Russian Grand Prix: Top three press conference

Full transcript from the top three press conference after the Russian Grand Prix, Round 10 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrom on Sunday.

Featuring race-winner Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Track interviews conducted by Johnny Herbert

Q: Max, second place. Interesting battle going down to Turn 1. You seemed to get off the line well but then Valtteri got in front of you. But of course then you had Daniel Ricciardo at your side and you decided to go through that penalty chicane. What was it like for you?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, just very low grip on the inside, so that cost us a bit but at the end it was quite interesting the first few corners. Of course I had to take that other chicane and luckily got through there without any issues. After that, after the re-start I was a little bit slower on the medium, I was having a bit of problems with the balance. But once we went on that hard tyre I think we were a little bit more competitive so pretty happy about that. At the end to be able to split the Mercedes cars again, I think we can be pleased with that.

Q: Were there any worries at some point once you saw Lewis getting to third place. Did you think “now I’ve got a fight on my hands”?
MV: No, I was trying to do my own race there. If they are faster they will anyway pass you. I think we managed it well and I did everything I could.

Q: You’ve got to be happy though, second place going into the Nurburgring next time out?
MV: Yeah, I’m very happy with second, especially after two DNFs. Again a good amount of points.

Q: Well done. Lewis, what a frustrating day for you. What happened with the practice starts and of course then that 10-second penalty you got? What happened there?
Lewis Hamilton: First, I want to say a big thanks to all the fans that came this weekend. A big thank you. Spasiba. Yeah, just not the greatest day, but it is what it is.

Q: How did that go wrong? I know there were some notes that had come out from the FIA; Michael Masi had mentioned about where you can and cannot start? Why is it you ended up so far down the end of the pit lane?
LH: It doesn’t matter. It’s done now. I’ll take the points that I got and move on.

Q: The race itself, though, great little comeback from you.
LH: Not particularly. I didn’t really do much. I just held my position so congratulations to Valtteri.

Q: Valtteri, race win but it was very tricky going down to Turn 2 where you tried to go round the outside of Lewis but you got stuck on that kerb. Just talk us through that?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, obviously I tried. I knew the start would be the first opportunity but actually it was a bit compromised because there was like a massive bee or something that hit my visor just before braking, so I couldn’t really see when I should brake, so that’s why I went too deep. I knew it was going to be a long race after that and with the medium tyre I had there would be opportunities but obviously Lewis had the penalty so once I was in clean air I felt the pace was pretty awesome and I could control everything.

Q: What about Max? He was obviously there a little bit earlier on and he was pushing you very hard. Were you a bit concerned in those early laps that he might challenge you?
VB: I wasn’t concerned at any point, because looking at the [inaudible] for today I knew how many opportunities there would be and yeah, never give up, it’s a good day.

Q: Well, it’s your ninth win and your second here in Russia, so going towards the Nurburgring you must have a lot of confidence to take there?
VB: For sure. It’s nice to get a win again. It’s been a while. Definitely good. I need to try and keep the momentum. Again I managed to squeeze a few good points against Lewis. There are still quite a few races to go. You just never know. I’ll keep pushing and won’t give up and we’ll see how it ends up.

Press Conference

Q: Congratulations Valtteri. Your win in Austria seems a while ago. How good did it feel to hear the Finnish national anthem on the podium?
VB: Definitely. It’s been a while ago but it’s been so close many times and I feel my race pace, especially this season, has been quite a bit better than any season before so I can’t say it’s been frustrating but you know it’s been a bit annoying that it’s been close but nearly there. But things definitely did go my way today, as I have been saying that things can’t go against you forever. So, definitely really satisfying today to get the win. It felt like it was well earned. Obviously I consider myself lucky as well with Lewis’ penalty. But otherwise it was a strong race and really I feel that it can give me a confidence boost and good momentum for the next races.

Q: Can you just talk us through the race a bit? Good start, you overtook Max and you didn’t really look back from there from what it looked like?
VB: Yeah, it was a good start. I think Lewis has a good start as well. But obviously I had the tow. I went outside, braked, perhaps slightly too late so went a bit deep into Turn 2, so Lewis maintained the lead. But then I was just trying to be there because I knew that with the medium tyre I knew would have the advantage once Lewis had to stop. When I was in clean air it really felt pretty good and the pace was strong. Same with the hard tyre. I could really feel that I could control the race. I was actually pretty happy there were no red flags or safety cars this time around towards the end of the race.

Q: Do you think you could have beaten Lewis today if there had been no penalties for him?
VB: Going to today I knew that there would be opportunities. I knew that one of the best ones would be the race start but I knew that even if I can’t make it there it’s now over, because obviously with the medium tyre it’s quite an advantage in race time and in terms of strategy, so yes, of course I believed I could do it. But who knows. He got that penalty and that’s it.

Max, after two difficult races in Italy, how satisfying is it to have a clean race and to come home on the podium?
MV: Yeah, I mean that’s how it should be every single weekend. So, of course it was not good, the last two weekends and I think now, to be back on the podium and in second, I think for us is a great result on a track where normally we are not that competitive and we never scored a podium before as well. So, I’m very happy with that. The race itself, the start was pretty bad but it was just so low grip on the inside, the righthand side, it seemed like everybody had a really poor start, so just felt like… Even then during the race, the first lap I had a bit of a battle with Daniel to get back into third and I had a nice off-road experience through the bollards so… nice. And then for there onwards, on the Medium tyre it was just not really having a great balance. A bit like I had in Q1 and Q2 yesterday where I just couldn’t push the entries of the corners and I couldn’t’ keep up with them. So, just tried to not lose too much time. Then once we pitted, put the hard tyres on, everything was a bit more stable and a bit better balanced. I was pleased with that. The second stint was pretty OK. Very happy with second.

Q: You say the second stint was good but did you ever think you could challenge Valtteri for the win?
MV: No, because he was already too far ahead anyway. I think. Once we pitted it was 12 seconds or something. That’s very hard to close – and anyway, following around here on the same tyre, more or less the same pace, I think it’s very difficult.

Q: Lewis, like yesterday, it was another eventful day for you. How do you sum it all up?
LH: Uneventful. It wasn’t that eventful, to be honest. I started first, was in first, I came out third, so, not the most eventful day.

Q: Well it looked eventful from the outside, particularly before the start. That’s when it started to unravel, when you were doing your practice starts on your way to the grid. Can you just talk us through your communication with the team, and why you elected to do the starts where you did?
LH: Generally, if you look at probably every race that I’ve done this year, at least, I always start further down. Never, ever had a problem, done it for years. Here I haven’t done that before, I would say, but it says you have to be on the right after the lights, it doesn’t say how far, and so often… I don’t like to be on the rubber, that’s where everyone has done all their starts so it’s not representative of what it’s like on the grid, so I try to get onto the surface that doesn’t have any rubber.

Q: Did you communicate with the team, ask if it was OK to do it where you did it?
LH: I did, and as far as we were aware, it was OK. It’s no different to Brazil. You drive to the end of the pit lane and you do your start. It’s actually probably safer where I was, compared to Brazil, because there was a lot more space on the left… so interesting decision.

Video Conference

Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question for Lewis. Because you got the penalties for the practice start, race penalties like that come with penalty points on your licence, so you’re now up to ten penalty points on your licence in a 12-month period, which means you’re only two points from a race ban until, I think, after four races from now. Just wanted to know what you think of that and if it’s the sort of thing that means you change your approach, take more care in the coming grands prix?
LH: It’s ridiculous the points that have been given people this year in general. Penalty points usually are for – I don’t want to speak on my behalf – from a drivers’ point of view, if you put someone else in danger, you crash into somebody, of course, you should be getting penalty points. I did not harm anybody, did not put anybody in harm’s way so ultimately it’s a ridiculous rule – but it is what it is. I’ll just make sure I’m squeaky-clean moving forwards. Don’t give them an excuse for anything.
MV: It is a bit harsh. If you causes a crash it’s difference – but the penalty Lewis got was already painful enough. I don’t know how many points you got – two points? – it’s a bit harsh, he’s up to ten points without actually… I mean, it was not correct where he stopped but penalty points for that… I’m not sure that’s correct.

Q: Max, while you’re commenting on this, what’s your understanding of where you were to do the practice starts here in Sochi. Was it clear to you where you had to do them?
MV: They just told me to do it there. From the team side. We discussed that before we went out. Like ‘do your starts there’. I never questioned about going further. I don’t know. Probably was not allowed. It’s unfortunately.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, you didn’t sound particularly happy about when you were called in for your pit stop on the Soft tyres. How much further did you think you would have been able to go – and did that cost you any time at all coming back against Max, coming in a bit early than you wanted? Thanks.
LH: It ultimately didn’t make a huge difference but my goal ultimately was to offset… to minimise the loss with the tyres. So, the original stop was supposed to be lap 16, luckily we had a Safety Car which took us to lap six, or something like that. So I thought that’s bonus points, it means I can go six laps longer. I think they stopped me still on lap 16, or something like that but I thought I could at least do another five laps, which would have just made it a little easier on that second stint – but five laps wouldn’t have made a huge difference. My tyres were dead right at the end, so they were definitely on the limit but yeah, it’s a discussion we’ll have afterwards and we’ll work on it.

Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, you said on TV that they’re deliberately out to get you – I assume that’s a reference to the stewards. Do you actually believe that they are targeting you to try and slow you down or to force you to have this penalty, this one race ban, just to artificially liven up the races?
LH: I don’t necessarily think that it’s for me, I think probably most teams – whenever a team is at the front, obviously they are doing a lot of scrutiny. Everything we have on our car is being checked and triple checked and triple checked. They are changing rules, such as the engine regs, lots of lots of things to get in the way to keep the racing exciting, I assume. I don’t know if the rules – in terms of what happened today – was anything to do with it but naturally that’s how it feels, naturally it feels like you we’re fighting uphill but it’s OK, it’s not like I haven’t faced adversity before so we just keep our heads down and keep fighting and keep trying to do a better job and be cleaner and squeaky clean, as I said before.

Q: (Laurence Edmonson – ESPN) Lewis, is this kind of thing you’re just happy to turn a page and move on from or is it something that you will take up with the FIA, with Michael Masi to try and get clarity if not some kind of justice?
LH: I haven’t decided, but at the moment I’m looking forward to getting home.

Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Lewis, if you really are concerned that somebody is trying to stop you, how concerned are you about the possibility of a race ban, if you reach the twelve points, because you’ve got only two points between you and that and there are several races to go before any drop-off?
LH: I don’t know what to say about that. I’ve got to try my hardest to, you know, to… I guess we’ll go through the rule book and pick out areas where they can create rules, areas where penalties have never been given before and we’ll try and figure out all the ones that they have and try to make sure that we cover ourselves in the ones that we are aware of. Like I said before, I don’t think anyone’s had the penalty for that before so we’ll just work hard and… we’ve gone through seasons before without penalties so just have to make sure I give them no reason, not even a sniff to be able to do something.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, you mentioned the low grip on the inside off the line, so was it a case of were you always expecting to lose that position or was there something that could have been done if everything had gone completely perfectly to stay in second place on the run to turn two?
MV: I was just hoping that it was going to be a bit grippy but actually on my formation lap I had an anti-stall so that was not nice, but then in the actual start, as soon as I dropped the clutch you could just feel there was no grip. And then I thought initially I just had a bad start but then I looked in the mirror and I could see the whole line behind me as well had a poor start so yeah, I don’t know, if we could do something different. Well, Valtteri shouldn’t have been in my way in qualifying, then, with the tow. Then I would have been third!

Q: (Laurence Edmonson – ESPN) Valtteri, we heard your now trademark radio message ‘to whom it may concern, FU after the race’. Who exactly was that aimed at? And a few people have said that you’ve been dealing with quite a lot of criticism on social media so how have you dealt with that, and has it been something which has actually been playing on your mind?
VB: No, it’s not been playing on my mind but I just don’t… honestly I just (don’t) get the people who has the need to criticise people. You know, there’s been people telling me that I should not bother, I should give up but how I am, I will never do that so I just wanted to, again, send my best wishes to them. It just came out, you know, so, yeah. But the main thing is I’m confident, when I come to every race weekend, I’m confident and I believe I can do it and that’s how I’m always going to be. You have to have that mindset so yeah, I’m glad. Even yesterday was tough, I didn’t give up, I looked at it positively, I knew there would be opportunities and things came to me today, so yeah, I hope I can encourage people not to give up because that’s the biggest mistake you can do in your life.

Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To all three: with regards the penalty points that have been applied here, the fact that there seems to be a little bit of disagreement over how the rules relating to Lewis’s practice starts have been interpreted, and the disagreement at Mugello over the handling of the restart, how satisfied are you with how the FIA is handling stuff at the moment? Do you think there is good enough communication between the race director, Michael Masi, and yourselves? Do you think you’re all on the same page?
LH: Are we all on the same page? I don’t think so. I’m probably on a different page of the book or I’ve skipped a few pages clearly.
VB: It’s a tricky one. It’s obviously… I don’t know the… even maybe I should know the rule book word by word but I don’t. Obviously we always get guidance from the team what we’re allowed to do and what not. There are so many different circumstances and I don’t really know what to say. I think it’s tricky. For sure they are trying their best no doubt but yeah, I can’t say more.
MV: I’ve been up there myself, I think with ten points or something so yeah, I said to myself I will just try to stay away from the stewards at the track. Seeing them in the hotel or the bar, that’s not too bad, but stay out of their room during the race weekend. It’s difficult. Like I said before, if it’s like a crash or whatever, you caused, I can understand they want to hand penalty points to maybe calm you down or whatever but with things like this, Lewis didn’t do anything on purpose to create an issue or whatever. He just wanted to practise his start. Maybe it’s not allowed there, OK but he was penalised enough by having this penalty in the race so I don’t think you’d need to hand out penalty points for that. But I guess we’ll talk about it in the next briefing we have and see if something will happen or not. It’s always good, I guess, to talk about it and communicate. At least we know what we’re up to fully and then we move on.