Full transcript from the FIA Hosted top three press conference after qualifying for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, featuring pole winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes).
Track interviews conducted by Pedro de la Rosa
Q: Max, well done, what a lap. After Q2 we thought no one would break into the 16s. You nearly had it there, only three hundredths. How was your lap?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it was good. I struggled a little bit in Q1 but I think then we sorted out the balance for Q2, which was pretty good. In Q3 for me both laps were pretty decent. I think only the second run was a little not worse for whatever reason. It’s quite dusty around here so the wind changes a lot. Nevertheless, I think second for us here on this track was very good today. We know that they are hard to beat around here, so to be that close we have to be happy with that.
Q: And for tomorrow, starting second. I mean you have done it from further back. It is possible here. It’s nearly 600 metres to Turn 1.
MV: Yeah, it’s a long run to Turn 1 but of course first you have to make sure to have a good start. Since the pace is there, so of course I hope we can have a good race as well.
Q: Tyre management tomorrow will be key do you think?
MV: Yeah, around here with all the fast corners and tyres overheating, tyre management is very important so we need to make sure that we are on top of that tomorrow.
Q: Did you have to manage the tyre temperature during quali as well?
MV: As you could see, our out laps were so slow. Just to make sure that in the last sector the tyres survive everyone is more or less doing the same thing. But it’s nice around here. It’s a proper track with a lot of fast corners and especially in qualifying with low fuel it’s amazing to drive.
Q: I’m so happy to be interviewing here on your 100th pole. Lewis, this is a magic number and a magic moment, so how was your lap? Was it perfect, Mr Perfect?
Lewis Hamilton: Well, P3 was looking really good. I think we have been strong all weekend. We made some changes and I had a bit of anxiety about the changes we were potentially going to make for qualifying and you are always trying to make the car better. But it is a bit of a gamble because you’ve also got to keep the race in mind also. Anyway, we made this change and as soon as I got out I was like: “this is immediately the wrong one.” It was my call at the end but it was really hard. So that’s why I was behind the whole way through qualifying and I was making small tweaks here and there and trying to elevate pace-wise but the first lap was the best lap I got through the whole session, which was great. I tried to improve on the next lap and I think I was a tenth up but I couldn’t keep it. But wow, I can’t believe that we are at 100 and it’s really down to the men and women back at the factory who are continuously raising the bar and just never giving up. The support that I have… it’s been a dream for me to work with these guys and the journey we have been on has been immense. Who would have thought that at the end of 2012 when we made the decision to partner that we would be qualifying at 100. I feel very humbled, very grateful. I’m ecstatic, like it’s my first.
Q: Tell us about the lap because in Q2 you couldn’t break the 16s, you were in mid 17s, but then, bang, the first lap was like… where did that come from?
LH: Yeah, so as I said, the set-up I had made, I just had so much understeer. The car was very lazy. It wouldn’t turn round corners the way I want. So you’re waiting and waiting. I made small adjustments within what we are able to change in order to get the car to turn and that’s a combination of many things and then it’s just pulling every millisecond together and it was my cleanest lap. I will always remember that one.
Q: Valtteri, congratulations, third position, on the clean side, everything can happy from there.
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, that was close. I was definitely in for the battle for the pole. I think the first runs in Q3 were faster runs. I’m just a bit gutted because in Turn 10 I had a snap at the apex of Turn 10 and I lost a tenth and that’s the margin for the pole. But otherwise, yeah, we have a strong package and it’s going to be a good fight tomorrow, no doubt.
Q: How was the tyre degradation during the long runs on Friday? Can you fight for the win tomorrow?
VB: I think it’s going to be very close between us and Red Bull and here if you can keep the tyres in good condition you are going to be more competitive around the pit stops. I think there is even the possibility of people doing one stop or two stops. I’m not going to reveal to you ours but we’ll see tomorrow.
Q: Lewis, you’re not one for statistics, you’ve told us that many times, but 100 is a magical milestone and you are clearly buzzing. Can you tell us what this means to you?
LH: Yeah, it’s natural when you’ve just got out of the car… it’s always difficult to assess in the moment but wow, I’ve been racing a long time and the 100 mark is something I don’t think anybody and particularly me thought I would ever get to that number. But when I think about it I just think about all the people that have helped me get there. It’s not only the amazing team I have here but it’s also the incredible group of men and women back the factory, at both factories, who just never cease to amaze me, who continue to raise the bar. There are so many people we don’t get to see each other all the time but we are connected. There are these great debriefs that we have but this journey that we have been on all these years has been remarkable and it’s been so enjoyable and it’s crazy that it is 100 and it felt like one of the first. That for me is even more special. There have been so many qualifying sessions, so many near misses, so many mistakes and so many moments of growth and I love how close it is between us all. I think that’s great for the fans and I think that’s exciting for me also. And also the people that are only just behind us.
Q: How different are the emotions now after pole 100 compared to pole number one back in Montreal in 2007?
LH: I would say very similar. I can’t remember exactly the feeling in 2007. I think back then it was where I was pushing for equality in terms of fuel load alongside my team-mate and the first time they gave us the equal fuel load… I don’t know if people know but like 10 kilos of fuel here is worth over three tenths of a second, so if you’re carrying an extra lap or so of more fuel that’s a tenth and a half or so… That was special and kind of felt amazing firstly to reassure that I was able to do what I did back then and here we are 100 qualifying sessions or whatever it is, 100 poles, and I still feel as young. I’m good. Keep going.
Q: And Lewis, just a quick word on Q3 in particular. You had yellows in the final sector in your first run, did that cost you, or had they stopped by the time you get there?
LH: I don’t remember seeing that.
Q: Checo Pérez had gone off at Turn 13…
LH: There was a bunch of gravel on the track and there was a puff of smoke. I came up on Turn 13 and didn’t know, so I’ve lifted and let a bit of time on the table. Max obviously did an amazing job in Q2 and there was no way we could do seven-tenths quicker and then, naturally for them, they’ve picked up a lot of pace today with the change of wing. It’s given them some nice speed on the straight, and so that’s put them in a lot more contention with us, yeah, but that last lap was everything because, going into qualifying I made a change to the car and, as soon as I did the first lap I was like: “that was not a good change!” It’s crazy that, after all these years, you’re still trying to find those small improvements. Our cars are quite a bit different so I was just trying to see if I could just get maximum out of it, because that’s all I got. And it was just about enough.
Q: Max coming to you, well done, your first time on the front row here in Spain and just three-hundredths of a second behind Lewis. First up, can you visualise that three-hundredths? Where you might have been able to get that pole position today.
MV: I don’t know, I haven’t looked into the data – but it doesn’t matter. It was a good qualifying session. Q1 was a little bit of a struggle. For me the wind picked up a bit differently and yeah, just not a great balance – but then we sorted it out for Q2 and that was a pretty good lap – but around here it’s quite gusty and these cars are super-sensitive to it and yeah, I think it was just perfect conditions and a very good lap. But then even in Q3 we managed to improve again. Like Lewis said, there was a bit of gravel going into 13, I think it was, so you can’t do your normal line, but of course it’s the same for everyone. But nevertheless, it was a good lap. I was pretty happy with it, how the whole of qualifying went, to be honest.
Q: We haven’t talked much yet about tomorrow’s race. How close do you think it’s going to be between yourself and Mercedes?
MV: It’s of course difficult to predict at the moment. I think we were quite decent in the long runs but they also of course looked strong. So, we know that it’s hard to overtake around here and to be following closely, so we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow – but I’m always optimistic and positive that we can do a good job and have a good race, and I hope, of course, that it’s going to be as close as today.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you, pole last time out in Portugal, very close again here, just one-tenth of a second behind your team-mate. How pleased are you with how things went today?
VB: First of all, massive congrats to Lewis for the 100. It’s a crazy number, so well done. Yeah, I was always expecting to have a close qualifying and I’m gutted because in the first run, which was the fastest run for the top three cars at least, in Turn 10 I had a bit of a snap at the apex and lost a bit more than tenth so, you know, those kind of things, they’re annoying but obviously can happen. Overall, in the qualifying session, the pace was good, the speed was there. It was all about the fine details at the end and I couldn’t quite get it right today.
Q: And what about the long-run pace, both for yourself and Lewis. Are Mercedes looking good for the grand prix here.
VB: I think the long run place is good but it’s honestly very similar to Red Bull as we’ve seen in the last races. So, expecting a good fight.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Lewis. First of all, congratulations on 100 poles and pole today – but you mentioned just with the gravel from where Pérez had spun, you left a bit of time on the table on your first run. So I wondered why didn’t you go faster on the second run? Was something different with the track conditions, or things like that?
LH: Yeah, thanks Alex. No, not Q1, I think it was Q2 with the gravel? MV: No, run one, Q3, I guess that’s where Sergio spun. That’s why the gravel was there. It was run 1, Q3. LH: Hmmm… I thought it was the one before that but… MV: I mean, more people go wide and put gravel onto that corner. LH: I have a feeling it was before that – but that’s what I remember. I was up a tenth and a half on my last lap until Turn Seven and then it was down, I was down the exact same amount already after Turn Seven, or out of Turn Nine, so the rest of the lap was really just on the edge. I think it was a little bit windier in the second run. I don’t think I left anything on the table Q3 run 1 through that corner, as far as I’m aware – I thought it was before that, the previous lap and I got it right that lap – but maybe I’m wrong. Short-lived memory.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) First of all congratulations Lewis. Question is to all three of you. No-one tried to qualify with the Medium tyre in Q2. Do you think it was too close with the other cars? Or is it not a big advantage from a strategic point of view?
MV: No, I think we could have easily qualified on it but I don’t think it was necessary to do so. LH: It’s 600m down to Turn One, so 6m difference between the tyres. So, it’s less… there’s no advantage, especially if you do happen to get the Medium in position and the car behind is on a Soft, for example, and they box, they pull you in anyway, so you don’t have the benefit and you’ve just given up extra opportunities, so that’s generally why.
Q: Valtteri, did you think about it?
VB: Yeah, I think here the track position is pretty important so just don’t want to lose any ground at the race start. I think that’s the main thing.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport.com) Lewis, can you explain the logic of running a scrubbed set of soft tyres for your Q2 run which will be your starting tyre?
LH: Ah, there’s no real logic to it. It’s simply that I didn’t do a good enough job in Q1 on the medium tyre. They said that I was on the edge, so I had to go out on the soft tyre which I wasn’t planning to do. I think we did an out lap and came in and then we started on a new tyre for the first run and then went onto the one lap scrubbed second tyre and it was quicker so I just finished the lap and that’s the tyre I was on. So it’s basically got a lap more than everyone else.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Lewis, we know and Tom mentioned this earlier that you’re not big on statistics: with all the records that you’ve broken, you’ve tended to be played down but I just wondered if 100 poles is a little bit different because in other sports, obviously, a century is something quite special whether it’s a cricketer scoring a hundred runs or a Premier League footballer getting the 100 goal club, so does a hundred poles feel a bit different to other records that you’ve achieved?
LH: I can’t really… I don’t really feel like I can compute it right now. It’s a huge number. Yeah, it’s difficult to say, really. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel but as I said, I’m excited that it was so close and it felt amazing to… qualifying’s so special, when you come across that line and you find out you’re just ahead and you’re thinking OK, how am I going to squeeze out more, will the other guys find a tenth or two or three on the next run or none at all. It’s nerve wracking, I’m sure, for the fans and it’s the same for you. It’s such a big number that it’s hard to express just how crazy it is and amazing it is but I don’t really know what else to say.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Lewis, you’ll probably hate me for asking this because I know you’ll say you probably can’t remember or something but hundredth pole, was that a lap that was worthy of the achievement, if you like? It looked like hard work to get to that level. Max was so quick in Q2. If you think back to great qualifying laps in the past like Canada 2007 or Singapore 2018 or Styria last year; was this one up there? Can you remember enough to say that?
LH: I think it was a really good… I think it was a great lap and I think… it’s the journey that… you know, sometimes you start qualifying and you’re quick from the get-go and you’ve got the right balance and then it’s really just down to you doing the job. I didn’t have the right balance and I was behind… the changes that I was making still slightly behind, still slightly behind, still not quite there so I was making these changes and hoping that by Q3 this is all I’ve got so make the best of it and so I do feel that it was a very, very clean and precise lap and I guess that’s why I managed to just be ahead of Max. So yeah, I’m proud of it, that’s for sure.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, we saw you doing quite a lot of overtaking on your out lap ahead of your final run in Q3. Why was that? Did it have any impact on why you didn’t improve with the second run?
MV: No, I just didn’t want to be in the back of the train, because I saw when I left the garage there were seven cars in front of me and I know, of course, through experience that you go through turn ten and suddenly you almost have to stop so I didn’t want that so I just passed them. My tyre temps were still fine when I started my lap but yeah, I just didn’t want to get into a mess where people start, you know, I want to overtake you into the last two corners or whatever.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Lewis, you mentioned earlier why your second lap wasn’t faster than your first one in Q3. I want to ask all three of you because it seems like to be a little trend this year that the second attempt in Q3 isn’t necessarily faster. Is it just coincidence, are the conditions getting worse or do you think you’re risking too much because it’s so tight up there?
VB: I really felt also that the Q3 run two was a bit slower. It felt like gradually, corner by corner, it was just losing time a bit and actually I was really looking forward to it because I made a mistake in turn ten in run one but it just didn’t come so I think it was conditions, whether it’s the wind or something but yeah, the cars are obviously sensitive to wind direction, strength, gusts so from one run to another it can be quite different. LH: Yeah, not really a lot to add, I think. The whole car is hotter for the second run, the brakes are hotter, the tyre rise is going to be different, different profile compared to run one and yeah, I would say we are pushing more but for some reason the drop-off, the track or the car drops off in that second run but it’s the same for all us and the wind does play a bit of a role. MV: I don’t think there’s a trend because I think we improved in Bahrain, we improved in Imola – at least, I did, even going off the track. Just depends on how you nail your first lap as well. There’s never a trend because sometimes you nail your first lap and then you know that it’s tiny margins. If, of course, you don’t nail your first lap it’s quite easy to improve on the second one but today… and on tracks where it’s quite open and you have a lot of wind variation and gusts as well like today, with these cars we have, they are just super-sensitive to it, so even if it increases with a few kilometres it can make a difference into a certain corner and when you are driving like you are on the limit and you know suddenly you have a little bit less rear grip or a bit more understeer it can, of course, completely change the balance to the corner and that’s basically what happened in the last run.