a phenomenal feeling driving around this track, because it’s incredible how fast it’s become.
Q: …and 1.3s faster than last year as well. LH: Again, that’s the evolution of our cars, of the technology and the evolution of our engineers who continue to elevate. They’re just getting smarter and more efficient every year. I was saying downstairs, it’s not been an easy day for the world. Our superhero, a superhero died last night, so that was really weighing heavy on me today, so I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so I could dedicate it to Chad who I was really, really lucky I got to meet him once and tell him how awesome he was. Because not all these… I remember when I was a kid, Superman was the hero. Didn’t look like me but I still thought Superman was the greatest. And so, when Chad became the king, when he became a superhero in Wakanda, it was such a special day for so many people because I know that young kids, like myself, will be able to now look up to him and see that is possible to be able to do what he did. So this one’s dedicated to him.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you. It looked like you were slightly chasing the car during that session. How was it for you at the end of Q3? VB: It was not too bad. I would say Practice Three was OK, just the second runs, I think I had some traffic or something so didn’t get really clean laps, but then in qualifying itself, everything was feeling pretty OK. Just the first run in Q3, I had a lock-up into Turn One. I don’t think I got my tyres warm enough on the out-lap. So, at the end it was down to the second run. I knew everything was still possible, and it was a clean lap. Not maybe the best Turn One but it was OK and otherwise the lap was nice and clean and really felt like I was pushing the limits. Obviously quite a bit gap. Not sure yet why but Lewis did a good job today. I’m not too bothered because I know second place is quite a good place. It’s always quite an interesting run into Turn Five. So, looking forward to tomorrow.
Q: A lot is going to rest on that opening lap tomorrow. How much can you plan? VB: Of course you can plan something but then in the end every start is always different. Of course we look at all the other starts here in previous years and try to take learnings and be prepared for any situation – but you have to go with instinct as well. We will try to find a way to make things interesting.
Q: Max, so close with Valtteri today, what was it, one-hundredth of a second? Were you surprised to be that close to a Mercedes around here? MV: I don’t know. I think overall, it’s been a very positive weekend, I think. We expected to come here with the long straights around here, it’s never going to be the easiest for us but I think we managed to find a good a good balance on the car actually straight away when we came here, from FP1, so that helps. Yeah, it’s been a positive weekend. I didn’t really have a lot to complain. If I’m not mistaken, this is the closest we’ve been to Mercedes in qualifying, on a track where we didn’t expect it to bet like this – so yeah, very, very happy with that. Qualifying went pretty smooth. It was all about, for us, well, trying to have a little bit of a tow, to have a little bit of top speed but of course, you try not to be affected in the middle sector but of course everybody is trying to get that tow. So, getting to the last chicane to prepare the lap and sometimes I was not ideal, getting into Turn One but I think in in Q3 it was fine, and I could do my lap like I wanted it. Very pleased to be here again.
Q: How confident are you for the race? You were fastest in second practice yesterday. MV: Yes, well, over one lap yesterday. Friday is just Friday, as you can see. It will not be easy but I’m of course going to try to follow and see what happens. And also, we have to wait and see what happens. Also, we have to wait and see what the weather is going to do because, around Spa, you never know if it’s going to be dry or rainy.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Max, given the lap being 7km here and given the power nature of the circuit, how surprised are you that the gap is so small – roughly half a second? MV: I think in general we just had a very positive weekend, so we find a decent balance in the car. Of course, that helps. I think some qualifyings I wasn’t that happy with the balance of the car so that automatically of course the gap is probably a bit bigger so, yeah, so far a positive weekend.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Question to Lewis. Obviously very emotional, when you were speaking, when you got out of the car, and just then as well. I just wondered, well you can tell us when you met Chadwick, and just how much you stayed in touch with him during his career and whatnot. He’s obviously had a big impact on you. LH: I didn’t know him-know him. I wasn’t in touch with him, unfortunately. I wish I had the privilege of that. We met in New York, during Fashion Week, possibly last year, or maybe the year before. We were out at the same dinner. I also met him at the Met Gala. I think it was the Met Gala Week, and had the opportunity to meet him then. And I saw him a couple of times throughout the rest of the night and we actually partied away together. We were on the same table basically. It was an incredible scenario and I just remember talking to him. But I do remember when Black Panther came out and huge, huge Marvel fan, so just knowing how Hollywood has been for a long, long time and to see the first black hero, superhero come out I think was just… everyone was just so proud. To really represent. And again, I think the whole thing in general, this under representation is such a common thing and so to be able to see somebody make it like him, and be such a powerful figure within the Avengers world, y’know, it was incredible. Such an honour and inspiring, as I said, young kids. I can imagine a young kid looking up and seeing that it’s possible to be a superhero now. A young black kid, as I said. I think his legacy will always live on.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Max, we heard on the radio when you were told how close you were to Valtteri’s time there was a little bit of a frustrated noise and I think you said you ran out of energy a bit at the end of the lap. Do you know what the reason for that was? Was it just not quite the correct state of charge at the start of the lap, and do you think that with that, that would have just given you that tiny bit of time you needed to be second? MV: No. Well… I mean. Automatically throughout qualifying I think you stay a bit more… like longer on open throttle and of course you try to manage the energy throughout the lap, but I think probably it was the fastest way around the lap but it’s just always when you get out of the last corner and then you feel that the engine is not as accelerating as normal because you run out of that energy where you probably use it up somewhere else, yeah, it’s always that feeling, but probably when I go back and look at the data it’s still the fastest way but it’s just… yeah, bit of an odd feeling sometimes.
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsportmagazin.com) Another question for Max: half a second looks big in Formula 1 – as a gap – but as we’ve mentioned earlier, it’s the longest circuit of the year and from next race onwards there is a technical directive which should cut down the party mode of the Mercedes-powered cars. Do you think you are in a position to fight for pole positions from then onwards? MV: I don’t think so personally, but if it can bring us a little bit closer that would be nice but let’s wait and see if that’s actually going to happen because I also don’t know. LH: Definitely don’t have…. half a second more power than you, that’s for sure.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question to the two Mercedes drivers, sort of in line with that (last question): were you still using full power mode from the engine here or was there any indication of turning it down slightly in anticipation of this new technical directive coming into force? VB: Yeah, we were using the engine normally as we’ve usually being doing in qualifying. As we’ve seen all weekend, it’s been pretty close with Red Bull and even other teams in the mix. We didn’t feel that we had that big of a margin to start saving. As long as we can still use the power we might as well use it because in the end, yes, like in the previous question, I don’t think it’s going to make a massive difference.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, we saw a lot of drivers trying to get a tow and debating whether to go for that. Max said he didn’t feel he needed to go for that but on both your runs in Q3 you were out ahead of the pack. How did that feel and what was the reason for doing that? LH: From weekend to weekend, Valtteri and I have a choice… one weekend it’s his choice to go first or second and others it’s mine and this weekend it was my choice and I decided to go first and I just wanted to be out in the clear and not have to back up in the last corner behind people. I just wanted clean air in front of me. I think it worked. I think there’s potentially a small gain from being in the tow but then there’s equally a potential danger of being caught behind someone, someone making a mistake and causing a yellow flag ahead of you, all sorts, so I just made sure I was clear of that so I could pull out the best lap I could do.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Lewis, I can’t help but notice that after the podium ceremony before you come in here for the media session, you change out of your overalls. What’s the reason or that? LH: Literally… well, when you’re in your suit, this year, even more so, the suits are a little bit thicker and so it’s heavier and so you’re sweating through qualifying. I don’t want to sit here… I know I could change my top but I have time to change fully so get a towel, wipe off, and I put clean clothes on. Just feels better if I’m sitting here ultimately. We’re doing this press conference and then we have media outside, total of an hour. I would just rather not be sitting in my sweat.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Quickly, for all three: can you just talk about the compromise behind straight-line speed and sector two here because we’ve seen what looks like Ferrari… if you get it quite badly wrong or have so little power from their engine now that they’re having to make a massive sacrifice? They’re the only team, I think, that are slower this year compared to last year. MV: Well, everybody, I think, went faster compared to last year but they didn’t in terms of lap time so… LH: What sacrifice did they make? MV: Well, it’s never easy round here to find the right wing level but yeah, you can chose low downforce. I mean I tried it and you go a bit more like I’m running now. It’s honestly what you like, what you think is better for tyres but of course it’s not going to make a… it’s like within a tenth, low downforce to medium or whatever, so yeah, even if they would stick a big old wing on it, they would have the same lap time so I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t talk for them anyway, I also don’t want to. What is there to say about it? I can’t really judge what’s going on. I just focus on what’s happening in my team. I think that’s the most important (thing) and yeah, let’s leave it there.
Q: Lewis, what was the compromise down at Mercedes? The twists of sector two or the straight lines of one and three? LH: I mean, we come here with a package and we hope that it’s the right one. I was much the same: we tried a low wing but the loss was quite big in the middle sector and so it was just trying to find the right balance and the engineers do a fantastic job with their simulations and understand where we need to be and we stuck with it and I think it was the right choice. I think inevitably it’s different in the race when you don’t have DRS and there are those that are quicker… slightly quicker in a straight line but hopefully that doesn’t get in our way tomorrow.
Q: Valtteri, where did your car feel strongest, which sector? VB: I think overall we’re pretty strong everywhere. I think maybe a bit more so in sector two but I think the compromise we had was best for the lap time overall so it’s always just a compromise but I think it was a clear winner for us, for our car, the wing we chose.