Full transcript from the top three press conference after the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 7 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, at Spa-Francorchamps.
Featuring race-winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and third-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
Track interviews conducted by Martin Brundle
Q: Lewis, it seemed to me that you had this race under control from qualifying yesterday with those two outstanding laps but you had some nursing to do at the end? Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, it wasn’t the easiest of races. I had a lock-up into Turn 5 that started to give a a bit of a vibration and then one into the last corner. The tyre temperatures were slowly dropping, no matter how much you were pushing. I guess as you lose rubber you start to lose temperature in the tyres. It was a bit of a struggle but nonetheless I think it was OK. I was a little bit nervous that we might have a scenario like Silverstone with that right front towards the end, so I was nursing it. It looks like the tyre has got plenty of rubber on it, so maybe it was just fine and maybe just all worry for nothing.
Q: You’re unstoppable at the moment – you’re 89th victory, just two behind the great Michael Schumacher now, your fourth victory here, matching Jim Clark. You’re on a roll! LH: I know it’s not necessarily what everyone always wants, to see the Mercedes at the front but no matter how much success we have, we just keep our heads down. When I go back into the office now there’s no guys celebrating, they’re like, ‘OK, how can we win the next race’. It’s an incredible mentality to work around, and environment to work around. We’re continuing to learn about ourselves, about the car, how we develop and improve weekend-in, weekend-out. And honestly, it’s crazy to think, I’m 35, going towards 36 but I feel better than ever, so that’s a positive. I’m really, really grateful to the team, everyone back at the factory, thank you for their continued support. It actually worked to my benefit to be honest that snap, because it meant he was right up my chuff and I’m sure he had to lift. And that meant that when we go to the top of the hill, I don’t know if he had to lift or not, but he didn’t have enough time to slingshot. No shake and bake today, so I’m grateful for that.
Q: On to Valtteri Bottas. P2 today Valtteri, tell us about your race? There was a point early on when you were saying ‘let me have a go, let me use my power up and have a run at Lewis’? Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, of course at the start it would have been a good opportunity but I think Lewis played it pretty well that he wasn’t too fast out of Turn 1 and I couldn’t really get momentum behind him and also today there was a tailwind into Turn 5, so a bit less of a tow effect. Same thing in the restart – I just couldn’t catch him on the straight. So, I think those are the main opportunities and otherwise, yeah, with the same car and Lewis driving pretty much mistake-free it was tricky, but you know, I tried.
Q: You made me smile when you said on the radio ‘I didn’t hear that instruction that we’re not allowed to race each other’. VB: Yeah! Actually I had no clue about that! Maybe they said it, but I don’t recall.
Q: Good stuff and more world championship points. What can you take away from this weekend, we go straight into Monza of course? VB: Well, I think Lewis was faultless today and yesterday he was quick. We earned more points this weekend. At least it was a clean weekend for me, with no big issue. But, definitely I want those race wins and I’m just happy that there’s an opportunity next weekend again.
Q: Max, 33, you keep finishing P3. You could see the Mercedes at the end of the race again. A bit tantalisingly frustrating or satisfied with the day? Max Verstappen: No, it was pretty boring, to be honest. Not really interesting; not much to do. I couldn’t really keep up with them when they were pushing and from my side I ran out of tyres at the end. The last eight laps I was just backing it out, saving the front tyres. It was not really enjoyable out there today. On the medium I didn’t really have a lot of grip and on the hard tyre, initially I was trying to put a bit of pressure on Valtteri, but then they told him to speed up and I couldn’t keep up. Yeah, a bit lonely.
Q: Yeah, I can imagine for you. There was some really good action through the field. I wondered if you might come in before the end, put some pressure on Mercedes with some fresh tyres and try to get a world championship point, but Daniel Ricciardo was, annoying for you, in your pit stop window wasn’t he? MV: Yeah and I was not sure with their top speed if it was easy to pass, so I said we just stay out. I think I was very close to a puncture but, yeah, we finished P3. More than that was anyway not possible today. OK, maybe it was not the most satisfying P3 but it’s still better than nothing, so I’m pretty pleased with that.
Q: It was probably a wise choice. Daniel did the fastest lap of the race on the 44th lap of the race, the last lap, so he had some speed. MV: Yeah, well, we just had no tyres left, so I was not taking any risks. It was probably a good weekend for them and just maximised what we could.
Q: Straight on to Monza looking forward to that. MV: Yeah, we’ll try again and see where we end up.
Q: Lewis, many congratulations, that was a hugely impressive weekend from you and Mercedes. LH: Thank you. Yeah, it was definitely impressive from my point of view, just seeing this team continue to come here weekend-in, weekend-out. You know, we’re constantly learning and constantly improving and I don’t know how we continue to do that. What we learned from the last race, which was also a great race, we’ve brought updates here, we’ve understood our tyres a little bit better coming into this weekend, and qualifying obviously was incredible for myself and I managed to have that same pace today that I had yesterday. Even though I was on my own out there, it was still very, very tough with these tyres, in terms of looking after them. I think at the end everyone had to back off to manage the tyres to bring these cars home with these long one stops.
Q: As you say, hugely impressive qualifying yesterday and a great race today. Of the five wins so far in 2020, was this the smoothest weekend for you? LH: Ooh, I would say the last one probably was. Barcelona, particularly the race, was the smoothest race I think I’ve generally had. This one was positive but it’s very stressful with the start, as is Barcelona, but the start is not easy. And the restart also. I think it was a pretty straightforward weekend but there are definitely areas we can improve.
Q: Great stuff, Lewis, well done. Valtteri, solid second place in the race. How did the car perform, did you feel faster than Lewis at any stage today? VB: It’s difficult to say because of course when you are in the lead you can control the pace and you have the free air and when you are behind and if you try to get close, you are always using more of the tyres than the car ahead, so it’s impossible to say whether I was quicker at any point. But I felt in general that the pace for me was good and I think that our car was strong today. As Lewis said, as a team it was a really solid Sunday for us. So, yeah, it was pretty straightforward. Of course, I tried to use the opportunities, the first one was at the race start. Out of Turn 1 I felt a better run than Lewis and I really actually had to lift not to run into the back of him and I tried to leave a bit of a gap to get a good momentum off the tow, but today I was surprised how small the tow effect was, maybe with the tailwind into Turn 5 it made a different. Actually, it was the same on the restart. I was hoping to catch him but I just couldn’t.
Q: You said on the radio that you had numbness in your left leg. How much did that hinder you? Are you OK now? VB: Yeah, all good. I just got a bit of numbness with the brake pedal we have in the car there have been a couple of race where my leg gets a bit numb and it happened today again. It’s difficult to say how much I was affected. It can lead to mistakes but there were no big mistakes apart from one lock-up that I can recall.
Q: Coming to you Max… MV: This music playing in the background is more exciting than my race. Let’s keep it going.
Q: I was going to say, it was a quiet race for you today but you did keep in touch all the way through. How much satisfaction does that give you? MV: Well, not all the way through. On the hard tyre I was trying to follow with Valtteri but then they told him to speed up, so then I lost a bit of ground. At one point, with ten laps to go, I started to have really bad vibrations on the tyres and then I started to have a lot of understeer. Then we discussed: shall we do a pit stop? But I had Daniel in my pit stop window, so I said “well, let’s just go to the end then, and I’ll just manage it.” It’s a shame. I mean, it’s such an amazing track and then you can’t really push. So, it was pretty boring to be honest. It’s a shame. I mean, I really enjoy driving here and honestly, we did 44 laps right? So, I probably did 38 of them managing a lot. It’s not been the most exciting today.
Q: We saw a nice little dice between you and your old team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the start. Very respectful. MV: Yeah, we gave each other room. Honestly, I didn’t see him after Turn 7 but he was on my inside, but, yeah, I could only see one Renault in my mirror but that was not Daniel, so I had no clue where he was, so I just gave him a bit more space than I think was necessary in Turn 8. But all good, it was nice. It’s always nice anyway racing him; he’s a good guy. It’s a lot of fun.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Lewis, this one’s for you. You spoke before the race about focussing on improving your qualifying for this year after last year. How do you do that without compromising anything else? LH: It’s a good question. Last year Valtteri was putting in great laps as he always does but I think I was definitely under-performing in qualifying, which is generally… usually… a strength of mine. It was really understanding these tyres and how I utilised it with my driving style. For this year I’ve had to make a couple of adjustments and on top of that, with this car, seems to work quite well. So now I’m back to being able to produce qualifying laps that I was able to do before last year, and on a more consistent basis. It’s just work in the background. It’s work that we do on the simulator; it’s stuff we do with set-up but getting that right without affecting the race. As you saw, last year the races were incredibly strong. It’s the fine line.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, you only really looked vulnerable today – although that might be a bit of a stretch – on the run up to Les Combes at the top of the hill. In the past you’ve used a few special tactics, like having 90 per cent throttle going on runs through Eau Rouge. Did you do anything like that today on lap one, and also at the restart? LH: On the start itself I had a big snap out of Turn 1 and Valtteri was all over we, and as I had wheelspin, I had a de-rated shift as well, so that wasn’t particularly exciting, so I had to already block, I think, coming out of Turn 1. But the goal is to go in there in the lead and bridge a gap to the car behind – but in this instance, it worked out to my benefit, to be honest, a mistake, well, not a mistake, a snap, it was just the tyres, the way they are. It meant that Valtteri didn’t have a gap behind to slingshot alongside me. That’s definitely the stressful moment of the race. And then the restart, it’s horrible when you get the Safety Car. I’m glad that everyone’s safe. Controlling at the front and trying to bridge the gap on the restart to the car behind, because that’s another opportunity for them to slipstream you, is not easy. I think today we were lucky because in previous years we’d have had a headwind into Turn 5 and so you’re obviously more draggy and the car behind gets a better tow. This weekend it was a tailwind, so I think that really helped keeping Valtteri behind.
Q: Valtteri, how difficult was it to follow Lewis through Eau Rouge, in dirty air, on heavy fuel, on that opening lap? Is it easy-flat? VB: To be honest, yes, it’s not really an issue. I remember a few years back with less downforce it was more tricky but now it’s actually… following through Eau Rouge is fine. I think it was just a question that, with the issue Lewis had at the exit of Turn 1, it was tricky to really build any gap to get proper momentum because of the car behind.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for Max and probably for the Mercedes drivers as well if they want to comment. Max, you said you had to manage pace on 38 out of the 44 laps. Was it just tyre management or did you have to manage anything else? If it was just the tyres, do you think it was because of the early pit stop for the Safety Car? MV: For sure the pit stop was early. For sure that was not the best for us but yeah, it was just not really an enjoyable race, especially towards the end. The last eight laps, with so much vibration and understeer. Yeah, I don’t know what to say! It’s just not really exciting.
Lewis, how many laps of tyre management did you have to do today, out of the 44, just to continue the theme? LH: Yeah, probably the same. It’s not particularly exciting, as Max said, but it’s a medium-high speed circuit so there’s a lot of force that goes through these tyres, and you know, they allow us to do these one-stops and you lose so much time in the pit stops so it wasn’t that exciting to have to manage to go the distance every time. It’s not something I particularly enjoy. You want to be able to attack, and push-push-push-push-push, do a stop, push-push-push. MV: And besides that, also, they let us do a one-stop and then also the cars, it’s so hard to follow. It makes you really push for that one-stop.
Valtteri? Same for you? VB: Yep.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Question to Lewis. Can you quite believe how well it has gone for you this season? And also to Valtteri, is there anything you can do to try and stop your team-mate from beating you every weekend? Is there anything you can do mentally, physically just to stop the rot, as it were? LH: The plan is obviously, for all of us, we prepare ourselves in the best way we can to win. A lot of work has gone into this year. I was talking about qualifying, for example, on my side, really trying to elevate certain areas without letting others drop. So yeah, of course, I can’t tell you that I predict that I was going to come to the weekend and have half a second advantage in qualifying, and have the pace that I’ve had in these races compared to others but obviously I’m grateful that it is going so well. It’s really nice to know that I’m delivering the way I know that I can. No matter what, the work never stops. You just have to keep pushing, keep working, keep trying to evolve because that’s what everyone else is doing. So, after this, for example, we have a debrief. It won’t be all smiles. It will be like: ‘OK guys, this could be better; this is the weakness of the car; this is where we really need to focus on.’ Communication. Whether it’s set-up or the aero level that we had this weekend, whether it’s engine driveability. Got to push on all the areas, guys, back to the drawing board, let’s keep pushing – and that’s how we continue to elevate ourselves. VB: Of course I’m trying everything I can. The fact is that it’s not over. There’s ten or something races. Obviously I had that one kind of a DNF with a puncture at Silverstone, lost points with that. If I would give up now then I would rather stay home, so I will keep pushing, I will still keep trying to find anything from myself that I can and it just really trying to perfect everything. Yesterday I didn’t in qualifying, Lewis was on pole, he was faster on that lap then today with that pole he could turn it into a win. Of course the weekend really starts with qualifying, trying to be on pole and then those weekends that don’t go for you, you really need to maximise the points. I felt, for a long term now – actually this week has been at least like a smooth weekend, without any issues, just the qualifying was not good enough but I’m working on everything, I’m trying but there’s still many positives I can take. I feel my race pace this year has been better than any year before, so that’s a positive so I feel like always in the race I’m there and I can fight for it so now it’s just about trying to perform better and more consistently in qualifying sessions.
Q: Have you noticed the improvements that Lewis has made in qualifying this year? VB: I think yesterday I found it hard to match. Of course it always comes from so many details, the out laps, getting the tyres in the perfect window, front and rear, the set-up and driving style and when that one lap counts yes, yeah, Lewis has been really consistent, not making any mistakes in qualifying and as you look at the numbers, has had the upper hand this year in qualifying, which honestly pisses me off but of course I’m trying and I do enjoy the challenge and I can’t wait for the next qualifying session next weekend.
Q: (Giles Richards – The Guardian) Lewis, you acknowledged after the win that it’s not what everyone wants to see, another Mercedes at the front, and Max has said he found the race boring as well. Does it concern you at all that if your level of dominance and Mercedes’s level of dominance continues like this for the rest of this season, it might actually prove to be off-putting for many fans? LH: I can’t speak for the fans but having been a fan, growing up, having lived in different eras watching the Schumacher era of course, I know what it’s like. As soon as the start was done and the restart, you generally know that I don’t make too many mistakes so you kind of… and the same with these drivers, you know, they’re very very consistent. It’s very difficult to overtake in this circuit so I can imagine, it’s definitely not the most exciting. I feel exactly the same as Max; it wasn’t the most exciting… I mean, I generally really enjoy myself in the car because it’s… if you don’t enjoy the moment, what’s the point in doing in it. I’m still enjoy the battle. Every time I come through turn 15, I look in my mirror, I see where Valtteri is, whether he’s closer or further behind, taking in the knowledge of what times he’s doing, the gaps between him and Max and really trying to get the perfect balance each and every single lap. That’s still a massive challenge for me. It’s just perhaps not as fun for people to watch but when you’re in it; it’s a little bit different. But of course, I would love to have a real race. I’ve definitely had races in the past here which are a little bit closer, trying to follow the Ferrari and stay on top of them but they could overtake because they had all that extra power. I hope the next races, we have the… I think the Red Bulls have improved. I really hope that we have more of a race because I think everyone wants to see us all battling together.
Q: You mentioned the Schumacher years at Ferrari. As a fan, back then, what did you make of that dominance? LH: I can’t remember. I was a teenage kid, I would have woken up, had my bacon sarnie (sandwich) and probably watched the start and gone to sleep and then woke up to watch the end. If I was watching today I would do the same most likely and watch the highlights because it’s much shorter, unless a friend told me there was a super exciting race on TV so that you watch the whole thing. Ultimately, this is not what fans… and I hope that people need to hopefully understand that this isn’t our fault. At the end of the day we’re drivers, we’ve come through all the ranks, we’ve earned the positions that we have and we come in weekend in, weekend out, devoted and give absolutely everything to go out there and perform at our best. Ultimately the decision makers who design the cars, who set rules and those kind of things, are the ones that you could apply pressure to to ultimately do a better job moving forwards, if that’s possible. I’m hopeful that’s what they’re going to do in 2022 and with that new type car, maybe we’ll see a different form of racing where you can follow. Wouldn’t that be something if we can follow closer and have more close races?
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Lewis, the team and yourself included always seem to overcome whatever obstacles you’re faced with, whenever they appear. Next race, there’s a new obstacle, the engine mode changes which are going to require plenty or work to adjust to regardless of the impact on performance. So does it give you a lot of confidence when you know there’s something like this, that this is a team that does, as you always say, how to get better improvements to tackle these problems and is that why it’s not too much of a concern because you think you know the team’s going to get its head down, get on top of it and probably get to the next race with the performance not really affected and everything running pretty smoothly again? LH: Yeah, naturally I know and I’ve spoken to the engine crew. I know the implications of the rule that’s come in to try and take away… try to slow us down but as I said before, I don’t think it’s really going to make big difference. But of course we are both confident that whatever is thrown at us we go to the drawing board, we hash it out, we communicate, we delegate and then we execute it. That’s what we do. Keep throwing the punches and we will do our best to return back just as hard.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, you mentioned yesterday about wanting to come into the track and make a statement but you can’t just will yourself to be half a second faster than everybody else, otherwise you’d do it every weekend, so what’s the mentality that you were in, that got you there yesterday? And are you performing this year, do you think, at a level that you’ve not reached before? LH: I would definitely would say… I mean last year I think was one of my best years, if not the best year. But, as I said, qualifying was all of a sudden… I had a bit of a slump and the goal every year, of course, is to improve physically, mentally and with the methods that you apply… and I definitely think that I’ve been able to do it this year so yes, I feel like I’m driving at my best. Oh yeah, coming into this weekend?
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Willing yourself to be half a second. You can’t do that so, how do know what’s going on there? LH: Yeah. No. I think that naturally we had that week off, I got good training at home and arrived here feeling fairly relaxed. And then obviously I woke up yesterday morning and… I mean, I’ve generally been feeling a lot of weight on my heart, spirit. You know, when you’re watching the news, when you see what’s happening around the world and I feel really quite affected by it and then obviously I was so incredibly proud when Chadwick was Black Panther because as I mentioned all the reasons yesterday, as a kid, dreaming of super heroes and finally see someone, a super hero of a similar colour to me, was really just such a remarkable moment, I think, for the black community so when I woke up and I got the news from a friend who has said I’m crying writing this message to you about Chad, and then reading the news I just broke down. I remember, just trying to pull it together and make sure I delivered on that day. Of course, you don’t know if you’re going to be able to deliver laps, you don’t know if you’re going to be distracted but when you find purpose, when you find your purpose, when you know what you’re going for, what your target is, will, I think, can get you quite far and so naturally we have to do the work with the engineers, they do great work in the background and I got the car where I needed it and was able to execute. But of course, I think it is also partly also a mental thing for me. Sorry for the long answers, guys! MV: All good!