Transcript from the top three press conference after qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Round 17 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, at Yas Marina Circuit.
Featuring top three: pole winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull), second-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and third-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes).
Track interviews conducted by David Coulthard
Q: Max, congratulations, your first pole position [of 2020]. Put us in the cockpit.
Max Verstappen: I said before I went to qualifying that it’s going to be the final send of the season and we did that, so very happy with that. It was quite a tricky qualifying in the beginning you know, to get your laps in, especially at this track the last sector, there are so many corners where you can make a mistake but yeah everything came together in that final lap.
Q: It shows great progress from the Red Bull team. It shows great progress from Honda. It’s a great way for you to end this season and sets you up perfectly to go for the win tomorrow.
MV: Yeah, exactly. It’s a long season for everyone and especially a lot of races in a row. I think this was a good final qualifying for everyone in the team. The whole year when you are behind but getting closer it’s getting sometimes a bit frustrating but very, very pleased with today.
Q: Thinking about the race tomorrow, how are the long runs? How competitive do you think you can be?
MV: Yeah, I don’t think we did a lot of laps – everyone. We’ll just have to wait and see how that goes. We’ll try to do our best; try to keep them behind. They are still very fast, but it seems we have quite decent top speed this weekend so hopefully it will work out tomorrow.
Q: Valtteri, you drove a great lap in the car. It’s no easy task, as we know, to outqualify Lewis, but then in the end Max comes and steals the pole from you?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, we saw in practice three that Red Bull, especially in the hands of Max was pretty quick. I think the main issue was that we couldn’t get the soft tyres to work properly as they should, so all the way until qualifying the medium tyres was better for us than the soft. I think we made some improvements but looking at the result I don’t think we got 100% out of a single lap from the tyres. On the lap itself I wasn’t fully happy how everything went. The balance was not quite perfect. Obviously small margins and tomorrow is the day.
Q: When you say it wasn’t quite perfect, was that just generally across the lap or was there one particular sector where you were struggling?
VB: Towards the end of qualifying I started to struggle a bit more with the front end of the car – maybe with the track cooling down. Then it made it difficult to improve more, because I thought we should have been quite a bit quicker than the earlier sessions but Red Bull managed to optimise everything for the last part of their qualifying which matters.
Q: Lewis, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for you, how good was it to be back in the car?
Lewis Hamilton: Honestly, as I’ve said through the weekend, really grateful to be back here with the team and try to close out the strong season we’ve had. It’s definitely been a difficult weekend, I would say, just getting back into a rhythm, even though it’s only been a couple of weeks off it just felt like you’d lost that momentum and I really struggled so far with the balance this weekend. But I gave it my all. Congratulations to Max, it’s a great way for him to seal the year, a year of great performance, but we are going to hopefully give them a good run for their money tomorrow.
Q: I know you will be disappointed not to have the pole but many, like myself, I’m sure are really excited to see what you can do from third place. You’re a natural-born race so is the mind already thinking ‘how can turn this around?’
LH: Absolutely. Absolutely. Of course, it’s always nice to start first but you can’t always and this makes it even more exciting. It’s a very difficult track to overtake naturally but with strategy and everything maybe we can… The start is going to be important, first few laps, those stints, yeah I’m definitely excited to try to figure out how I can turn it around.
Q: You mention strategy, any insight you can give as to what it’s looking like in terms of stops tomorrow?
LH: I wouldn’t say it’s looking like anything exciting. It’s normally a one stop here or something like that. I don’t think a two-stop works, you’ve got a really long pit lane and pit lane exit for example, so everyone will try to minimise it to a one, but we shall see.
Q: Max, many congratulations, pole number three of your career and your first of 2020. You’re in a different seat, here in the press conference – just how sweet was that final lap of Q3?
MV: Yeah, it’s nice for once to sit in this seat but it was quite a tricky qualifying in the beginning to get the laps in. I don’t know, in Q1 I got stuck in the steering wheel with my hand so I had to do another lap but then also on the Mediums, was a bit tricky but we managed to get out lap in and then yeah, in Q3 it wasn’t too bad. This track has so many corners it’s very easy to make a mistake. It’s a bit like Singapore where every corner just follows up.
LH: Much harder than last week!
MV: Yeah! It was quite a lot harder than last week.
Q: But Max, just how good was that pole lap at the end there?
MV: It was good enough, luckily. I crossed the line and I saw of course I was moving up but there were still a few cars behind me but it feels nice. The whole year we were closing in a little bit. Missed out a few times and then finally to at least sit here once, after of course, the dominance they had throughout the year, I think it’s very nice for us, and the whole team as well, it’s been a very long season – in a short period of time, a lot of races. I think everyone, you know they want the break but to have poll position is surely a good motivation for everyone in the team to try to finish it off tomorrow.
Q: Well Max, the race has been won from pole for the past five years. How confident are you of the RB16’s race pace?
MV: Well, we’ll find out tomorrow, to be honest. I will have a look at what we can do but I think not a lot of people had a proper long run because of the red flag we had, so it will be interesting tomorrow. I’ll do my best, seems like our top speed this weekend is not too bad and that’s always nice. For sure, Valtteri and Lewis, they will be very close and it will be a good battle, hopefully.
Q: Valtteri, so close in the end. You were a matter of hundredths behind Max. Just how good was your final lap of Q3?
VB: I think like Max said, here it’s obviously extremely difficult to get a perfect lap. That’s ultimately always the target but you can always find a couple of hundredths here and there, so obviously, yes, could have done a better job because it wasn’t too bad. I think the main issue was really, as the session was going on, I felt like it was getting more and more difficult, and in Q3 I was surprised at how little we could extract lap time, better track and everything. So, maybe struggled a bit with the front end of the car towards the end of the quali. Maybe with the track temp dropping. Ultimately, I think, today especially, Red Bull have been really quick on the Soft tyre and I think we’ve lacked a bit in extracting more from the Soft, compared to the Medium. So I think that’s something to learn for the future but anyways, it’s the race tomorrow and it’s going to be a close one – at least between us three.
Q: You’ve explained the one-lap pace. How confident are you in your long runs after Friday?
VB: In general, we have a strong package, no matter which track. I think everyone’s long-running was compromised but we know we have a strong car and I felt more comfortable with the Medium tyre, so hopefully we can have good pace and I’m sure we will fight for the win.
Q: Lewis, coming to you, welcome back, great to see you again. Unbelievably close at the top there, less than a tenth of a second separating the top three. What’s your feeling after this session?
LH: I’m just happy to be back. Just grateful. Congrats to Max, he did a great job today and I don’t think it’s about talking about whether you had a good lap or not, or whether you could have more. At the end of the day, Max did the job today and we just have to focus to tomorrow. I’m just, as I say, grateful to be back and while I’m probably not one hundred per cent, I still gave my all.
Q: Quick word about Q1. We saw you run wide at the beginning of Q1. Was the car carrying any damage for the remainder of the session?
LH: It did have a little bit of damage yeah. It’s the first time I’d gone wide there all weekend, so just a little bit of damage to the floor but nothing that… I don’t think that if there hadn’t been damage then I would have got pole. For sure it doesn’t’ help but nonetheless the guys did a good job to try to patch it up and they’ll fix it overnight.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) My question is to Valtteri. Valtteri, it was a bit unusual that Toto came on the radio in the end, because he says he doesn’t interfere, usually, with proceedings. What was the reason behind that?
VB: What would I say is the reason? I mean, he can always talk to us if he wants. The last days we’ve had a chat about different things. We’re a team and we support each other if we feel like… you know that if you can support another person in the team with encouragement or certain words, you do it. I would do the same for any team member. Nothing more than that. I think it’s a personal thing.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Question to Lewis. Just wonder how you’re feeling? We haven’t caught up with you since you tested positive. I just wondered how bad your experience was, how bad your symptoms were and how you’re feeling now, whether you think it will impact your race tomorrow? Obviously breathing difficulties, one of the symptoms you do have with Covid. I just wonder if that can impact you in the race?
LH: I think naturally I don’t want to go into too much detail of it all. Like I said in Australia, just how serious the virus is, and I can really feel for those who are and have suffered from it, those who have lost ones from it and I can understand how because it’s a nasty virus. I’m not one hundred per cent. I still have some feeling within my lungs but nonetheless, normally I would drive if one of my arms was hanging off. That’s what we do as racing drivers and luckily that’s not the case. It definitely won’t be the easiest of races physically. I mean, I will manage and give it absolutely everything I’ve got.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) First of all, Lewis it’s great to have you back. Question for all three of you. It was a pretty strange result, I think the McLaren was only two-tenths off the pole position today. Did you expect something like this qualifying result after FP3 when we were in completely different positions. We saw the Red Bull was fastest. Did you expect Max to be on top in qualifying. And also, to the Mercedes drivers, did you have any problems in particular – because it’s not normal that a McLaren is only two-tenths off.
MV: I thought it was going to be close but then initially in qualifying I was struggling a little bit but then I think we managed to turn it around in Q3, so that was positive. And yeah, with the McLaren, I don’t know, I haven’t driven the car, so I don’t know how good the car was around here but it seemed like it was pretty decent.
VB: I honestly think today was about extracting how much you can extract off the Soft tyre on a single lap. As I said earlier, we’ve had a feeling that the Medium has been too good compared to the Soft tyre, which means that we’ve not perhaps got one hundred per cent out of the single lap with the Soft tyre. That can make a huge difference on this type of track. So, I’m not sure, as a team, we made one hundred per cent out of it. And, for sure, there’s plenty of things to learn.
Lewis, was it closer than you expected going in to the session?
LH: I wasn’t expecting anything, to be honest. I expected Max to be strong. The Red Bull, I think, has looked very, very fast, particularly the last few races, and they’ve always been relatively strong here, so I expected them to be fast. I think perhaps I would have thought we would have been a bit better than we were. It was a real struggle today, at least with my car. Really happy to see a McLaren so close, particularly with… they’ve got changes, they’re using our engine next year, so it’s great to see that they’re ending the year with a good car, so that they can perhaps be in the fight with us next year. If that makes it a three-way team championship I think that would be amazing for the fans to see.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lewis, there’s been a lot of focus on George Russell following his brilliant display in Bahrain when he stepped in for you. We’ve seen, again today, how strong Valtteri’s been all the way through this season in qualifying. How impressed have you been with Valtteri’s performances through this year? Do you feel he’s really, really been able to push you, particularly in qualifying?
LH: I mean, I don’t know how many more nice words I can say about Valtteri. I already did, the last time I was in Bahrain. Not really much… I don’t think Valtteri needs to defend his performance. I don’t feel like I need to. I think he’s continued to work at it and he’s definitely had very, very close qualifyings, particularly this year. No, like I said before, it’s never easy being a team… having strong teammates. It’s a constant battle between you both, both mentally and emotionally through the year and what’s really great with us is that we fight it out hard on track, but then when we’re outside, I think we manage to maintain a gentleman… a working relationship and I think that’s a big showing of his personality and character as a man. I know next year he’s going to be taking more steps, so I’ve got to go and work away and try and find some more speed for next year as already this weekend he’s ahead of me, so good job.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Lewis, I just wanted to follow up with you what you said a couple of weeks ago in Bahrain when you received the letters from the human rights right groups, you said you’d take the time to read them. I understand you’ve been ill and perhaps you haven’t had that much time free, but I was just wondering if you have had an opportunity to read them? Three of them were personally addressed to you and if you have had the time, what your feeling is about that?
LH: Yeah, I have, of course, had more time to read them. I had hoped after the first to have had time to sit and address it with the Crown Prince but I was bedridden for most of the week and I obviously wasn’t able to see anybody. Ultimately, it isn’t necessarily my responsibility to speak out on places I don’t know everything about but I think we, together, always have to work to push for change, for improvements. The fact is… I think the saddest thing for me is that there’s a young man on death row and it’s not clear, when his son writes me a letter that… it really hits home. All lives matter, you know, and so I think it’s… there’s definitely work to be done in the background and I definitely won’t let it go unnoticed and as I said before, if I get some time now I will definitely try and speak to those and see how I can positively impact our weekend as a sport moving forwards when we go to these great places.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Lewis, obviously I know what you said and don’t want to go into your symptoms too much and fully respect that. You mentioned that you’re not feeling 100% still. Is it that the adrenalin or whatever is able to carry you through it on the lap? Do you feel, I guess, that once the lap’s over when you’re getting out of the car, is that when it’s hitting you a little bit?
LH: I think it’s overall energy. One of the symptoms is that it really drains you so I’ve been trying to sleep as much as I can but recharging is not as easy as it perhaps normally has been in the past. I lost a good amount of weight, just in that week so as I said, not 100% the same I was the last time I raced but it’s by no means going to get in the way of me going out and give it my all tomorrow.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Max, you said something on the radio and you mentioned just now about catching your hand on the cockpit. Has it happened before? What was it? Could there be a recurrence or was it just an unfortunate move that you made at the time?
MV: No, I think it must have been something unfortunate but I got stuck; I think it was between the wheel and my knee. Yeah. It never happened to me before but I literally was just steering towards the wall. Just, I guess, an unfortunate action.