Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the Bahrain Grand Prix, Round 1 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship at Sakhir.
Featuring 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Track interviews conducted by Jenson Button
Q: Max, for us watching, what an amazing spectacle that was, you two fighting it out at the end. I can see the disappointment on your face. Tell us how you’re feeling right now?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it’s of course a shame, but you also have to see the positives. We were really putting the fight onto them and I think that’s great to start the year like that.
Q: You were talking earlier in the race, that you had some issues, was it with the diff? You said that coming on throttle was a little bit strange. Can you tell us about that?
MV: Yeah, I don’t know what happened there. I don’t think it was completely solved the whole race in the low-speed corners so we’ll have a look at that. Overall, we managed to finish the race of course and score good points.
Q: I think this is going to be the first of many where we have you two fighting at the front. Congratulations, some good points and see you at the next one? Lewis, that was epic. I thought that those guys had an advantage on you today but fantastic strategy call, aggressive strategy call, and you were able to hold onto those tyres?
Lewis Hamilton: Thank you. Well, firstly, can I say that it’s the first time we have seen fans in a long time and it’s so good to see people out here and everyone keeping their distance and staying safe. So proud of what Formula 1 has been able to do to have a start on a normal schedule this year. Wow, what a difficult race that was! Definitely, stopping early we knew was going to be difficult, but we had to cover Max. They have had amazing performance all weekend. So it was going to take something pretty special. We suffered in that last stint and trying to find the right balance between not pushing too much and having tyres at the end of the race was difficult and Max was all over me right at the end. But I just about managed to hold him off. It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while, so I’m really grateful for it and massively thankful to the men and women back at the factory and here also for continuously pushing the boundaries and never giving up, even if we do feel we are behind.
Q: I’m sure every championship has felt pretty amazing, but this year for us watching, we’ve had one race and it’s so, so exciting. You must be so excited by the fight with Max and with Red Bull?
LH: I definitely am. Each year they are talking about when you reach your peak and I’m trying to make sure that… well, I think timing is everything and I think I’m probably at that and Max is doing well at the moment too, so it’s going to take everything and more for us to put in performances like this. But we love the challenge, I love the challenge, I still love what I do, so…
Q: This race is quite important to you because this is the first time that you have won the first race of the season for over five years, I think?
LH: Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that. But it was so hard in the car today. What a great event and this is a really good start for us. Through testing we thought that we were going to be six to eight tenths behind, so the work that has gone on in the last week has been spectacular. I’m just so proud to see everyone so hyped today as well.
Q: Valtteri, I’m sure not a position you are happy with, what with the gap to the guys in front, but how was the Bahrain race for you?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, disappointing for sure. Good for the team as we got good points, but from my side, at least for me and strategy-wise we went defensive side instead of attacking, which I’m quite surprised by and it’s not quite normal. Then I had a slow pit stop and that took away any opportunities but I think at times the pace was good but yeah, disappointed.
Q: With Lewis’ car they were very aggressive with the strategy to try to jump Max, was your strategy a little bit different, a little bit in no-man’s land to also cover Max to push him into a different strategy?
VB: Yeah, for sure we managed to have the two cars and that way we also had different tyre choice and that way we could play with the strategy but I still think from my side there was more to get today.
Bahrain Grand Prix Press Conference
Q: Lewis, many congratulations. What a race! Those closing laps were gripping to watch. Some observers would say they were best laps they’ve seen you drive in Formula 1. Can you give us an idea what it was like in the cockpit?
LH: Ah, it was horrifying! It wasn’t great. I was struggling obviously at the end with the rear end of my car, the rear tyres had gone off. They were maybe eight laps older or something like that to Max’s tyres, so I knew that he was going to catch me with 10 laps to go and I knew that it was going to be pretty much impossible to hold him behind, which it was, up until the Turn 4 incident. Then after that I couldn’t believe that I was just keep him behind. I managed to keep him in my wake, well, he was right behind me so then stuck in my wake and that meant it was difficult for him to get close and he ended up wide in some places which gave me a little bit of an edge. It’s a difficult track [on which] to follow.
Q: At which point did you think ‘I’ve got this’?
LH: Probably with two laps to go or maybe the last lap, maybe. I think it was the last lap. Probably on the second to last lap when Bonno just kept going on, telling me how many laps were left. He was like ‘three laps, two laps’, and I was like ‘Bonno, I can count! I got it’. He’s just nervous. I’m grateful for Bonno, he patient with me. I think it was really the last lap. I think once I got out of Turn 4 I knew I was in a good position. But then oversteer out of Turn 10, nervousness out of 11, snap oversteer in 13, which is a really bad one, and I was thinking ‘that’s it, he’s really got me now’. But I think he had the same thing.
Q: Did you enjoy those last laps or was it just too intense?
LH: No, I loved every minute of it. Every minute of the weekend I’ve loved. Knowing for us as a team that we were behind in performance… these guys have done a better job so far and so for us to come away with this result, given that we weren’t the fastest this weekend, is a real result.
Q: Max, coming to you. It clearly wasn’t the result you wanted but Lewis has said he loved those closing laps. Did you enjoy the battle of Bahrain?
MV: Yes, of course. It’s also disappointing to be second. It just showed again that track position is super-important and, even when you think you have the better tyres, I was closing in quite comfortably but then, when I got close to Lewis, with how the wind was today in those critical low speed corners, I just had no grip. Of course, still better grip than Lewis – but not enough to really make a difference. Of course, that one lap I had a shot at him, but also I think the backmarker was not really helping him, giving him a bit of a snap. So, that was not idea. And then, of course, I ran a bit wide out of Turn 4, so had to give the position back. And then yeah, it was just impossible any more to really go for it. I was always just too far behind. So yeah, we’ll analyse what we can do better. Clearly today showed that track position was key, again.
Q: And the incident at Turn 4, did you know immediately that you were going to have to give the position back?
MV: I knew that I ran out of the track limits, yeah, and then at Turn 8 they told me, so I gave the position back out of 10. It is what it is.
Q: You were going to talk about what you can take out of this race. What positives are there for you and Red Bull?
MV: There are a lot of positives but also things we have to improve. First of all, I don’t know what was going on but I had more wheel-slip on one side, on the rear, so that’s of course not what you want. I managed to drive around the issue a bit but we’ll have to look into that. And yeah, I think, strategy-wise, we’ll have to analyse what we could have done better, maybe. But also, we didn’t have the tyres like they had. So, we didn’t really have a lot of flexibility in the strategy. So maybe also there we could have done better in choosing our tyres throughout the practice – but last year we would have been super-happy with this result and now we are disappointed, so we definitely made a good step forward and of course it is still a very long season. So… yeah… we just have to get on with it and try to do better.
Q: Valtteri, it was a quieter Bahrain race for you, compared to these two other guys. Was it a case of damage-limitation after that long pit stop?
VB: Yeah. I mean, I knew that after the long pit stop, when you lose ten seconds or something like that, in a close battle against Max and Lewis, it’s going to be hard to regain that – but of course you don’t think about things negatively. You try to keep pushing and try to make the most out of the situation – but there wasn’t really many things happening, so it was a bit lonely. Lonely race after that. We stopped at the end to get the fastest lap, which we did, so it’s an extra point, which can always help in the future. I feel like we were just a bit unlucky to today with that. Otherwise, could have been nice to be in the mix at the end to battle – but it wasn’t my day today. On the other hand, as a team, if we were told in winter testing that we’re going to be two cars in the top three, one of them winning the race and getting more points than Red Bull, we definitely would have taken this. So, yeah, as a team, strong performance overall – but there’s still things we need to do better and we can do better – but it’s a start and it’s early, early days in the season.
Q: As you say, it’s been a very solid weekend for the team in Bahrain– but how encouraged are you by the pace of the W12?
VB: It still needs to be better! Red Bull seemed really quick and I look forward to see on replay the closing lap between Max and Lewis. We don’t have the fastest car at the moment, we need to be perfect in every other area – but we obviously want to have the fastest car as well, so we need to keep working.
Bahrain Grand Prix Video Conference
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Mid-Day) Question to Lewis. Firstly: congratulations. In all the years that Mercedes have dominated during this turbo-hybrid era, you’ve had a couple of seasons – ’17, ’18 – where you seem to have a fight on your hands, particularly from Seb and Ferrari. It’s only been one race so far but does this feel like this has the makings of the closest season yet for you? Thank you.
LH: Hi Abhishek. Honestly I don’t recall how close the other seasons were exactly but this has got to have started off as one of the toughest, if not the… I think Red Bull’s pace is incredibly strong, as you could see. We can’t match them in qualifying right now. That’s a big, big step for us but obviously I thought we could get closer within the race – but that was a little bit too close for my liking. The thing is, we just don’t know how much better they’ll be in other places that we go to – or how much worse, or how good… maybe our car’s better in other places than it is here, or maybe it’s worse, we’ll wait and find out. One thing’s for sure, we’ll work as hard as we can to improve it.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Lewis again. Congratulations on the Bahrain victory. You’ve spoken about how tough those final laps were in that last stint – but what was it like at the beginning of the last stint. What was the sensation? Were you having to be patient to make sure everything lasted to the end, knowing that a faster car was coming up behind you? Thank you.
LH: Thank you. No, I think it was… I knew… I was supposed to stop, I think… my stops that I was meant to do. Already those were, for me, short, given the car that we have in terms of looking after the tyres, and we stopped short and the second one even shorter and I was thinking, ‘Jeez, there’s just no way we’re going to be able to pull this off with these tyres dropping off,’ particularly in the last 10, 15 laps. So I was trying to just… it’s not my first rodeo – I was trying to find the right balance: not taking too much out of the tyres but not doing the same times as him because, when he comes out, he’s going to be much, much faster on fresh tyres, so I was trying to eke-out that gap to around 10 seconds. I think he came out of the pits and was around eight seconds behind, or something like that, and he just started eating up into that gap, very, very fast. And then it stopped for a moment. I think I was able to pick up the pace but then the tyres were starting to drop again. When the team told me that he’s going to catch us with ten laps to go, I knew we were sitting ducks at that point – but I just tried to remain positive and try to be just as inch-perfect as I possibly could be.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) This time to Max: can you just describe what happened later on around the lap, after the turn four incident. You let Lewis back by. Was there a moment where you slid a little bit wide, and that’s what cost you momentum to get back on his tail and it took you a couple more laps to go?
MV: Well, if I would have let him by later then it’s an unfair way of giving the position back because then you’re so close and it’s an easy DRS pass so I had to do it after Turn 10. I was just surprised to follow. I got into Turn 13 and I had a big oversteer and from there onwards I just didn’t have the tyres any more to attack. Of course my tyres were, I think, ten or eleven laps younger but with these cars, that advantage goes away very quickly once you get within 1.5s and like I said before, with the wind in the direction it was, it was not helping. With these cars, I think the last three years, it is very important to have track position and we gave that up today.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Max, when you got the call to let Lewis back past, obviously it was very frustrating for you but were you able to quickly put that out of your mind or did it play on your mind a little bit for the next couple of laps?
MV: No, I got the call in Turn 8, on the exit so I let him by out of 10, because between 8 and 10 it’s a bit tricky to do that and then I tried again. Just didn’t have the grip any more.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) For Max and Lewis: Formula 1 fans are obviously getting pretty excited by the prospect of you two fighting out the championship for the rest of the year. How exciting a prospect is that for both of you guys, and do you think this could be start of one of the great rivalries in Formula 1?
LH: Yeah, I’m super excited and super happy for the fans, that they are excited. I think it’s something that all the fans have wanted for a long time. Of course, this is only one race, so we don’t know what the future holds in terms of… with the pace they have, they could be ahead a lot more, but we’re going to work as hard as we can to try and stay close in this battle and I hope for many more of these sorts of races with Max and Valtteri. There’s a long way to go, 22… holy crap! I’ll be grey by the end of this!
Q: Max, how do you relish this rivalry with Lewis?
MV: It was great today but like Lewis said, it’s a still bit difficult to say where we are exactly in pace but again, it’s also a very long season so… I guess we will just find out in time how it’s going to go.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, some people suggest that you only win races because you get the best car. Are you now proving them wrong with this sort of performance?
LH: Thank you Ben. I think today was definitely a blessing, perhaps in disguise. I think there’s always a chance, opportunities to prove people wrong, and I like to think that today is definitely one of them. But I think there have been several in the past – there have been many in the past, obviously, I’ve been around a long time – but I hope there are many opportunities in the future to be able to show what I was able to do today also. Of course, we were fortunate today with Max going wide in Turn 4 but that won’t happen again, I’m pretty sure so we’ve got to do better, we’ve got to be smarter and how we navigate through our weekends with the fact that we don’t have the fastest car at the moment but that’s all good for me, I don’t mind having to pull out extra in order to make the difference.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question to Lewis and Max: just on what happened at Turn 4. We’ve heard a couple of people – Christian Horner was just telling us that one of the frustrations was that the track limit was inconsistent – so it’s not necessarily an issue that Max, you have to give up the place again because those are the rules, but there were different rules at different stages. How did you view the track limits situation at Turn 4?
MV: Well, throughout the race I was told that people were going wide so they told me to do the same because you do gain lap time doing it, so I did, and then at one point they told me not to do it any more. I don’t know. In qualifying it was not allowed, your lap time got deleted and so I don’t know how it got to the point where people were doing it without getting warnings but at the end of the day, when I was fighting Lewis, I went outside of the track limits, so I think quite quickly the race director was onto us to tell me to give the position back to him and that’s exactly what I did.
LH: Yeah, I think it’s a difficult one. It was very confusing. Most tracks we’re not allowed to put four wheels outside the white line but this weekend on that particular corner we weren’t allowed to on Friday. In actual fact you could go two wheels outside the line but you can’t go past the blue and white kerb, but in the race you can, and that is what had been written so going into the race then you can…But it’s quite a different corner when you have to do one or the other in terms of approach, and it is faster when you can go out, but then whatever is the boundary when you are overtaking? You’re not allowed to overtake off track but halfway through the race, they basically changed their minds and all of a sudden you’re not allowed to go outside that white line, which is fine for me. It’s actually… I think it’s faster in the end for me, it helped me look after my tyres actually, so I’m grateful for the call and ultimately it meant that Max wasn’t able to overtake off track.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) Max, Lewis spoke earlier about how it’s a bit of an unknown how Mercedes and Red Bull will fare against each other on different circuits, so does today feel like a bit of a missed opportunity in that context?
MV: Of course I’m disappointed, but in a way it’s a long season. We’ll have 22 more opportunities to do better.
Q: And Max, knowing the nature of Imola, the circuit we’re going to next, do you think that’ll suit your car?
MV: It’s difficult to say to be honest. Quite a few things have changed, also the tyres. We go there at a different time of the year so I guess we’ll just find out by driving. I’m excited to go there, it’s a great track. We’ll see.