Full transcript from the FIA hosted press conference after qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix, Round 3 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Autodromo do Algarve in Portimao.
Featuring pole winner Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes, second-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and third-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull).
Trackside interviews conducted by Paul Di Resta
Q: Max, I know you’re not going to be happy with that, you’re lining up P3. You actually set the quickest lap time of that session but you got track limits. Tell me from your point of view?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, the whole qualifying was very difficult to drive, I was struggling a lot with grip. That first lap in Q3 was decent but I just had a big moment in four and went a little off track. I was quite confident we could do another good lap but in the last sector there was a car in front in the last two corners and it just disturbs you, especially with the low grip we already have and the tough wind out here. Basically, it cost me a lot of lap time but it is what it is.
Q: It’s a tricky one with strategy – some guys going for that extra warm-up, but you could nail it. Looking ahead to tomorrow do you think you have got a car that you can fight these two Mercedes upfront?
MV: Yeah, it’s of course not ideal. We’ll try to fight them tomorrow in the race, see what we can do. Hopefully everything stabilises a bit more because up until now it has not been a lot of fun to drive here.
Q: Valtteri, if you ever needed a confidence booster that was what was going to nail it. Lining up P1 tomorrow and replicating last year?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, it’s a good feeling to be on pole. It feels like it has been a while. It was nice to get a good qualifying. It’s been the weak point for me in the first two races getting the tyres to work but again this weekend we have been working hard and it’s nice to see it’s paying off, which means a good position for tomorrow.
Q: Completely different tyres for you guys at the end there. Did the conditions go away? You weren’t able to improve on your first run?
VB: Yeah, the whole weekend there has been a so-so feeling with the soft tyres. It’s been feeling better with the mediums. Last year we put the medium tyre at the end of the qualifying and it worked and we tried it again but maybe the wind picked up in the last run and I couldn’t get temperature into them. I’m glad that we still had a good result obviously. Tomorrow, starting with the medium tyre I think it’s good. It opens up… it means we can go as long as we want in the first stint.
Q: What’s the plan for tomorrow?
VB: We need to focus on the race start and go from there. You know what the plan is.
Q: Lewis, an exceptional lap from you in Q2 and then the conditions went a bit away from you, but you’re lining up on the front row and ahead of Max and I guess that’s the important bit?
Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, great job by Valtteri and a great job by the team for us to be on the front row, it was definitely not expected this weekend. We have got to be happy with that. Max obviously pulled something out towards the end. Not really sure where they were early on. Not the perfect lap, but I gave it everything.
Q: Are you satisfied with the way the team is moving forward, allowing you to have the car to keep competing against Max. Obviously Red Bull aren’t going to give you a breath?
LH: I don’t think we can ever be satisfied. That’s what we exist to do is to continue to push forward. I’m definitely happy with the work that we are doing and the steps we are taking.
Q: Valtteri, many congratulations, superb pole position for you. First, just how sweet does this feel?
VB: Thank you. Definitely it put a smile on my face because in the first two races of the season the qualifying from my side, at least the Q3 session, hasn’t been the strong point. Getting everything out of the tyres and getting the tyres to work well has been a bit of a weakness but now it felt like things were starting to go in the right direction. I’ve been feeling strong all weekend, so I knew it was possible and it definitely makes me really happy to put it together in Q3 and be on pole and as a team as well, with the pressure and the battle from Red Bull it’s good to be ahead.
Q: After the frustrations of Bahrain and Imola, what’s been the breakthrough for you over one lap?
VB: Just getting Q3 right. I would say tyres preparation, out laps and looking at those things, because it’s so much about tyres and yeah also trusting your own work and your set-up direction and everything, so yeah…
Q: Looking ahead to the grand prix, how fast is your race car over longer runs?
VB: It didn’t seem to bad on Friday but it’s always Friday. We will truly see in the race how the tyres behave, if there are going to be any gaining issues and I reckon it’s going to be a tough battle with Red Bull no doubt.
Q: Lewis, such fine margins today. Can you just start by talking us through your session please?
LH: It was a difficult session, I think, for everyone. It’s not that easy here, particular as it’s windy and it’s quite slippery on this surface. So, I think it was challenging for everyone. Quite a messy session really, for me. Q1 wasn’t good, Q2 I only had one good lap and I would say in the whole session generally I only had that one lap. Q3 was pretty poor also. Valtteri did a great job, given the conditions that we’re in.
Q: What about the decision to run the medium tyre for your final run of Q3. You’d been so fast on that rubber in Q2, where did the lap-time slip away?
LH: I don’t think it was… it probably wasn’t the right decision at the end but it was just tricky out there. You saw us having to do multiple laps. The tyres are too hard here, so they don’t work very well with the surface so we have to do extra laps to get temperature in and at the end, just didn’t have very great grip, so didn’t do the greatest job.
Q: And did the wind change, towards the end of the session.
LH: Not that I know of.
Q: Max, coming to you, it was a tough session for you and Red Bull. First up, how frustrated do you feel immediately after the session?
MV: It has been a bit hit-and-miss anyway, the whole weekend, where we’re struggling a lot to find a balance. I didn’t enjoy one single lap this weekend, just because of the state of the track. The layout is amazing but grip we are experiencing, I don’t think it’s nice. I know it’s the same for everyone, but for me personally, it’s not enjoyable to drive. But then, I started off in qualifying really slow. I had no balance in the car. We slowly got to a point where I was happier but it was basically just compromising one thing and then also losing a bit of performance in the other thing – so it was just not nice. And then I had my little moment in Turn 4 on the first run in Q3. At the end it showed that was the fastest lap, but… it just showed that it was a really difficult session to get any kind of grip in it because that corner is flat and suddenly, out-of-the-blue the car just snapped on me and I ran a bit wide. And then, I thought, you know, I can do that lap again, so I go out and I was within a tenth of the lap and in the last sector I lost all my lap time. An Aston Martin in front and then taking my tow on the line as well. Yeah, messy – but it is what it is.
Q: What about the long-run pace of the car. Do you think you’ll be more competitive tomorrow in the race?
MV: Yeah, it’s in the right… we’ll see tomorrow what we can do. It’s not so easy to follow here but if we have good pace then for sure we’ll put the pressure on.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, just to pick up on what you were saying there about not being enjoyable here. Is this something you expected pre-weekend, given obviously the difficulties here last year – or is this come as a surprise, to struggle to this degree?
MV: No. Basically I checked the MotoGP times and they were the same already. I know of course they have a little bit of a different front tyre but in general, yeah, just poor. I remember coming here last year, before grand prix and I was really… I mean honestly, top three of my favourite tracks, but then they change the tarmac and for me… yeah, I don’t enjoy it any more.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Question for Valtteri. After what happened last week, today you seemed very calm, very Zen. What do you do during the week after that crash, the days after, to try to get in the right frame of mind again?
VB: I don’t know how you can read that – I don’t look Zen! I don’t know. I didn’t do anything too different to normal. Race analysis. Obviously we were testing still. Lewis was in the car on Tuesday after the race, I was on Wednesday. Got home Wednesday night and did my things and had a good weekend. And yeah, went to the factory preparing for this weekend in the simulator, etcetera. If you talk about mentally, I took all the learning points, and there were a lot of lessons from the last race, as always. Took those. The rest that I should forget, I completely moved aside and forgot those and moved on. Yeah, I know that always hard work will pay off and that’s what I’ve been telling my team as well. It’s only Saturday and I always knew it’s possible with a good quali and yeah, we’ll see tomorrow. Tomorrow’s the day that matters.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, you did that blistering lap in Q2. Can you talk through what it was that was different in Q3 that meant that you couldn’t do that? Was it the wind, was it tyre temperatures, was it a combination of all of those? Was it mistakes, was it just the low grip surface as Max said, and is there something about the new tyres this year that you’re all finding particularly awkward? Are they even more difficult to get on top of them than they were last year?LH: I don’t think they’re any more difficult than the previous year’s tyres. I think last year here we were faced with the same issue of a very peaky grip and very narrow grip window and I think that’s really the case today. It felt quite good in P3 today and as I said, on that Q2 lap, it felt solid and I thought we were in the right window but it’s temperatures, there are gusts of wind so you can be unlucky and get tailwinds that perhaps you wouldn’t normally get on particular corners. So it’s a combination of things and then just generally just not particularly the tidiest – not great laps from myself really so I only had that one in Q2.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Valtteri, you spoke after Imola about your struggles with tyre warm-up with the car this year. Obviously that’s something very important this weekend with the track. Do you feel you’ve made a big breakthrough with tyre warm-up? Do you feel you’ve really got to the bottom of the issues now?
VB: I think it’s always the track-dependent, tyre compound-dependent, but it’s something that we really paid extra focus on since the last race and I think there were many good lessons that we could take from Imola and put those into use. It felt like the pole lap itself the tyres were working fine so that’s good, but what was a bit disappointing at the end with the medium, that we didn’t quite get those to work as we wanted. I think there would have been a bit more to come but yeah, I think we made progress with that and we will keep doing so.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, bit of a random one, but just looking back to the 2020 race here, you mentioned having to lift off several times because you were getting cramp towards the closing stages. Will you be doing anything different in terms of your preparation tomorrow with that in mind, or was it just a one-off?
LH: Er, yeah, no, I’m in a different place now physically so I should be good.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) You had the chance to ride a MotoGP bike in Valencia last year. Can you imagine riding a MotoGP bike around this track and if you could choose a Formula 1 track to ride a MotoGP bike on, what would you choose?
LH: I wouldn’t want to ride one round here, because there’s no grip. You’d take off over some of these humps, you know. Coming out of Turn 15 and onto the straight at 1… something you would probably take off. I don’t fancy that. In terms of what track I would like to have a go on…
LH: No… where could be good?
LH: Austin maybe, yeah.
MV: It’s nice and heavy.
LH: It could be quite cool, a cool circuit to ride on.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To the Mercedes drivers: just to pick up on what Max was saying about enjoying this track less. I know that when you guys went back to Turkey last year, the surface there sparked a bit of criticism because the track wasn’t as enjoyable to drive. Is it the same here for you? Do you feel that this experience here is lessened by the grip that’s available on the surface?
VB: I really like the layout. I think it’s cool and I always like the elevation changes. It brings a bit of character, all kinds of different types of corners, so that’s good but yeah, it is low, extremely low grip, it makes it more tricky and for sure a bit less enjoyable than if it would be a quicker tarmac, but it’s the tarmac and it’s the same for everyone. You have to try and make the most out of it.
LH: I don’t really understand what they do to make it worse but Turkey used to have good grip and obviously the last time we went there we had none and we’re finding we’re going to more and more circuits that seem to be changing the tarmac that they’re using. It’s not that great when we’re struggling for grip; it means it’s harder then to follow and so then it has that knock-on effect so we should ask for the good stuff back.
VB: Like in Imola…
MV: I don’t even want to think about Turkey because probably that will be
LH: It’s going to be horrendous.