Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Round 6 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, in Baku.
Featuring top three: Pole winner Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), second-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and third-placed Max Vesrtappen (Red Bull Racing).
Track interviews conducted by Johnny Herbert
Q: That qualifying was unbelievable. My heart was on the rev limiter, but for you, Charles Leclerc, pole position. Tell us about that lap?
Charles Leclerc: It was quite a shit lap I thought! There were two or three corners where I did mistakes but of course I had the big tow from Lewis in the last sector, which helped me a little bit. But overall I think we would have been thereabouts for pole anyway without the slipstream so it’s a good day. I did not expect to be as competitive as we were today. I think I was improving again with the red flag but yeah, it’s like this, another pole. I’m happy anyway. Hopefully it’s all good for Carlos. I haven’t seen the crash so I have no ideas but I hope all OK for the team.
Q: Second pole position on the trot. That must feel absolutely brilliant. It must give a lot of motivation to you, the driver, but Ferrari as well?
CL: Yeah, it feels very good. On the other hand it is with a red flag again. I wish we had it on a normal track but in the end a pole is a pole.
Q: For the race tomorrow, how does the car feel? Do you think you can give it a good go with all those very tough drivers around you? ?
CL: Yeah, the car felt quite OK, but I believe Mercedes and Red Bull have something more than we have, in the race especially. We have seen that in FP2. Here it will be very difficult, It’s not like Monaco; they can overtake. But I will try to do the best job possible and hopefully we can keep that first place but it’s going to be very difficult.
Q: Lewis, what a result. Were you expecting that? Tell us about the lap first?
Lewis Hamilton: The lap was OK. I think we definitely weren’t expecting that and this is such a monumental result for us because we have been struggling like you wouldn’t believe all weekend, you can see it. We kept our composure. We continue to have difficult discussions in the background, challenging each other and just never taking no for an answer. We’ve moved around and made so many changes over these two days, just chasing our tails. It’s been so difficult. But I think the work overnight and particularly between the sessions has been amazing from the team and I’m really proud of everyone for keeping positive and to be up there so close to these guys it’s a great, great start.
Q: The track didn’t look as if it was suiting you. Did the cooler track surface help you? You had a lot more shading around the circuit?
LH: I don’t think that helps us because it’s crazy trying to switch these tyres on. Working and trying to find the envelope for this car is… it’s been like the biggest challenge we’ve had in a long time, trying to understand what the car really wants. She has not been happy all weekend. She’s been a bit of a disaster, so for us to be up here and even Valtteri getting into the top 10 that’s a massive leap and that’s down to great, great teamwork, so big thanks to everyone.
Q: Challenges have been difficult. You have a big challenge tomorrow. How do you feel you will be in a competitive way in the race?
LH: Well, our race pace was a lot better than our single lap pace. We’re miles off on a single lap, but we’re a lot closer in race pace. We don’t understand why but I would like to think we are in the same position so we can take the fight to these guys.
Q: Max, I can see it in your face, how frustrating was that today?
Max Verstappen: Ah, just a stupid qualifying to be honest. Anyway it is what it is. Still P3, we have a good car, a good recovery from FP3 of course and everything was working out fine and all this shit is all the time happening. I don’t care. In Q3… it’s just unfortunate. It’s a street circuit so these things can happen. Like I said, our car is strong so I just hope tomorrow in the race we can look after our tyres and score good points.
Q: For tomorrow, for the race, you still must feel very positive from that point of view.
MV: Yeah, I know. We are still up there. Of course I would have liked to start a bit further ahead, but it’s still all to play for. As you can see, qualifying there are a lot of things happening, so maybe in the race these things can happen again. But let’s hope for a clean start and we’ll see from there.
Q: Of course you are up against Lewis, your title contender, in front. That’s going to be one hell of a battle. But are you looking forward to that?
MV: Yeah of course, there are three different cars as well. It’s always good to have that.
Q: Charles, many congratulations, another stunning pole lap by you. How does it feel?
CL: It feels good. It feels better than Monaco. Even though it still doesn’t feel as good as a pole position should feel just because for the red flags. On the other hand I’m very happy with the performance we have had all weekend. We were quite surprised. We definitely didn’t expect this type of performance, so it is looking good for the future and we need to keep pushing like that. But for now, it’s all good. About the lap I’m pretty happy. Turns 4, 5 and 6 I’m not very happy about it but then I had Lewis or Valtteri, I don’t know, to help me a little bit in the last sector so very happy to be on pole tomorrow.
Q: You say you weren’t expecting this level of performance coming into the session, so what were you expecting?
CL: I think to be more of less like McLaren, even a little bit behind, These were the ones we were considering to be our main rivals here. Then FP1, FP2, FP3, we were surprised but we thought that there was something more in Quali, a bit like Monaco at the end but to a bigger extent.
Q: What about the long run pace of the car? Goals for tomorrow?
CL: Oh, I think it’s going to be difficult to keep these two behind me. In FP2 we weren’t as strong as Red Bull or Mercedes so we need to keep working and keep pushing for tomorrow but it’s not going to be an easy race.
Q: Well done, Charles, and all good with the drive shaft?
CL: Ha! Yeah, this time yes. For me. I hope for Carlos too.
Q: Lewis, coming to you, very well done and what a recovery by you and Mercedes. Just how much satisfaction does this give you?
LH: Honestly, it’s one of the greatest feelings for us, for the experience we’ve gone through, for the difficult experience we’ve gone through and being out of the top ten all weekend and really struggling to understand and extract performance from our car but it’s… yeah, it feels fantastic. Congratulations to Charles who did a fantastic job given the difficult circumstances out there. Yeah, just a bit overwhelming, really happy to be up here, grateful to have got the lap in and puts us in for a much different race than we anticipated after yesterday.
Q: Lewis, how good was the lap? Was there more to come, do you think?
LH: I think there was a little bit more to come, so I was excited for the last run. I think it would have been close but I can’t say that I would have been quicker than Charles but I definitely think there was time left on the table. I think I was a little bit too close to Valtteri on that first lap. So, I struggled. I was a bit down in the middle sector because I was just too close to the car ahead – but anyways, I will take it. We’ve got a long race tomorrow. It’s very difficult race here but just really, incredibly proud of the guys, the whole crew for the amazing work. For everyone just being open-minded. We’ve made a lot of changes, there’s been so much work back at the factory overnight, and then obviously even during today, so, I hope everyone’s happy and we’ve still got to do the job tomorrow.
Q: Lewis, you ended Friday here in Baku 11th. Is this the biggest overnight turnaround you’ve experienced in your career at Mercedes?
LH: It wasn’t overnight! We got to P3 and it was still pretty much a disaster in P3. So, it’s the biggest jump that we’ve been able to make on an actual day between P3 and Quali, for sure. It literally was night and day, the car. We discovered something at the end of P3 and I continued to push down in that direction and it paid dividends, so I’m really happy about it.
Q: Max, coming on to you, clearly a very frustrating day. First up, how good was the car?
MV: Yeah, I think the car… I mean it was just building up confidence. It’s not easy around here with the braking and stuff. Then yeah, the whole qualifying, to be honest, with so many red flags. Yep, it didn’t make it easy for all of us. But yeah, the car felt good. Bit of a scrappy qualifying. Especially in Q3. The lap itself was actually, I think, quite decent. Basically I would have liked a tow as well to the line. Bit slow on the straight but it is what it is.
Q: And had you got that second run in, in Q3. Do you think you had the car for pole?
MV: I was very confident that we definitely could fight for pole. I think throughout the weekend already but also in qualifying. Of course for me it was… after missing basically my performance run in FP3, it was about just building it up and it was all going well – but how all of Q3 went, it was just unfortunate but still, third, we can still fight from here.
Q: Well, still third, still can fight. Do you think you can fight for the win?
MV: Yeah, I think we have a good race car and around here it’s a lot about tyres, to keep them alive and stuff. It seemed alright on our car, so looking forward to tomorrow.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lewis, you said the changes you made led to a night and day difference in the car. Could you explain a bit more what those changes were – and also the decision to have two warm-up laps in qualifying before starting your flyers. How much of a difference did that make, to get more one-lap pace out of the car?
LH: Basically, we arrived here, it didn’t feel too bad in P1 and then obviously as we got through the rest of the sessions, two and three were pretty much a disaster. We did some changes overnight which didn’t rectify the issue going into today. Then in P3 we tried a few different things and then just managed it. We tried something right at the end, just with the set-up and it unlocked the potential a little bit. And it was really just about getting the tyres to work. We just can’t get our tyres to switch on like the others generally can, so the night and day difference was that all of a sudden the tyres started working and we were back in the game. It was just then about putting the laps together.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question for Max. Max, you touched on the impact of the crash in FP3. I was just wondering how much on the back foot you felt after that, and how much losing all of that performance running at the end of FP3, did that carry all the way into qualifying? Basically, right when you should have been back with the momentum at the end of Q3 where obviously you didn’t get the lap in?
MV: No, I think it was only just Q1 a little bit, when you have to set your brake markers a little bit because I didn’t get to run, of course, on the Soft compound today but I felt confident from Q2 onwards. So, I don’t think the crash hampered me too much in qualifying.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Another question for Max. I think in Q2 you did two laps on the tyre you’re starting with. Do you think this is a disadvantage for tomorrow – and can you explain why you did that second lap?
MV: Just to get a bit more running – because, like I said before, I just lacked a bit of running in general during the day. I was not entirely happy with that first lap. I thought there was quite a bit more in it, which it was. But that second timed lap, it was faster but there was no-one around me and again, you lose a lot to the line. But yeah, it was all looking good towards Q3.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Charles, can you explain why Ferrari are so quick this weekend? We know the car’s good in slow corners but obviously there’s not just corners on this track; and secondly you struggled on long runs yesterday, have you been able to do anything to fix that for today and tomorrow?
CL: Yeah, well the complete explanation I don’t have it, but for sure it’s the result of the guys back at the factory, also the guys here at the track who have been working extremely hard since the beginning of 2020 when we obviously started the season and it was very difficult. We kept working and the car just got better and better. It’s small steps all the time but small steps in the right direction and this is not always a given so this makes us competitive, then to be honest, we did not expect to be as competitive as we were this weekend until now, so this is a bit of a surprise but yeah, we’ve been also working very, very hard for that. Then for the FP2 pace; on my side it wasn’t great but obviously it was not a great session for me overall, being in the wall at the beginning of FP2 and then going on the long runs I didn’t do a good job by managing the tyres so I think it’s more coming from me than anything else. But it’s fine. I know where to work so it should be all OK for tomorrow.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) This is for Max and Lewis, I guess. Toto and Christian have been exchanging some unpleasantries in the media this weekend. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, particularly as they are your respective bosses and whether you think that that’s showing how intense this rivalry is between Mercedes and Red Bull?
LH: We should get them in a ring.
MV: Yeah, but I think the weight division is a bit of a problem. In the height, the reach…
LH: They’re the same weight, just difference in height.
MV: I’m mean I’m all for a ring anyway, even in Formula 1 – instead of penalties!
Q: What does it say about the rivalry?
MV: It’s Formula 1, there are a lot of stakes involved so everyone wants to win, everyone is competitive, so I guess it’s just a natural thing and it’s good for people to read, right? Bit of fire behind it.
LH: Yeah, I think we’ve naturally got… naturally, they’re the two top leaders of the teams and they’ve both contributed hugely to the success of both teams and great leaders and of course they’re head-to-head because we are head to head in this tight battle. We generally just like to do our talking on the track so we’re just keeping our heads down.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Lewis, on the work that you’ve done on the car for this event, obviously we know that Baku is a really difficult place to judge exactly what you do with wing levels. How important what it to crack that code, because it looked like going with low downforce you had tremendous speed in the final sector by the time qualifying came around but you didn’t seem to sacrifice too much round the rest of the lap, however?
LH: No. I mean really kind of hard to explain the emotions that we’ve run through for the past day. And when we’re talking about the set-up changes, none of us… it’s difficult for us firstly to understand why we are in the position we are in because we’re trying lots of different things and we don’t always get the results that you’re expecting to get and no matter what we’re doing, we couldn’t really fix it. So, from my point, I’m pushing the guys – I want to try this, I want to try that – and naturally when you do that, I had a lot of anxiety because you don’t know if you’re going to get it right or get it wrong and it means that you’re out of top ten, like we were earlier this morning and then yesterday. So yeah, eventually just had to let it go, literally ten minutes before the session we finished… we were here last night until 11 ‘o clock. Again, just before the session, ten minutes, just before, we were still making small changes and just had to shake it up and go for it and just go all out. It’s an amazing feeling. I think we’ve got the right balance with the wing. Do we have the perfect wing? I’m sure you could always say you could have a slightly better balance but it did the job today so… I think for a race pace we weren’t as quick as the Red Bulls, I think, but we were in the mix, so I think tomorrow we should be close to these guys, hopefully.
Q: ( Luke Smith – Autosport) Another question for Lewis: this is the second race in a row that we’ve seen Ferrari take pole position and there seems to be a bit of a resurgence for them. How much are you enjoying this fight at the front is opening up to be more than just two drivers and two teams? You’ve got Charles and Ferrari really pushing you as well now.
LH: Yeah, I mean it’s a fantastic step that they’ve taken. I don’t fully understand it. I think they’ve always had a good car for some time and just down in power. I’m assuming they’ve taken a really good step with their engines because they’re now up there with everyone else. I think they already had a good car, I think it is… through corners they are very similar to all of us, I think, in Bahrain. It was just down the straights they were losing out so that’s… but then in these places they’re mastering these tyres, every single lap so it’s great to see three teams – three, four teams – at the front. It’s great seeing the Renaults [sic, Alpines], it’s great seeing the McLarens in the mix and even the AlphaTauris – it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting seasons that we’ve seen.