Full transcript from the FIA-hosted top three press conference after qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Round 2 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Imola on Saturday
Featuring pole-winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Sergio Prez (Red Bull) and third-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Track interviews conducted by Davide Valsecchi
Q: Well done Checo, wonderful performance. First row for you, second position. How was your quali because you surprised everyone by improving, improving and then at the end second position?
Sergio Perez: Yeah, first of all, I have to say well done to team. Yesterday I made a mistake and I made them work hard during the day, so it’s a good recovery. The most important thing is that we are showing progress. I never expected to be here today, you know, [after] where we were yesterday. We’ve been improving. It’s just important. P2 today. I should have been on pole today. I did a mistake today on my final corner. I think it’s everything positive. We just have to make sure that we keep progressing and tomorrow is what matters.
Q: Tell me about tomorrow. Usually it’s your strongest part of the weekend, the race. What do you think about the race?
SP: Yeah, I think anything can happen tomorrow. We are on a different strategy to Lewis and Max. It’s going to be interesting to see what we can do and most important, get those points, get that learning, which is the priority at the moment.
Q: Ciao, Max. How was your quali? You struggled a bit in the last part of the quali. Third position, same strategy as Lewis Hamilton for tomorrow: how was your day?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, not so good. In Q3 I went off at Turn 3, so a bit messy; just not a good lap. But you can’t be good every time. We’ll see what went wrong but it was definitely not the easiest in Q3, but still P3, which is a good starting position.
Q: Tell me please about tomorrow, because it seems the opposite of Bahrain, where you were alone against two Mercedes. Tomorrow you will be two Red Bulls against one Mercedes. How will be your race?
MV: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting. Of course we have the two cars on different tyres, so we will see how that will work out but we will try to make it difficult for them.
Q: Lewis, what a day. Your numbers, your quali was just amazing from outside. 99 pole positions, 30 different circuits; the record of all time. Congratulations, how was your day?
Lewis HAMILTON: Thank you. Today’s been great, obviously. I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of two Red Bulls. I think they have been so quick this weekend. There were times when they were six tenths ahead and we didn’t really know where we would be. But the car was already feeling a lot better from the beginning this weekend. So mad respect to the team for the hard work to really narrow down the window.
Q: Please, tell me about tomorrow, because it will be opposite to Bahrain. You are alone against the two Red Bulls behind, it will be not easy at all. What do you expect from tomorrow?
LH: Oh, I love it! I love the challenge. I think it’s great that we’ve finally got the two Red Bulls behind there. I think it’s going to definitely make strategy harder and it’s going to be a real challenge tomorrow because they’ve got great race pace. I think their pace was looking strongest for the race in the long runs yesterday. But I’m just so happy. The first lap was really, really nice, really clean. There were some improvements on the second lap but it wasn’t quite as good as the first one. I’m really grateful. I came round the last corner and heard that I got the pole and I was super grateful.
Q: Lewis, tremendous performance, well done. It’s so close between Mercedes and Red Bull this year, just how satisfying is this pole?
LH: Thank you. I’m just amazed at how close it is and how exciting that is. It really adds to the fire and the adrenalin rush. I didn’t know whether or not these guys had improved on that last lap for quite some time and so I was definitely nervous and that’s the excitement of closer racing. But really grateful to the team. We came here and the car was feeling better already from the first lap out and I think that’s probably track dependant but really good steps forward. Just one step forward all weekend and fantastic work from everyone.
Q: You say the car feels better, can you tell us a bit more about that? Where are the improvements over Bahrain a few weeks ago?
LH: Well, Bahrain the temperatures are a lot different and the track surface is a lot different. In Bahrain we always struggle with overheating and a lot of cross winds and we don’t seem to have that here and it’s a lot cooler and we are very rarely over with the temperature of the tyres. So that’s kind of brought us more in line with the Red Bulls and I think it’s really just focusing on balance. Refining the balance is a very narrow window of tyres operating at their best and also our car is probably more on a knife edge I would say than previous years.
Q: Can you just describe the thrill of a qualifying lap around Imola? So narrow, so fast…
LH: It’s incredibly fast here and the speeds that we are doing and the accuracy we need. I mean, you saw with Lando, a couple of inches to the right and you’re off track and over the track limits and you really need to use every inch of the road. And the speed that we’re travelling through those first couple of corners – it’s all medium and high-speed corners here, there are no real slow corners – it’s phenomenal. It’s a beautiful lap. And it’s obviously got the history. I remember watching Mika and Ayrton and Michael here, so it’s pretty phenomenal to come to a circuit like this and have a good day like today.
Q: Checo, coming to you, many congratulations, this is your first front row start in Formula 1. How good was not only your Q3 lap but your session as a whole?
SP: Yeah, thanks. It was a very good session from our side, because every time we are in the car we are making big steps. So it was a good session in that regard. Every time I drive this car I’m learning something new and that’s pretty good. If there’s a place that you don’t want to come in your second race with a new team, it’s probably Imola. It’s one of the most difficult circuits around to put a lap together. The limit is… as Lewis described, everything is so narrow, you are millimetres all the time from the grass, you know. To be here in my second race is a pretty good step from our side, which shows that we are definitely making good steps. But the most important is that we keep making those steps and that the we understand today why we went quick and that we can keep that level of consistency, just getting better.
Q: You mentioned a mistake on your final lap. Just how much time do you think it cost you?
SP: Enough to be on pole position.
Q: OK, that’s frustrating, but looking ahead to the race. How important is the start?
SP: It’s very important. Today has been a good day but what matters is tomorrow. I think we have a fantastic car for the race. We are on a different strategy to Lewis and I think as a team we are going to be pushing pretty hard and hopefully tomorrow a Red Bull wins.
Q: Max, after the frustrations of yesterday with the driveshaft failure, just how good was the car today, first of all?
MV: It felt alright in FP3 and yeah, just in qualifying a few… you change tyre from Soft to Medium, try to put your lap in and it was all coming along nicely, then in Q3 the final run… yeah. I just didn’t have a good lap. I mean, I went off in Turn 3 with two wheels. I know that Honda makes good lawnmowers but I don’t think this is suited for that. At least I tried. Yeah, I know, it was really just a scrappy lap and I haven’t had that in the long time, so we just need to understand why that happened. Nevertheless, I think we were very close to that’s positive and I think, like Checo said, we have two cars close to Lewis on different tyres, so hopefully that will give some excitement tomorrow.
Q: We can sense the frustration now but looking at the positives, what is the race pace of the Red Bull like around here?
MV: Yesterday it seemed alright. I didn’t do any long runs but we’ll have a look at it. I don’t think it will be a big issue but it’s hard to overtake here, so we’ll see what we can do.
Q: Final question from me. Do you feel Mercedes have closed the gap to Red Bull here, compared to Bahrain?
MV: It’s always difficult to say but at least from what I can see it all seems a bit more, let’s say, under control, a bit more predictable on onboards.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question for Lewis. First all of, congrats on pole position. I was just wondering, could you please just talk us through your two runs in Q3. I think you were fractionally slower on your second run. So just what was different compared to the first one that got you pole?
LH: yep, thanks Alex. I think honestly, once we finished P3, for example, we had that gap to the Red Bulls, I couldn’t go sixth-tenths faster – but we just kept our heads down and worked on just tweaking the car a little bit into qualifying. Generally very, very smooth. Great strategy in terms of getting us out in nice clean air on all of our runs. And, of course, I managed to do my time on the Medium, and then I got to have a practice run on the Soft, and then I knew, going into qualifying and particularly that last lap, was going to take something special. It really had to be the most perfect lap that I could do – and a little bit more, in order to beat the Red Bulls. They really have been fast all weekend. So, I didn’t honestly know whether or not we could do it. Like that last lap, it started up… the first lap, for example, of Q3, started I think a tenth up out of Turns 1 and 2 and I knew that I was onto a good lap but the second sector lost a little bit in Turn 12. The second time around, unfortunately came out of Turn 2 and 3 a tenth and a half down, I think it was, or a tenth down, and by the time I got to Turn 9, I was a tenth and a half down but managed to regain that through the middle and the last sector. So, having those two together I think would have been the perfect, perfect lap – but I’m honestly so happy with that lap. The first lap really is obviously where it counted. So, grateful for it.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Checo, you’ve said before, openly admitted that it’s going to take some time to get that one-lap performance and it looked like through most of the event so far that was the case here, you were quite a bit off Max. And then it just seems to have come to you through qualifying, especially with that big step in Q3. Can you explain where exactly that came from?
SP: Yeah, I think just understanding where to get the time. I have a pretty good reference in Max, it’s just getting 100 per cent all time out of the car, it’s just adapting myself to it, learning step-by-step. I wasn’t expecting myself to be here at the moment because I feel that I am miles away from where I should be. Things are not coming naturally yet. So it’s a good boost in confidence, not just for myself, also for the team, to make them feel that they have both drivers and that we can push the team forward together. That’s an important bit. Hopefully from here on, we just keep that progress and tomorrow, we do another step in race performance and… yeah, it’s the target just to keep step-by-step. I’m not in a hurry, I know that I’m not where I should be but certainly it’s positive to be up here just in my second race with the team.
Q: (Fred Ferret – L’Equipe) Max, appreciate that it’s a frustrating day for you today – but in which areas do you feel a different driver to the one who started in 2015? Where do you think you have changed and progressed the most?
MV: I guess just general experience – in car racing in general because I only did one year in F3. So just all of the understanding of a race car: racecraft, tyres, tyre management. A lot of things, to be honest! Which you keep learning every year, every single race. I think I had a good day again for that, to learn what went wrong and what can be done better. You just constantly keep improving, keep trying to understand things what go wrong and you try to become better. It has been like that from 2015.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsportmagazin.com) Max, you have mentioned, it doesn’t happen very often that you make a mistake in qualifying. Do you already have an explanation, is it something different when you know you’re fighting for pole position, you’re in a different situation, different mindset or is it just that it sometimes happens?
MV: It has been going really well for a very long time so… unfortunately we are not robots. I can’t programme myself like that. But yeah, sometimes it happens that you make a mistake.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, there was an exchange between you and Bono on the radio where you were both sounding incredulous about the fact that you’d managed to get pole. I notice that Valtteri’s a long way behind you today. Was this one of those laps from you like Singapore 2018 and whichever one it was last year, I forgot I’m afraid, apologies for that, where you’ve really pulled it out? Or was there a different explanation?
LH: OK. Thanks for noticing, Andrew. I guess we’ve not really hyped it up too much but the fact is that as you saw obviously in the last race there was a good gap to the Red Bulls. I think we did feel that we could close it up a little bit coming into this weekend but that was a really clean qualifying session. I guess time and time again we’d just be tweaking and adjusting. In terms of my own performance I’m really grateful that I’m still making steps in the right direction and yeah, it was a real surprise. The team definitely did not… anyone in the team, expected to be on pole today but of course that’s what I was gunning for but it really was the tidiest lap that I could put together and a little bit more. Whether or not it was a Singapore lap or not, it was a different vibe, but it definitely feels good.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, I suppose it’s just a follow-up on that really. Do laps like these show the others that you’re still at the top of your game, not perhaps that you need to prove that to yourself, but to others that you’re still the main man out there and Max, I suppose the question to you is do you think that you need to finish ahead of Lewis tomorrow in terms of the championship? You probably don’t want to let Lewis continue to build a lead.
LH: Hey, Phil. I think you already saw from the get-go we knew in Bahrain that it was going to be close and it is going to be close throughout this season and it’s going to take laps like that, it’s going to take us as a team performing as close to perfection as possible, not leaving any stone unturned and I know that’s kind of the idea going into most weekends but we can’t afford any slip-ups and I think so far we’ve really been firing on all cylinders and we still are hunting, believe it or not. I think today was really fortunate. I think as Sergio was saying, it wasn’t a perfect, perfect lap for him but I think for all of us we’re operating at such a high level, the differences are milliseconds between us all and we could all go back and look at our data and say we can go faster, but at the end of the day it’s what you do on that one moment that counts and so that’s what we really try and focus on.
Q: And Max, please?
MV: Yeah, it’s a very long season so it’s not only about tomorrow.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Max, we saw last year at Imola that Mercedes essentially split strategies with their two cars to try and get the jump on you. This year it’s a bit of a role reversal: we’ve got two Red Bulls at the front of the grid and only one Mercedes. How much of a strong position do you feel compared to last year, with Checo as your teammate now?
MV: Yeah, I mean of course we have to wait and see what is going to happen tomorrow but yeah, it’s going to be interesting what can be done, but not only with that but also what the weather is going to do, if there is a bit of rain or not so I guess we just have to wait and see what’s going to happen but hopefully, in the race, it will be close again.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Sergio, can you please explain the decision to use softs in Q2; why didn’t you use the mediums like Max to get the better starting strategy?
SP: We felt as a team that the soft is nowhere near where it was last year, so it’s a good race tyre. It’s just different to the medium when it’s important… it was very important and crucial for me to get that learning, that consistency and that progression. Last time I missed Q3 and really getting those laps, you know, as Lewis described, we can all look back and all do better but just getting in that mood with the car is very important for me, to be able to put it when it matters. I needed this clean qualifying. Whether or not it is the right or wrong strategy I think there’s not much between them so we are definitely in the game for tomorrow.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsportmagazin.com) Lewis, the other way around, there was a question to Max earlier – usually it was always two against one with Mercedes because you were always up there with Valtteri but this time it’s the other way around so what does this change for you and how difficult does it make it that Valtteri is not there?
LH: Yeah, it’s much different, Christian, from obviously past experiences. Very rarely have I seen… I can’t remember the last time I saw the Red Bulls so close, so I think tomorrow, of course, they have these… if we’re able to get off in order then they obviously have a bit of a better set of cards in terms of strategy but that doesn’t mean we can’t pull out something unique and do something different. I’m not really sure what happened with Valtteri. It’s very hard to overtake here so obviously we probably won’t have the support of him early on but nevertheless maybe he will make it through but otherwise we’ve just got to focus on our job and try and do absolutely everything and more to keep these lads behind.