Full transcript from the top-three press conference after qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 10 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrom.
Featuring pole-winner Lewis Hamilton, second-placed Max Verstappen and third-place Valtteri Bottas.
Track interviews conducted by Stoffel Vandoorne
Q: Valtteri, it was looking so good after Q2, what happened in Q3? Tell us about qualifying?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, it’s been looking pretty good all weekend, you know. I felt the pace being really good and also Q1 and Q2 was nice and smooth but Q3, to be honest I don’t know. I found some gains but obviously my rivals found some more. I think here is pretty sensitive with the tyres, getting them right. The first in Q3 my tyres were too cold. Second run, I don’t know, I just couldn’t go any quicker. Some question marks but I think actually it’s a pretty good place to start third here and I think I’m on the right tyre as well.
Q: Exactly. Starting from third, it’s a long way up to Turn 1. What do you think about the race tomorrow?
VB: Yeah, I remember once I started third here and I know what happened then, so for sure I will try to do the same and I really think I will have an advantage with the medium tyre in the first stint, so still all to play for.
Q: Max congratulations, P2 on the grid. What a fantastic recovery from yesterday?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, we were struggling a bit to find the right balance with the car on this track, it’s quite slippery round here. Even this morning I was not entirely happy and through qualifying we were really working on trying to nail the balance and in the Q3, the final run especially, it was not bad. So to be second on the grid, I didn’t expect, so very, very pleased with that.
Q: And it’s a good position for tomorrow as well. Second is not a bad position here as with the draft to Turn 1 maybe there is an opportunity?
MV: Yeah, absolutely. If we can have a decent start then the tow effect is very big around here so if I can get a good draft who knows what is going to happen into Turn 2. It’s going to be interesting anyway with the tyres as well tomorrow.
Q: Lewis, congratulations, what an awesome drive. I mean, challenging qualifying for you; you had that red flag in Q2 which put you a little on the back foot, but what an amazing drive in Q3.
Lewis Hamilton: Well, firstly, I have to say a big, big hi to all the fans that are here. I’ve missed the fans so much through the year. I can’t tell you how great it is to see people. I hope everyone has their mask on and staying safe. This morning when I left the hotel I had a couple of fans there with their Black Lives Matter masks on and I’m just so humbled by everyone’s support and how everyone has worked this year. So it’s really great to see everybody. The session was… oh, it was one of the worst qualifying sessions; it was horrible. Heart in your mouth the whole way. The first problem, I think I got the time taken away. It’s the first time I’ve gone wide there the whole weekend. I wanted to stay out and do another lap and get a banker, but they said come in and get new tyres and then the red flag came out. It was a real risk once we got out on that next tyre at the end. Ultimately, I’m starting on the soft tyre, which is not good. It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole, with the draggier cars we have this year. So, undoubtedly I’m most likely to get dragged past tomorrow and both the cars I’m racing against, they are both on the medium tomorrow, so definitely it’s going to make it hard to win the race tomorrow. But nonetheless I’m going to stay positive and try to figure out how I can navigate my way through, get a good start maybe, and we’ll see.
Q: Lewis, many congratulations, that was an eventful session for but can we just start by talking about Q3? The car just got faster and faster – two great laps…
LH: Yeah. You want to start with Q3 first? It’s a lot to skip over and just to go straight to Q3, but it was one of the hardest qualifying sessions I can remember having being that everything was just so rushed and there was panic and there was just all sorts going on. And then obviously timing once you’re out there, when we went out for the second run, sorry in Q2, and then just having to calm myself down and find my centre, you know, calm my heart down and wanting to deliver in Q3. I was adamant. I had no choice. I had to deliver on those two laps. Valtteri had been doing great all weekend. Nothing new in that respect but I knew I needed to have a perfect lap, particularly on the first run to get the pole. Obviously pole position is not great here; it never has been. Still, going for pole is what we do. The first lap was really great. I thought it was going to be very difficult to improve on it, but I think I managed to just improve just a tiny bit I think on the second lap. I’m super grateful to everyone for just about keeping their cool. And it could be a lot, lot worse. I could be out of the top 10, so I’m really grateful I go to compete.
Q: Just talk us through those final moments of Q2 now, when you crossed the line with one and a half seconds to spare?
LH: It was horrible! I wanted to start on the medium. I didn’t want to go to… I mean the whole session was just not great. I went wide out of Turn 18, which was my fault, but the first time I had done that all weekend. Then I was like, “let me stay out and just get a banker lap in”, and they asked me to come in, which ultimately… I mean, hindsight is always a good thing to have, but I don’t know if it was the right call. But then we went back out and then the red flag came out and we all waited at the end of the pit lane. And I nearly spun at Turn 1 because the tyre temperatures were so low. I think I overtook one car going into the second to last corner or two cars I think it was, but then I got blocked by the Renault, and I was dead slow in the middle of the last corner about to start the lap and I could just hear Bonno saying “Go, go, go, go, go, go!” so I was just gunning to try to get across the line, so very, very fortunate. I don’t think that was just luck, I think it was just the right timing for us.
Q: Just a quick word on strategy for tomorrow. You’re going to be on the front row on the Soft tyre alongside Max who’s going to be on the Medium.
LH: As I was saying before, it’s not a good place to start at all and I think this year you’re seeing our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years, so… yeah. I generally expect one of these two to come flying by at some point. So, I think I’m just going to focus on my race and just try to run the fastest race I can. Obviously I’m on the worst tyre to start on the race but generally it’s a good tyre to do an actual start but it doesn’t have… it has the biggest degradation, ten times more than any other tyre, I think it is. So that’s going to be a struggle. I don’t know if that puts me onto a two-stop, I don’t know, unlikely because the pit lane is too slow, so I’m just going to have to nurse those tyres as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away so going to sit down tonight to try to figure out if there’s a different kind of race I can do tomorrow to keep my position.
Q: Max, coming to you, your 13th front row start and your first here in Sochi, with that fabulous final lap of Q3. Was that one of your best?
MV: Yeah, I think so. It felt really good. Trying to find the right balance because I was actually struggling quite a bit throughout qualifying to really nail all the entry speeds, because I was oversteering a lot. So, step-by-step I think we were doing a better job. Q3, run one was a bit better but the second run, made a few changes and that just gave me a little bit more grip and, on this track, you really need a lot of entry grip, so yeah, that was very satisfying. It was a really nice lap to drive. It’s not pole position but for me, to be on the first row, I definitely didn’t expect that going into qualifying.
Q: Like Lewis, you had a drama-filled end to Q2 but for different reasons because you decided to abort your final lap and you just made it through to Q3.
MV: Yeah, I mean, I wanted to start on the Medium but the field, of course, is very, very close on lap time so it was very hard. I did my very best to do the best lap I could on that tyre but it was not easy because I was already struggling for grip and then going onto a harder compound was even more difficult to find that grip. Then going into that last corner, after the red flag, when I was back onto the Soft tyres, they told me ‘abort, abort’, so I stopped. But of course the finish line is quite short after the last corner. Of course happy that we did it, and we just made it through.
Q: Lewis has just told us that he’s got a difficult race ahead of him tomorrow. Are you feeling confident starting on the Medium tyre?
MV: Yeah, I think for us it’s the best way going into the race. Of course I’m starting a bit on the dirty side so I’m not sure how much that’s going to affect it but yeah, overall I think the Mercedes guys are a bit faster in race pace so I’ll try my very best to stay with them and see what happens but first of all I think we… well, I would like to have a good start, and by start I mean once I go full throttle to have full power, that would be nice and then not get taken out. After two retirements I think it’s good to score some points again.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you, how tricky is it to manage a session like that when there’s so much going on?
VB: Well, for me there was not so much going on. It was actually pretty straightforward from my side, so I think I was quite fortunate that all the happenings didn’t really affect me. Q1, Q2 from my side was pretty good. Car was feeling good and the pace seemed to be there – unlike in Q3.
Q: Well, talk us through Q3, particularly that final lap.
VB: Q3 was a tricky one, so in the first run I didn’t feel my tyres were ready, so out of the last corner, starting the lap, I had a big snap so lost a couple of tenths on the run down to Turn 2. Turn 2, massive oversteer and tyres only came in towards the end of the lap. So yeah, I was just waiting for the second run then and, you know, there was no mistakes as such, Turn 2, maybe there was a tiny lock-up, went a bit wide but, to be honest, I don’t really get it why I couldn’t match Lewis’ times in Q3. Just didn’t feel I was gaining much grip from previous sessions. I think even Q2 felt better, so a few question marks from me about what really happened – or maybe I was just playing games and wanted to start third.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for Lewis, we just got a report from the stewards that you failed to rejoin the track in the right way, as it is said in the race director notes. Can you just elaborate a bit on that situation and do you expect some problems because of that?
LH: Where’s that?
Q: Turn 2. Four minutes after the start of the qualifying session.
LH: I don’t know. I went through the barriers and through the bollards… in Q2 you mean?
Q: It says at four minutes past three, so Q1 I guess. Failure to follow the race director’s instructions in Turn 2 at three o’clock and four minutes. Breach of article 12.1.1.
LH: I don’t know. I have no idea what that is. There’s always going to be something, isn’t there. I don’t remember ever… I don’t think… I had a lap time deleted.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, I just wondered, you mentioned this being a horrible session for you, a little bit of panic at one stage. What was the communication like between you and the team? Was it always calm or were things a little bit – not out of control – but just a little bit under pressure? And was there any discussion about you still taking the mediums for that last run in Q2 after the red flag or was there something specific that prohibited that?
LH: Our conversations are usually relatively calm, I would say. We had a debate. I wanted to stay out in Q1, as I mentioned. I wanted to stay out and just do another lap just to get a banker and then we had a big discussion, back and forth, back and forth. I said ‘I want to stay out, I want to stay out, I want to stay out’ and they called me in so I listened to them. And then obviously we went back out and we got stuck with the red flag. Was that Q1 or Q2? I can’t remember. It was Q2, yeah, Q2. And then in Q1 I had a flat spot so I couldn’t go back out again so that was a bit of a mess so that was a bit less practice. And then at the end of Q2 I wanted to go back out on the medium, because of course I don’t want to start on the soft tyre but we had to wait at the end of the pit lane for two minutes and we had… the tyre temperatures would have dropped down massively, already just on that brand new tyre, on the soft, I had a big slide into turn one so it definitely wasn’t great and I did plead to have the medium tyre but they weren’t having it. So naturally I think we will have a discussion at the end, whether it was right or wrong, doesn’t matter now. It’s happened so we will just make do with what we have.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Lewis, you talked about having to calm yourself down and centre yourself for those runs late on. How did you stop yourself from letting that session spiral, because with the deleted the lap times and then the red flag, the moment when you said you nearly spun at turn two, when you went back out for that run at the end of Q2, it must have been all kinds of stress and pressure, so how did you stop it from running away with you?
LH: If I told you I’d have to kill you so I mean… No, I think everyone, we’re all under immense pressure and I would say probably experience helps massively in order to know how to regain your focus. Because just one millimetre out and you’re way off, you’re making mistakes or you’re locking up. It is a real, real challenge and I don’t always get it right but I was really grateful today I was able to… and I think in general that’s probably been a real strength. I don’t know if it’s always been it but particularly this year obviously qualifying, Q3, I’ve managed to really be able to centre myself and deliver really impactful laps that count when it really matters, so I’m grateful for that. Maybe one day I will tell you how I do it in a book.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) To all three drivers, just about the track conditions and the amount of grip out there. How did you find it throughout Saturday? Obviously things looked a bit colder coming into qualifying. There were quite a few off-track moments for various drivers up and down the grid, so how did you find those laps?
VB: Yeah, here, quite usually at the start of the weekend it’s pretty low grip and the wind changed for today quite a bit so it’s nothing new really. It’s quite a peaky tarmac in terms of how it provides the grip so if you lose the rear end or if you have a locked up it’s pretty penalising so the peak of the grip is quite a small window. So yeah, that’s why we see quite a lot of mistakes but it’s one of these type of tracks and not really an issue but different.
LH: I don’t know if the fans that are watching… I don’t know if the commentators talk about it much but the surfaces that we have on these tracks are quite a lot different. Some are the same, you have some that are very, very smooth, some very grainy and some that wear the tyres more, some that wear them less, some that overheat the tyres, some that work the tyres. There’s a real science behind it, naturally, but here, today, the grip level is quite poor here I would say. It’s quite a smooth surface but today into qualifying the wind direction switched 180 degrees at least and up quite a lot, 20 miles an hour or 20 kilometres an hour winds, so that would have meant that you had a tailwind into turn one which we didn’t have previously. It meant that we had a tailwind into turn five and a few other different corners so what we had practised in P3 and one and two was different once we got to qualifying, which takes a bit of adjusting. So it definitely wasn’t easy. But everyone’s in the same boat.
MV: Yeah, this track… it’s also because I guess not many times it’s been run on, like other tracks we go to there’s a lot of activity so the track just gets used a lot more and around here with all those 90 degree corners and then I think the surface they went for, it’s just… yeah, a tricky combination but it’s the same for everyone at the end of the day, so you just have to deal with it but yeah, with these cars as well, they are so big and so wide that once you lose it, it’s really hard to really catch it if it goes, because of the wide tyres. It’s a bit more exciting, I guess, for the viewers, this year’s spin and stuff but, yeah, it’s an interesting track to set up the car for as well, and then finding the right balance from entry to mid-corner, to go fast.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, the turn around from Friday to today is pretty extraordinary in terms of lap times and competitiveness. Did it surprise you at all, and do you think you’ve put yourself in a similar position to the second Silverstone race where circumstances are aligning and you can challenge the Mercedes?
MV: I think first of all Friday was a little bit messy because were trying downforce levels and we never really had a perfect lap, let’s say like that. There were always a few moments and stuff so I knew that we were going to be, let’s say, more competitive than where we were but it’s a surprise to be on the front row, that’s for sure, but I honestly don’t expect it to be like Silverstone. I think we were a little bit more competitive in the long runs there and also the compounds, I don’t think it’s as big an issue as what it was there, so I don’t expect the same to happen but I’m just happy with the improvements we did make overnight. I think even at the beginning of qualifying it looked quite tricky to be P3 but it was more because I think we just didn’t really find a good balance an issue because of the wind change, like Lewis said. It seemed like it was very difficult for me to find rear grip in some corners but in Q3 we made a few changes and it seemed to work a bit better so yeah, I was pleased for that.