Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after qualifying for the Tuscan Grand Prix, Round 9 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, at Autodromo Internazionale de Mugello.
Featuring pole-winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and third-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Track interviews conducted by Jenson Button
Q: Max, we thought you would be challenging the Mercedes in qualifying. Q1 and Q2 seemed really good but it just fell away there in Q3?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, I personally never expected to really fight them in qualifying but I think overall so far this weekend it has been really promising and I think we bounced back well from Monza where it was tricky. So at the end to be third here in qualifying, we can be very happy with that.
Q: When you stand here, you really feel the wind and that’s just stood here in the pit lane but when you’re up in the hills when you are going through Turns 3 and 4 and out the back do you really feel the wind?
MV: Yeah, to be honest, I think it picked up a little bit in Q3, because my first run was not amazing but then the second run I think lap time-wise it was a little bit better but I think the track was not the same because of the wind. But it is what it is. It’s really tricky anyway these cars with the wind. But the track is amazing to drive. In qualifying it was really something special.
Q: Congratulations Lewis, you always seem to be able to, as we all know, pull it out when need be. That was very impressive.
Lewis Hamilton: Thank you. It’s been a really, really tough weekend if I am really honest. Firstly, this track is phenomenal. Have you ever driven it?
Q: Yes, 2005, a long, long time ago.
LH: Oh jeez, that is a long, long time.
LH: It’s a really challenging circuit and as you saw Valtteri was quicker than me all day yesterday and even this morning, and even in Q1. I’ve been working so hard in the background to really try to improve on my lines, improve on my set-up and with the engineers we did such a great job. The mechanics as always did an amazing job. I finally got the lap I needed. At the end there I think the wind picked up so I wasn’t able to go any quicker but nonetheless it was a job done.
Q: It must feel extra special when you have to push yourself that hard, or Valtteri is pushing you that hard and on such a special circuit?
LH: It’s crazy. I don’t know if people are seeing, I’m sure they are on TV, but you’re going through Turns 6, 7, 8, 9 at like 170-180 mph, and the G-force we are pulling through there is just insane. It just gets more and more as you get through 8 and then through 9. Ten and 1 and 2 were the areas I needed to improve and I managed to pick it up once I got into qualifying. Valtteri did a great job in pushing me but I’m happy to be here.
Q: Valtteri, you’ve been strong from FP1 pretty much all the way through to Q3. Do you think that yellow flag hampered you in that last run?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Definitely. Definitely. I still had more, more time in there. I was just waiting for the time to get it all right. Run one was OK but not perfect and I was just looking forward to it but I just didn’t get the opportunity. For sure it’s disappointing because the speed has been good all weekend.
Q: We’ve seen. Tomorrow, everybody is thinking this is going to be a procession this race. I do disagree with that. Watching the junior formulas there is quite a lot of overtaking into turn one. Do you think it will possible tomorrow and you can have a proper race with Lewis?
VB: Actually, coming into the weekend we thought it was going to be nearly impossible but what we experienced in the practice session, actually the track is so wide and there are so many different lines you can take in the corners so you can avoid the [inaudible] in the corner, so maybe. I really hope so. There’s a long run into Turn 1 and I hope the headwind stays for the race start because that would be a nice benefit.
Q: Lewis, many congratulations, what a qualifying session. It’s been so close between you and Valtteri this weekend. How hard was it to beat him today?
LH: It’s always incredibly hard to beat Valtteri and he’s consistently improving and pushing to the limit. Straight from the get-go this weekend Valtteri has had the upper hand. It was difficult at the beginning to know where we stood, it looked like the Red Bulls, Max, was closer to us than perhaps the last race and yeah, Valtteri was quicker all day yesterday, quicker this morning, quicker into Q1. It was like nothing I did, I was making all these changes, I changed a lot in the set-up and again just really studying the kerbs and trying to make sure I improved in all the areas I was weak. And I went out in Q1 and I still wasn’t quick enough. But I love that challenge and I really enjoy the battle with Valtteri. Once I got to Q2 I got quite a good lap and my Q3, run one, was a decent lap. I think there was still a little bit of time left on the table so I was hoping to get that for the last one. But I think the wind picked up. I could really feel it a little bit more gusty down the straight up into Turn 1 and the car was sliding around a lot more on that lap. So I ended up being a bit down. But nonetheless I really, really enjoyed qualifying today, this track is amazing. Max was saying we should come here again. Plus, we’re in Tuscany, it’s a beautiful place to be.
Q: And looking ahead to the race tomorrow, do you think we are going to see overtaking, how many pit stops that kind of thing?
LH: I honestly don’t know. I’m not quite sure: hopefully more than one. And in terms of following, it’s a medium-, high-speed circuit, it’s not going to be easy to follow, particularly through that middle sector. But maybe tyre temps, track temp might mean there’s more degradation maybe. The corners are very long and you can take multiple lines, which I like. Like through Turn 12 you can take a different line through there. You can take a different line through the last corner and even the first corner. So I’m hopeful that that means a little bit of racing.
Q: Valtteri, coming on to you. You must have fancied your chances of pole position today?
VB: Sorry I don’t understand you?
Q: Did you think you were going to get pole position today? You were looking so good, so confident coming into the session?
VB: Yeah, for sure. It’s been a good start to the weekend and good practice sessions, including today and after practice three I was still looking at all the things that had to be improved for qualifying. Everything was going nice and smooth, Q1, Q2. The Q3 first lap wasn’t quite good enough so I also felt there’s definitely time still to be found. I was confident of myself doing it, but obviously there was no chance with the double yellows in the second run. In the end, I should have just done a better job in the first run. Lewis managed to find the pace and his first run was better than mine and that’s it.
Q: But your pace on Friday was good. Are you confident going into the race tomorrow?
VB: I am, yeah. The long runs were good so it’s still all to play for. Of course, it would be nicer to start from pole but it’s one of the longest runs of this season into Turn 1 and if the headwind stays the towing is going to be quite powerful into Turn 1, so try to turn my thoughts into the race.
Q: Max, good to see Red Bull back up there again this weekend. Just how competitive was the car? How difficult was it to dial it into this race track?
MV: Luckily from the start I think the car was in a good window. Night and day difference compared to Monza, but of course, at Monza, downforce levels and everything is very different. So I felt very happy in the car. It was all about fine-tuning things and, of course, trying to do things better – but overall it’s been a very positive weekend so far. We were reasonably close to them now, in qualifying so yeah, can be happy with that. Q3, I expected a little bit more from Q3 but my first run wasn’t, let’s say, the best lap of my life. It wasn’t bad – but it wasn’t the best. And then yeah, I wanted to push a bit more in the second run. Even when I was close to Lewis, so bit more in a tow but, like Lewis said, I think the wind picked up, so yeah, I think the track was just a bit slower. I still managed to improve a little bit, so it meant, I think, there was still a little bit more in it – but not four-tenths, I think it was, or whatever. Anyway, I didn’t expect to beat them in qualifying but I’m pleased that we are back in third in qualifying and actually yeah, not too far away.
Q: Didn’t expect to beat them in qualifying but do you expect to be closer in the race?
MV: Well, for once we have quite decent top speed now this year, so I think that’s quite good around here – but it won’t be easy to pass but at least the track, the last few corners, they are a bit wide and long so you can do a few different lines – but it’s all going to depend, anyway, first of all on if you have the pace to follow, and second of all, of course, tyre degradation.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to all three drivers. Daniel Ricciardo spoke of being out of breath after one of his laps in qualifying. I was just wondering, did you have a similar experience going around. How was it physically for you out there today?
MV: I don’t know, maybe he’s been dancing a bit too much. Or something. Honestly, I expected it to be worse before I came here, just driving-wise. It has been fine. It’s just very enjoyable to drive here. It’s very flowing. OK, the g-forces are high but in Silverstone, for example, they’re high as well. I just really enjoy sitting in the car, having those fast, long corners. Anyway, in qualifying, when you’re on the limit, pushing, you’re always breathing a bit heavier, I guess than in a normal lap – but nothing crazy, to be honest.
LH: We’re always asked these questions and ultimately we’re all athletes. So train and we’re used to the conditions that we are faced with – but at the end of the day it’s incredibly physical, I think, this track, being that it’s medium and high-speed. It’s not easy at all, physically, particularly through that fast section – but as Max says, it’s like Silverstone and those others. You’re definitely not ending the lap with a low heart-rate. I definitely think that I’m breathing heavier, for sure, particularly at the end of the lap, because there’s so much focus. There’s no room for error, you’re completely tensed: your whole body is completely tense the whole lap. You’re fully engaged in every muscle throughout the lap, and it’s bumpier than ever, and it’s understandable.
VB: For sure one of the most physical tracks – but as these two, I really like it here. That’s how it should be. I like a bit of pain! It’s always good fun but yeah, in the end, on the qualifying lap, it was so focussed that you don’t really feel any pain. You definitely notice after the lap that you know you’ve done something.
LH: They need to take away the majority of the steering assist. I think we need heavier steering.
MV: Maybe they can increase the weight limit a bit – that would be nice for the drivers. Otherwise I might have some issues.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Lewis, you were quite honest after practice yesterday, saying this was a serious track that you hadn’t quite mastered yet and you had a bit of homework to do. So how satisfying is it to come out today and do the job that you’ve done in qualifying. Is it more satisfying that a routine qualifying session? And how intense is that process of trying to master a new circuit like this?
LH: Normally, I tend to think in my past, I felt that one of my strengths was learning a circuit quite quickly, and for this one, we went on the simulator, which I never do, and don’t feel like I’ve benefitted particularly, but then getting here there was a lot of work that… the pressure was incredibly high. Because, as I said, y’know, I’m going out there and doing laps and struggling to get to the limit, find the limit in certain sectors and Valtteri was miles ahead in some of those areas. So, of course, the pressure was higher than ever – because if I hadn’t done the work then I wouldn’t have got the result that we got at the end. So, there’s an incredible amount of detail that you have to go into. Last night, dissecting every single corner basically, and sector and really trying to fine-tune that set-up. And, as a racing driver, there’s a real fine line between knowing whether you’ve got understeer or oversteer and whether you’re on the limit or not in certain places – because you can be on the limit through one corner but not through the rest of the corners, for example. Or it can be the first one and not the second one and then the third one you are. So really understanding whether you’ve got the balance right, within yourself, and then knowing what to request for when you do move towards the limit, what you need. Because you have to pre-empt what the car is going to do. It’s a real science to it. That’s why I have so much respect for all these drivers because it’s not only the ability to drive but to understand those things and to be engineers at the end of the day. We have to work with these geniuses that can balance numbers like nobody else – but we need to be able to do that on the track.
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsportmagazin.com) Two questions: first one for all three, was a bit surprising that no one opted for the medium tyre, so why did you go with the soft? Was the delta lap time too big? And the second question for Max: seems like you were pretty fast in the last sector; does it make you even more confident that you have an overtaking possibility when you can keep in touch in the last sector?
VB: Obviously the softer tyre is always quite a benefit at the race start and it is a long run into turn one. That’s always one reason and of course, we always look ahead for the race strategy with the tyre choice and we believe we are on the best tyre for our car and it seemed like all the other teams opted for the same selection.
LH: I wanted to use the medium tyre but there is a loss at the start. I don’t know if they do that analysis for the viewers but obviously we have a very long run uphill to turn one and whilst in the first stint a medium tyre would perhaps be better in terms of pace and length, you lose meters just from the compound up into turn one so we didn’t want to take that risk.
MV: Like Lewis and Valtteri said, at the start, of course, it’s not ideal but sometimes in the previous races I didn’t mind taking that risk, just trying also something different, but this time I was very happy on the softs so there was no reason to go on the medium.
Q: And the second part of that question: pace in the last sector?
MV: Yeah, all weekend we have been pretty good there. It’s basically only two corners so 12 and 15, I think, so the car was not too bad and then the straights in between, we run a bit less wing compared to some other cars, I think, and it gives me a bit of an advantage. We managed to stabilise the car around it so yeah, I just hope that I can follow them in the other sectors, that is going to be the key, to be able to overtake, but let’s see tomorrow.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) Lewis, why was it to challenging for you to get into the groove around this circuit? And Max and Valtteri, did you find it similarly challenging to get to grips with this track?
LH: I’m not really sure. I don’t really have a great answer for that, to be honest. I came here with the same mental approach. As I said, I prepared… the track, to do extra work in the sense of doing the simulator. I think that the first couple of laps in practice one looked good and then they just pulled away in terms of how much improvement everyone was making. For me, some of it was balance – I was really struggling with the balance of the car so at the end of the day it’s confidence here because you have to really have to carry a lot of speed into these corners. Naturally, it’s a high-speed circuit, so not wanting to put a foot wrong and if you’re uncomfortable with the balance of the rear of the car then you just pull back and then you’re just too slow at the apex and exit of a lot of these corners so I think it was that but I think at the end I got, as I said, a lot of work went into… did a lot of work with the engineers to get the set-up where I wanted it and I was really happy… again, going into qualifying, I made a relatively big change and it worked out really well so that’s our real strength, the work that we do behind the scenes and constantly trying to evolve that.
Q: Valtteri, how much of an advantage were those laps you did here back in 2012?
VB: Well, that was in the wet so I don’t think they really made a big difference and it’s quite a while ago. But I really enjoy the whole process of learning a new track, kind of, because the cars are so different and just finding, step by step, the limits and the small secrets of the track. I’ve always loved that. There’s no big issues but even though it looked right at the end I was on the pace but there was always big chunks where I could have done better and actually the rate of improvement from practice to the second and third and qualifying was pretty big.
MV: So I’ve been here a few weeks ago. Of course it was not a Formula 1 car but it does give you, I think, a better idea than driving on the simulator. OK, I grew up driving on a simulator but I still find it a way better to be here in a real live car, it gives you more of an idea of what lines you have to take, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what car you’re driving, you’re riding at more or less the same. So I think that helped me a bit, to get started but not only that, also to set up the car because of course when I come here, I’m not just cruising around, I’m also working on the set-up and trying to make that car fast as well, so it gave me an idea of how to start with the wing level and roll stiffness of the car and stuff like this, so when we started, I think the car was already in a very good window, I knew the track from a few weeks ago instead of a few years ago – I think that always helps because for example, going to Imola, I’ve been there like a few years ago, everything, like kerbs, they’ve changed over the years so it will be a bit more difficult than let’s say what happened here and so that definitely helped to just kick start the first practice.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, you’ve spoken about the high speeds at which you take some of these corners, do you think fatigue could be a factor in tomorrow’s race?
LH: Physical fatigue? I hope not, that’s what we train to avoid. I would say eight and nine are a little bit like Turkey, the double left-hander, maybe not as intense in terms of the speed. I think it might be faster through those… I can’t remember. This is the strongest side for most of the drivers so I think so.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Max, I think this is the closest margin you’ve been to pole all year. Do you have an explanation as to why Red Bull’s relatively more competitive and do you have any feeling what that might mean for the race?
MV: From our side, I can say that we did a very good job setting up the car for this weekend, compared to some other weekends where we have been a bit further away where I was not entirely happy with the car so yeah, I think we really more or less maximised so far what we could do this weekend. We started straight away with a positive balance in the car, I think the right wing level for our car so I guess that explains a bit. Maybe the track characteristic as well a little bit – we seem to be a bit better on higher downforce tracks with the car, so yeah, I think that might explain four or whatever tenths it is.