Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the French Grand Prix, Round 7 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship season, at Paul Ricard Circuit in Le Castellet.
Featuring race winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), second-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and third-placed Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing).
Trackside interviews conducted by Martin Brundle
Q: Max, did you enjoy that as much as we did?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Towards the end, yes! In the beginning it was super difficult out there with the wind. One lap you had OK balance and the next lap you were just sliding everywhere. Really difficult to keep the car stable. Once we made the first pit stop then you could clearly see that on the hard tyres they were pushing me hard from behind but then when we made the call to do a two-stop, luckily at the end that paid off. We had to work hard for it but of course very rewarding.
Q: Was there a point towards the end where you thought, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to catch him’?
MV: It’s difficult because there were quite a lot of backmarkers to go through but luckily they all did well and we could have a good fight to the end.
Q: What happened in the first corner?
MV: I just lost the rear. I tried to correct it, correct it, correct it, but it just kept going, so…
Q: This is a big statement, for you to beat Mercedes here. What does it mean for the championship and the rest of the season?
MV: As you could see the whole race we were fighting each other so I think it will be like this for the rest of the season.
Q: Well d. Lewis, second place; you tried your best. Somehow you were finding some speed and some pace out of those tyres towards the end but it wasn’t quite enough.
Lewis HAMILTON: No. Congrats to Max, he did a great job today. They just had better strength all weekend and just considering that we had such a difficult Friday I’m really happy with today’s result. Of course we didn’t win and we were in the lead but I had no tyres left at the end and unfortunately lost the position. But still, it was a good race.
Q: It was a great race to watch. You two head-to-head. If that’s what we are going to be one of the all-time great seasons.
LH: Yeah, we’ve got to find some pace, that’s for sure. Most of the time we lost today was just on the straights. We’ve definitely got to dig deep, try to find out what that is – whether it’s power or drag. But we’ve still got a good package. I’m not really sure how we lost position today…
Q: Well, the undercut was really powerful.
LH: Sure. Well, we didn’t know how strong that was going to be or not. What was really surprising was to run out of that front tyre so early on but obviously they had a good strategy and it worked really well for him.
Q: When Max pitted for the second time what were your thoughts then?
LH: He was already quite far ahead so the only option I really had was to stay out, because again he was undercutting me, so he would come out ahead and I wouldn’t be able to get past as they were too quick on the straights. The only option was to stay out as long as possible and hope the tyres held together.
Q: Another podium Sergio, congratulations. A bit steady at the start , you kept your tyres well, went long and it played out beautifully.
Sergio Pérez: Yeah, it paid out, you know. It was important to stay within the leaders. For the first five or ten laps the car was pretty much undriveable with the wind. We obviously ran less downforce today so it was pretty hard to keep up behind. But then probably the wind was getting calmer and the track was getting better and I started to pick up my rhythm. We managed to go quite long on the first stint and I think that really paid off towards the end. I think the deg was quite a lot higher than expected today. So yeah I think all of us we did a great race, a great strategy from the team and I’m happy that we won the race today and good points for the team.
Q: Max, that was a brilliant and breathless race, well done. You’ve had a few minutes to digest this now. How much pleasure does this one give you?
MV: It was certainly not easy. Especially at the beginning I would say was really tricky for me. I had my moment in Turn 1, where I honestly really got caught out. I turned in thinking it was fine and then suddenly I kept losing the rear. I had to go off track and then I lost the position. Of course I was really upset at the time but you also have to think ahead. It was still a long race and a lot could happen. I just tried to follow. I think it rained overnight and this morning and with F3 driving I think they took a bit of rubber off and it was quite gusty out there today, a bit more wind than yesterday and I think it just took until the middle of the race for us to get back into a nice balance and in the beginning I was just oversteering a lot and it was difficult to really put the power down. We had a good out lap on the hard tyre and I got ahead of Lewis, which was very unexpected because I honestly thought I had a good out lap but I thought I would just slot in behind him and then I saw he was coming out of the pits and I had an opportunity to go for it and for eight laps, I don’t know how many laps, Lewis was giving it his all to come by so it was not easy to keep him behind. And then of course we opted to go for the two-stop and I was like ‘OK, let’s see if it’s going to work out’, because you never know around here. And also the backmarkers were not making it easy to clear them and gain a lot of time every lap. But as soon as I was getting close I could see, of course Lewis on the tyres he was on, they were really worn and there was not much left on it and as soon as I got in the DRS with the top speed and the wing level we chose, let’s see it was a fairly easy pass, but of course also having fresher tyres. It worked out but it was very tight, yeah.
Q: And were you always convinced by the two-stop strategy or were you a bit nervous at the time of the change that you’d left yourself too much to do? Because it was 18 seconds behind, 19 laps to go.
MV: Yeah, well, even if I wouldn’t agree to it, I could have been talking on my radio but they wouldn’t have understood me anyway.
Talk us through the radio drama.
MV: I don’t know. It was literally next to my mouth. I tried to change it but it was always in the same position as previous races and stuff, so I don’t know what happened.
Did it make your race that much more complicated?
MV: No. I just couldn’t talk back to them but they could feed me all the information and that’s the most important because the stops were done. I couldn’t talk to them but what can you do?
Q: And Max, final one from me. Just how much confidence does this whole weekend give you? The pace of the car, what you were able to achieve and, looking ahead in particular.
MV: Of course it’s very promising. The conditions, how they were in the beginning was not easy for us but then, again towards the end, I think the car started to come together again and we were very competitive. So, yeah, very pleased for that and I hope we can keep this up.
Q: Lewis, coming to you, this felt like a reversal of Barcelona a few weeks back. You were the one being hunted down this time. Just how gut-wrenching was it to lose the race so close to the end?
LH: It’s not gut-wrenching at all. I think we did a great job today. It just didn’t work out but I don’t particularly feel… I’m not massively disappointed. I think I did the best job I could today and, of course there were things we could have done slightly better but overall they’ve been quicker than us all weekend so it’s a true reflection of the pace they have. And so… yeah.
Q: Given where you started the weekend and the changes you had to make prior to qualifying, how much better did the car feel in the race?
LH: Compared to practice I wouldn’t say that it felt much better. In the race, as Max was saying, it was gusty, it was slippery, so it was quite tricky out there with the conditions and so I would say today, condition-wise, it was worse for us and that made it really challenging from all the way around the lap. It was just inconsistent all the way around the lap.
Q: And Lewis, given the pace of the Red Bull today, do you think a more aggressive strategy could have made any difference? Could anything have made any difference to the end result, do you think?
LH: I’m sure if we look, with hindsight, for sure if we had stopped earlier, before they had stopped, come out ahead, and just gone onto a two-stop, probably could have won the race – but it would have still been very difficult. Their pace was generally very, very strong. I was able to keep them at bay when he was behind me but if he had not made a mistake in Turn 1, they would have just led the race all the way, probably.
Q: Checo, coming to you, you’re making a habit of this now. Well done. This is Red Bull’s first double-podium of the year. Just how pleased are you with your consistency – and also the race went today?
SP: Yeah, I think we had a good race. I think, as Max and Lewis said, we found the track conditions very different today to what we expected – especially at the start of the race, we had very little grip. Obviously running less downforce on the car compared to the Mercedes made our first stint pretty tricky. I think my first five laps and the last five laps of my first stint, if you take them away then the race could have looked a lot better. We did a good strategy. We went long – very long – on that first stint which really paid out. And I think, yeah, we lacked a couple of laps to get Lewis as well. But I think overall it’s a good result for the team and yeah, it’s showing that it’s some good progress and I just have to keep working on it to get this consistency and take another step very soon.
Q: And can you talk us through the overtake on Valtteri at the end?
SP: Yeah, it was quite tricky because we were reaching the lapped cars and it was quite tricky because, with the DRS and the traffic ahead, it was pretty hard and then I went around him into Turn 10, and I just tried to give him as much room… I mean, I was already ahead but I tried to give him as much room as possible. That meant I went off the track. I came back and basically I had no advantage because the move was already done and it was mainly done to give him room and avoid any possible contact at that point.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Lewis, first of all, what a thrilling race. In the first reaction on Sky, in his analysis, Nico Rosberg said he was a bit surprised looking at it from the outside that you didn’t defend any harder against Max when he passed you. Was there anything more you could have done in that situation – or was that just an indication of how much your tyres were gone – and with the benefit of hindsight, do you think that the two-stopper would have been worth trying.
LH: Firstly, there’s marbles on the inside, so I didn’t want to make my tyres any worse than they already were. He had the DRS open, so if he didn’t pass me there, he would have passed me the straight afterwards, so it would have made zero difference and I just had no front end, so he would have got me either way. It was pointless to defend any harder. I think you saw what happened to Valtteri – just ended up going straight on. So, there was no point messing up the tyres any more. Two-stop, probably… two-stop would potentially have done the job but it was not on the cards at all for us, so we’ll do some analysis and try to figure out why.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, obviously you’ve been in a slightly different situation before: you’ve been the hunted in this situation in the past. How different an experience was it mentally, and inside the car being the hunter?
MV: I think it has been always… I mean in Bahrain it was also like this. Then of course in Barcelona it was the other way around again. It depends a bit how much you’re catching, or how much the other guy is catching if you are the one ahead, on older tyres. But what can you do? I mean, even if you know he is going one-and-a-half, two-seconds a lap faster, you just have to do what you can do with your pace. You just try to do the best you can and focus on yourself and then you will see if he appears in your mirrors or not.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, just to pick on what you said about getting caught out at the first corner, was that because of the wind, was there a gust of wind, did that unsettle the car or was just misjudging the conditions at the first corner?
MV: I don’t think I braked too late but the whole first stint, I was massively struggling into turn 1, turn three, four, five so I guess here, when your cars are a bit colder after the start, yeah, I just lost a lot of grip suddenly. It was not one moment, it was like three or four so yeah, I lost the rear and had to go off the track.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) It’s a question to all three drivers please: it just seems that lots of drivers today found their tyre degradation quite unexpectedly high. I just wondered what you thought the reason behind that was. Was it because there was rain on the track in the morning? Temperatures were cooler today.
LH: Not really sure why. Obviously the other day was hotter, so maybe you would assume maybe on the hotter track you would have more deg. Cooler today – I have no idea but the deg was much bigger than anyone in my team thought that it would be.
MV: Well, my car felt really good on Friday and yesterday and then of course, at the beginning of the race I was struggling a lot so it can only be the track being more green because of the rain and then that race in F3 with the rain tyres, so that quite a bit of the rubber was gone and then the gusts as well. I mean on lap you felt it was OK-ish and then the next lap you were like a second off, just because of the wind, giving you oversteer and moments and of course oversteer is killing the rear tyres, so I guess that’s where the higher deg is coming from. I think the outside temperature is not so much of an influence when you keep just sliding around more.
SP: Not much to add to what Max said. I think the only thing will be that on Friday the maximum we do in the long runs, given that the time on track is a lot shorter. The maximum you do is about seven to ten laps at max, and you don’t really get to read what’s going to happen in the race, so I think that’s another thing and I think we all under-estimated the effect the rain had and the wind. Yeah, it just made the degradation a lot worse than expected.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Max, how did you manage to pass Lewis at the stop? You managed to undercut from 3.2s back. Can you just give us your thoughts on that?
MV: Yeah, my out lap was good but I didn’t expect the undercut to be so big, but when I went out I suddenly had so much more grip on the tyres everywhere. Yeah. I don’t know how fast Lewis’s stop was or whatever, so I need to look at it again but I think nobody – including us – we never expected to undercut Lewis so it just clearly showed that with new tyres and then of course the tricky conditions out there – when you’re on used tyres of course it’s easier to lose the car a little bit or whatever because of the wind – so with new tyres you have one lap where of course everything feels a lot better. Because as soon as I was ahead the next two laps, they didn’t feel so great any more.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) And Lewis, I would love your thoughts on this moment in the race and your pit stop was 2.2s, so…
LH: Good pit stop, yeah, great pit stop, great effort by the lads. I don’t know. I will have to go back and look at it but in that, I was definitely down on my in lap, my tyres were getting worse so not really much more to add.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, because you and Red Bull have been the underdogs in the past, I guess you tended to be a winner of great races and sort of shock results and that sort of thing. I wondered how different the wins have felt this year because they’ve come in a different context and the nature of this win, sort of having to work so hard for it and it comes so late in the race, is this the most sort of tense finish, sort of feels like the sort of hardest earned so far?
MV: I’ve had a few great races: Austria, for example, as well, when I stalled at the start and then won it at the end but yeah, I think the car this year was of course a lot more competitive, every race weekend we have been to we are fighting for podiums or a win so of course it’s a little bit different, but it just shows you that the two teams are super close together. One weekend you get it right and the strategy and then the other weekend the other team gets it right so I think in the end it’s really exciting but of course this is a very nice race to win. It’s always great to get on top but of course – like when I was second in Barcelona you just miss out on it but that’s how it goes in racing in general. It’s still a very long season so we just have to keep pushing but I think it’s good for Formula 1 at the end.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Max, just looking forwards. The next two races are on home territory really for Red Bull, two races in a row. How do you see them? Momentum is important. Do you see this as a chance really now to start pulling away in serious fashion from Lewis and Lewis, how do you feel about two races at the Red Bull Ring coming up?
MV: I’m looking forward to it, first of all, of course because it’s like a home grand prix. We’ve had good results in the past but it’s not a guarantee. We have to again set up the car well there and read the conditions well. I don’t know what the weather is going to be like so I’m looking forward to it. I’m for sure expecting it to be close again but yeah, we’ll find out when we are there.
LH: It’s a power-hungry circuit, got those long long straights so we could see something similar to this weekend, obviously with the straightline speed of the Red Bull but we’ve got three days to try and see if we can make any adjustments and improvements and maybe if we maximise absolutely everything maybe we can give them a run for their money.