Full transcript from the FIA top three press conference after the Spanish Grand Prix, Round 4 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Featuring race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed driver Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and third-placed driver Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes).
(Conducted by Jenson Button)
Q: Max, a bitter pill to swallow that one. You looked like you had it in the bag.
Max VERSTAPPEN: In a way I could see it coming. Already at the end with the softs he was faster and when we put on the mediums he had a lot more pace, he could just stay within one second, so there was not much we could have done. They went for another stop and then I knew it was over. I was already struggling with the tyres and he was just getting closer and closer, so I was a bit of a sitting duck.
Q: The first pit stop, you guys seemed to a fantastic job getting in. Obviously it was a slightly longer stop, but they didn’t jump straight after and it looked like you guys were doing a fantastic strategy and the second time they were able to jump just before you. It’s always tricky when it’s the car behind that jumps first. You don’t know whether to jump behind them or do a different strategy and it was always your plan to do a one-stop?
MV: Yeah, I mean also when you are in the lead with the cars behind, with traffic and stuff, you don’t want to pit into traffic. But of course it makes it a lot easier when you have a clear advantage, more pace in the car. So for us of course if we would have jumped for another stop I’m not sure I would have caught up again. Just clearly lacking pace. Nevertheless, I tried everything I could.
Q: To be fair, this circuit has always been a Mercedes track hasn’t it, so for you guys to be so closing in qualifying and so close to the victory it must bode well for the coming races?
MV: Yeah, it does, but it shows that we are not there where we want to be. We still have to push hard and catch up because at the moment we are a little bit slower. But still nevertheless, compared to last year it has been a big jump forwards for us.
Q: Valtteri, tough race out there? How do you look at that race and find some positives to take from it?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, I think what made it more tricky for me was that I lost a place to Charles on lap one out of Turn 3. I didn’t see him actually so I think he chose a better line through Turn 3 and he got me and then I was stuck behind him for a while and that compromised the race a bit. Otherwise the pace wasn’t too bad. It’s a bit of a shame but at least I could make it to the podium.
Q: Do you think there was another strategy you could have done with your car to take yourself back into the fight a little bit more?
VB: I think it’s just small details today – lap one, Turn 3. I think otherwise the pace there and as a team we are still scoring solid points but not perfect points so there is work to do. Monaco is obviously going to be quite a unique track and I look forward to that.
Q: Yeah, it looked like you got a fantastic start down into Turn 1 but you were just blocked. These cars are just so big and with Max getting a good start there was nowhere really to go for you?
VB: Yeah, there wasn’t really much space and it’s so close between the first three cars, so hard luck.
Q: Lewis, this has always been your circuit. I remember being your team-mate, it was always impossible to get anywhere near you around here and you’ve proved it again. What a fantastic way to win?
Lewis HAMILTON: Thank you so much. First, I want to acknowledge all the fans that are here because this is one of the first races, the first race this year at least, that we’ve had people come which is great to see. There’s even a British flag there, which we haven’t seen for a long, long time. I feel great after this. I feel like I could go again. Obviously the training is paying off. It was such a close start, obviously there was a lot of rubber down on the right hand side and the Red Bull obviously got a great start. After that I was just hunting. And I was so close for so long and I didn’t think in doing that I was going to be able to make the tyres last but I was just able to keep them in somehow and it was a long way to come back from some 20 odd seconds back but it was a good gamble, a really great strategy from the team.
Q: Yeah, obviously the pace was fantastic on that tyres but you must be also so thankful, as you said, that the team was able to come up with that great strategy to get past the Red Bull?
LH: Yeah, well, it had been the plan all weekend, to make sure we had two mediums to do a two-stop. Even thought a one-stop potentially looks better, I know from experience here that a one-stop is very, very hard to pull off. As soon as we had the pace that we had, I knew as I soon as I could get past him… and I was about to, I think, have a shot before I pitted right at the end and I was really conflicted. Do I come in or do I ignore the call and stay out? Obviously, I did what the team asked and natural that’s because there is a great trust between us. Just a remarkable job by everyone in this team through and through. Yeah, what a day.
Q: Lewis, many congratulations. It was a thrilling strategic battle with Max and Red Bull today. How much satisfaction does this win give you?
LH: Well, I’m continuing to love this battle we are having. I didn’t know whether we would be able to follow them as closely as we did in the end. Obviously, Turn 1, the start was not ideal and we are going to have to review it and see how we can do better in the future. But as soon as we got passed in Turn 1, I was like, ‘OK, switch into a different mode’. It was actually a really good day. I learned a lot about Max today, perhaps more than all the other races put together. This has been a good one in that sense and great, great teamwork from all of us. We were here until late most evenings discussing strategy, last night and this morning and we had all the bases covered in that respect. Of course it just meant that I had to do the job on track. Coming back from 20 odd seconds wasn’t easy but I think it was the right one in the end.
Q: You say you learned a lot about Max today. Can you elaborate a little bit about what you learned today?
LH: Not particularly, no! It was just a good… When you are with people on track you get to see different things and watch closely and obviously I was following relatively closely and I learned a lot about his car and how he uses it, so it was a good race in that respect.
Q: Now, when you came out 20s behind him after that second stop, how confident were you at that point of getting the job done?
LH: Not a huge amount. It was really interesting because all weekend, a one-stop strategy was the quickest way to the end of the race but this is one of the most abrasive circuits that we go to in terms of how aggressive it is with the tyres. It isn’t easy to make these tyres go that distance – even when the track was a lot cooler this weekend than perhaps it was last year here, and compared to how it was yesterday. All these little details have an affect on how these tyres last – but still, it is a really challenging circuit to save them and make them go the distance. So, I think it was quite clear early on to me, particularly of how close I was pushing to keep within a second, or just over a second behind Max. I knew that I was going to a two-stop strategy and then the team told me and I was like: ‘nothing new’. Of course, when I came out 20-odd seconds behind, I thought that’s going to be… it seemed so far, it’s such a huge gap to close but when you see the time difference that we had. I was in the mid-20s and he was mid-22s, or sometimes late 22s. I had plenty of laps to catch-up – but I didn’t know whether or not I would have enough pace at the end tyre-wise but then you just have to offset: he’s going to have even worse pace at the end. It was, as I said, the perfect strategy.
Q: Final one from me Lewis: 94 points from four races. This is your best-ever start to a Formula 1 season. Does that stat surprise you?
LH: It’s… every year I come back and I’m always trying to improve. Most often it tends to be, or it seems impossible, but it’s a necessity. The Red Bulls have started off incredibly strong. Max has a… They do both have a championship-winning car and opportunity. As do we. It’s going to take everything from us, not only me bringing my A-game but the team bringing their A-game, weekend-in, weekend-out. Otherwise these guys will be winning.
Q: Max, coming to you next, really well done. It looked so good for you after the start, you took the lead and had a 1.5s gap after just one lap. How do you sum up what happened after that?
MV: Too slow. That’s how you sum it up. There’s not much else to really discuss. I tried everything to manage it as good as I could, looking after tyres and stuff, but it’s just not enough when behind you they are just pushing you at the rate you see there’s clearly a bit more pace. You, of course, try to keep up with it and do the best possible strategy you can, but even if I think we had gone, let’s say, for that earlier second stop, I don’t think I would have caught Lewis up after that – because on the Mediums I think I was just a bit slower – because for Lewis to be that close on a track like this, all the time within a second, sometimes having DRS it just shows that, yeah, there was not much I could do out there to make a difference. But, nevertheless, I think still, of course, a good result. Of course, you always want more. I think that always needs to be the aim. I think that we shouldn’t be happy with a second place at the moment, but yeah, nevertheless, we tried everything. I got ahead at the start, so basically you really try to go for it. And then, of course, it looks good when you are leading for so long in the race – but you have to also look to all the things that are happening throughout the race and, I think, overall, we were just lacking a little bit of pace in the race. It has been like this a little bit so far this season where it seems like qualifying, we are quite competitive and in the race struggling a little bit more.
Q: Can you tell us about the run to Turn 1?
MV: yeah, the launch was good. And I, of course, ran a little bit less wing, I think, compared to Mercedes and, of course, that helped a bit, to get alongside Lewis and then I went for it in Turn 1.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you: podium number 59 for you and your 50th for Mercedes. Is it a case of what might have been for you today?
VB: I think, if I would have been a tenth quicker yesterday then the race would have been probably a bit different and a bit better battle. Today, the main issue was in lap one, Turn 3, Charles got by and here, if you lose track position, it definitely means trouble. It was costing me a lot of time in the first stint and also at the Safety Car restart I couldn’t get him, so I was stuck behind and losing ground to Lewis and Max, so that was it really. To be honest, I didn’t see Charles in Turn 3. Once I saw him, on the outside going a lot quicker than me, then it was too late. So, yeah, need to review that.
Q: Had you lost a bit of momentum, because of these two guys scraping in front of you at Turn 1.
VB: Turn 1? Yeah, for sure, but I mean, Turn 1, 2, there’s only one line, you can’t do much. I knew that I could keep my place there but then in Turn Three I was really trying to follow closely Lewis on the inside and had no chance that Charles was so close and managed to get good grip and a line from the outside.
Q: Final one from me. Were you happier today with the pace of your car than you were in Portugal last weekend?
VB: I think we had a good car. It’s not a huge difference to Red Bull but I think today we were strong. I’m happy that we could get more points than them as a team. That’s always good – but obviously it was not perfect, and we always aim for perfection and, of course, personally, I’m not happy to be third. Wouldn’t be happy to be second. That’s how it goes. So, there’s always more you can do, and I’ll keep pushing and, as a team, this weekend again we learned a lot and hopefully we can take that to the future.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Lewis. Lewis, I know you said you’ve got to review what happened at the start but what were you thinking on that run down to Turn 1? Was there a moment that you could have defended more against Max? And what were you thinking right in the moment about his move there at the apex? Thank you.
LH: So, I know Valtteri was obviously starting in third and the goal is to work as a team. So I stayed to the left. I think in hindsight there could have been a moment, looking back, that when Max moved in behind me for a second, I could have pulled across and sealed the job there – but I didn’t. And then, as we went into Turn One, I just made sure I gave as much space as I could to Max. In my mind, it’s always a marathon, not a sprint, so I’m just always thinking the long game and sure, you could be a little bit more aggressive. Do I need to? Well, I’m in the position that I’m in because I don’t get too aggressive when I don’t need to be.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for Max. Can you talk us through the situation before the first stop because we’ve heard there was some miscommunication? The team didn’t want you to pit at that moment.
MV: Yeah, just miscommunication. Between when to pit. I thought I had to pit that lap and clearly it wasn’t – but luckily we didn’t lose too much time with that.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To the two Mercedes drivers: there was obviously the moment during the race when Lewis, you were coming up to Valtteri; Valtteri had to move out of the way. What happened there, in terms of the communication on making that swap basically, because we know, Valtteri, we heard the message to you to say don’t hold Lewis up but obviously it took some time for Lewis for you to get past? Both your thoughts on that please?
VB: Yeah, I got the message and obviously we were on different strategies at that point so unless something crazy would happen, I wasn’t really any more with him. But the thing was, at that time, I was trying to get Charles off my pit window so I could stop again and try and be ahead of him, so I was really conscious that I didn’t want to lose too much time, and I was really focusing on my race so it was about balancing things. Of course, as a racing driver, you prioritise yourself, your race, because that’s what we do but also we work as a team, so you don’t want to ruin the win for the team if that is possible; if it is not possible for you. So I tried to do the best thing I could for us as a team and for myself. It’s always hard doing those kind of things and either know… ask the other driver if he predicts what’s going to happen and where to go but I think in the end it was kind of OK.
LH: I think we’re the best teammates so… honestly I didn’t know that he had a message so in my mind I was like ‘we’re racing’ and that’s totally fine for me, particularly early on in this part of the season so in my mind I was ‘so I’ve got to get close and hope for an overtake’ but then obviously when we went into turn ten, we were on massively different strategies so I was going to get him at some stage because I had much better tyres. And we were going into turn ten and I thought there was a gap there and I wasn’t quite sure and then there was a gap and Valtteri was completely fair, I wouldn’t lose too much time but this is how we win as a team. We sometimes have to… sometimes we’re in that position where you just… you’ve got to put the team first and getting a second and a third is good but getting a first is obviously max points and that’s key.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) One for Lewis: yesterday Damon Hill tweeted about you, that you’re one of the most talented people to have ever walked the earth. What’s your response to that? Do you think that you’re operating at the highest level you’ve ever operated in your F1 career?
LH: Well, firstly I saw that yesterday and I felt so much gratitude to Damon, because I remember growing up watching Damon and having – as I do now – so much respect for him. And I remember rooting for him, as a Brit, wanting him to succeed, even when he didn’t have a great car or a good team so it’s definitely humbling when you see people who you’ve admired, you’ve watched and grown up taking inspiration from or whatever it may be, and having them say respectful things and positive things. That’s an amazing moment when that happens. As I just said to you just before, this is a period of time where I have to be at the best, weekend in, weekend out. These guys are… Max is driving exceptionally well as is Valtteri. Valtteri’s qualifying laps are hard to beat. It’s so close between all of us. You saw yesterday, it’s going to take perfect delivery each weekend and I don’t think anyone can do that but I am trying to get as close as possible.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, you said on the TV that you’re still feeling fit and your training’s all paying off. There’s obviously plenty of life in the old dog, if you’ll excuse that phrase. I just wondered how much of your attention is now going to be turning to next year? Toto said that he wanted to get the contract done early. I wondered if you had had any discussions or any thought about next season yet?
LH: Yeah, thanks Ben. There’s still some life in this old dog! I would say I’m more conscious than ever about my body, about my training regime. I’ve been training myself for a long time now but constantly growing and learning how to look after, naturally, the vessel that I’m given and feeling great. Contract-wise? Yeah, we never want to be in the position that we were in in January, in February. It ruined my whole winter and I’m sure it wasn’t helpful for Toto’s, in terms of being out to be off and relaxed, so it felt like we didn’t really have much of a break. I think we have to be sensible. Naturally we don’t have to rush anything but I think we have to be sensible and start conversations. They’re very complex, it’s never a super simple procedure and so hopefully soon we can start, as long as it doesn’t interfere the actual job. We still have 19 races to do but it would be great to get something in place before the break so then we could, again, be in that break and have a clear picture of the future.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, this race bears a lot of similarities to Hungary 2019; I think that might have been mentioned to you over the radio at one point as well. What do you think Red Bull has to do so that this situation won’t come up again, to win one of these situations?
MV: Just need a faster car. It’s very simple. Then you don’t need to get into a situation like that. That’s what we have to focus on.