Full transcript from the post-qualifying press conference after qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 12 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Spa-Francorchamps.
Featuring pole winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing); second-placed George Russell (Williams) and third-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes). Track interviews conducted by Mark Webber
Q: George Russell, oh my God mate. First front-row start in Formula 1 for Williams? What a performance.
George Russell: I don’t know what to say to be honest. I thought we would be doing a good job to get out of Q1 given how we got on yesterday and now we’re here standing here on the front. I think we did an amazing job today. I was on the attack always at the right time. The car was feeling great. I had so much confidence so on to tomorrow now.
Q: The start in Q1, an inspired call on intermediates. You looked great in that session and then run us though that last lap then because the level of grip you found under the circumstances, under pressure, with the red flags and everything. Extraordinary performance.
GR: Yeah, I think I was in the fortunate position that I had nothing to lose. We were in Q3, which is not the norm for us, and we just had to go for it. We saved a full maximum engine mode for the last lap and we just thought ‘you know what, let’s go for it’. Buzzing, absolutely buzzing. But obviously tomorrow is the important one and we have to go out there and score some points.
Q: Well, you know, P2 is good here so we can have a bit of a nibble for the lead can’t we, up into Les Combes?
GR: That’s the plan, that’s the plan! If it’s there for the taking we will go for it. Mega.
Q: Well done mate, sleep well tonight and good luck for tomorrow. Max, congratulations, pole position. Pretty much a home grand prix for you here in Belgium. It’s been challenging conditions all weekend but it must be very satisfying to get pole position and sort of run the race off the front row tomorrow?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it’s been a really tricky qualifying. It’s hard to keep the car on track, switching the tyres on as well, at the right time. Also the long break between Q2 and Q3, it’s not easy then to settle in and learn the track conditions again but at the end we were first and that’s the most important thing. It’s an amazing track to drive but very challenging in the wet.
Q: Run us through the different tyres because obviously on the extremes not many people got much mileage on that and we had a big shut with Lando at the top of the hill at Eau Rouge. Is it challenging switching between the two wet tyres at this venue?
MV: Yeah, as you could see in Q1 a lot of people, including myself, went out on the extremes but it was just very slow. It was really a lot seconds off the pace and naturally you switch to the intermediate but of course that tyre cannot handle a lot of standing water so there also it becomes quite tricky, so lovely weather. Overall super happy to have a qualifying like this after the break, to have a pole position again. A good day.
Q: Lewis, that looked like pretty challenging conditions for you. It looked like the car was not that easy to drive in intermediate conditions throughout the whole of qualifying. Are you pretty relieved that you got to qualify that far up at the end or did you want more, of course you want to be on the front row?
Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, it’s been a very difficult day for everyone. I just tried to stay positive, focused and calm. Well done to Max, he did a great job right at the end. My first lap was really good, the second one I struggled a little bit. Also, a great job by George, that was just fantastic.
Q: Phenomenal lap by him. For tomorrow’s race in terms of mixed conditions. The intermediates are going off quite quickly, is it going to be quite hard on the strategy, not just on the track drying off and going wet again, but are the intermediates good in those transitions?
LH: Yeah, if it’s like this tomorrow it will be tricky. There is this balance of straight line speed versus that mid-section downforce. I think we tried to strike the best balance possible, maybe it’s not the best for today but we will see tomorrow exactly how good it is. Otherwise I’m really grateful to the team for keeping their cool in this session and tomorrow is another day and hopefully we have better weather, hopefully for the fans because they are probably drenched out there today.
Q: You’ve nearly got another wingman up there with George another Mercedes-powered car. Having him up the front there in terms of strategy maybe putting a bit of pressure on Max with the pair of you?
LH: Yeah, I don’t really know what happened with Valtteri, a bit unfortunate because I think they have two Red Bulls not too far away, so that’s going to make a little bit harder in terms of strategy as I think Valtteri has a penalty also. But nonetheless we will do everything we can and tomorrow is another day. I hope that it is not crazy rain like this but interchangeable could be fun.
Q: Max, huge congratulations that was the ninth pole of your career, just how tough was it out there?
MV: I think all qualifying it was pretty tricky because conditions-wise with the track but also to get the tyres in the right window. It was really difficult to find a gap, to not have problems with the visibility. Overall it was important to stay on track and do your laps at the right time. It was just building up like that through Q1 and Q2 and then we had quite a long break because of the crash and then to go straight into Q3 with conditions like that it was very tricky, because the track looks very wet and you want to go out on an extreme but these tyres were extremely slow so then you go out on an inter, which is not really made for a lot of water on track. Yeah, it was difficult. But this track is amazing to drive in the dry and when you then have a wet qualifying, it’s pretty…. I wouldn’t say scary but it’s really interesting and quite extreme in Q3 when you know that you have to push and try to go to the limit in the wet here.
Q: How confident were you coming into the session?
MV: Difficult to tell. We didn’t really run a lot in FP3. You don’t know what the conditions are going to be because clearly you could it was raining and then it was drying. You need a little bit of luck as well to be at the right time on track. Yeah difficult to tell going into this session
Q: The forecast for tomorrow looks unpredictable at best. Just tell us about the performance of your car in all conditions. Are you confident, wet or dry?
MV: Yeah, I’m quite confident. We had a good Friday straightaway out of the box. The car felt quite decent. There were no big dramas. There are always things to fine-tune but it felt quite good, and today in the wet, it’s never easy, it’s always moving around – but yeah, it’s alright. You just need to make sure that tomorrow we have a clean first lap and then we’ll see. Again, changing conditions and a lot of things can happen.
Q: George, coming to you. What a performance. You were on pole position for a short while as well. Try and put into words what you’ve just done?
GR: Not too sure, to be honest. I mean, an incredible team effort. I think the car was really on it in these wet conditions and there’s so much that has to go right, all the little details, to give the driver the confidence, because we aren’t doing many laps, the conditions are so tricky, constantly changing, you’ve got to be… you’ve got to have that confidence to be able to extract the most, and obviously we had the extreme tyres on at the start, which were the incorrect tyres, and I only had one lap at the end. I think being in Q3 gave me the fortunate… I was in the fortunate position that I could put it all on the table, and just absolutely go for it. So… yeah… I was definitely not expecting to be on the front row this weekend, that’s for sure.
Q: What were you expecting? Because you were ninth in the final practice session earlier today.
GR: I thought if it was wet, Q3 was definitely a possibility. I had good confidence in the wet around this circuit: it’s a place I enjoy in these conditions. Throughout the junior ranks you get to drive this place a lot and more times than not it is wet – but getting into a Q3 was an achievement in itself, and we had no more new Inter tyres, so we actually were on a used set of Inters for Q3. So, I was expected P9,8,7 really. When my engineer came on the radio telling me all the drivers who were slotting in behind me, I thought: “crikey, this could be a good one!’ and then Max obviously just pipped me, so you know, we’re in a great position but no points for qualifying, so eyes on tomorrow.
Q: About tomorrow. What are your goals. What are you hoping for?
GR: We’ve obviously got to be realistic, we’ve got incredibly fast cars behind us but if the conditions stay the same, we’ve got a car that’s probably quick enough on merit in the top ten but if we’re starting from the front row, there’s no reason why we can’t try to hold that position for the majority of the race. But, you know, I don’t think I’m going to do anything stupid with the cars around me that are clearly going to be faster than us – but there’s no reason why we can’t finish, if conditions are like this, top five, and just maximise it. Points is an absolute minimum.
Q: Are you doing a rain dance?
GR: I guess so. I guess we’ll have more chance if it’s wet than if it’s dry. I guess we just all hope for consistent conditions – which I’m pretty confident we won’t have. Even over the course of that hour and a half in qualifying, one second it’s undriveable, the next it’s almost slicks. It’s going to be really difficult for the guys on the pit wall to determine the right strategy at the right point but I think you’ve just got to be dynamic, you’ve got to keep an open mind and just keep fighting until the last lap.
Q: Lewis, it looked like one of your tougher qualifying sessions here at Spa. Just talk us through it.
LH: Yeah, difficult for everyone. These guys did a great job in the final stages of Q3. I think my first lap was OK but yeah, just difficult for everyone. Really happy to see Lando is OK. He was looking incredibly quick. I think he’d probably be up here with us, or maybe even squeeze me out potentially. He had some great pace today, so I hope that he gets back on the road tomorrow. Just a tricky session for everyone with the rain more intense in different parts of the circuit. A real struggle, I would say, with our car today. As you’ve seen with Valtteri as well, the car was a bit of a handful today but I’m really happy to be on the second row and, as George said, the points are tomorrow.
Q: Can you tell us any more about the issues with the car in the wet weather.
LH: There’s not really too much to say. There was not a lot of grip out there for everyone. There are people with different downforce levels. We tried to find the best compromise, the best balance for both potential circumstances for today and tomorrow in terms of dry and wet, and so we hope we’re OK. We’ll see what the weather’s like tomorrow and we’ll see how it works.
Q: Are you more confident about your race pace?
LH: Yes. I think our race pace should be a little bit stronger than our pace today – but I still think it’s going to be a handful, particularly if it’s going to be these conditions.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) George, I know you touched on it briefly at the start of what you were saying earlier but can you just explain why you initially went out on the full wets at the start of Q3 and then also, your first lap, I think it was ninth quickest, and then the next one you’re lighting up the timing screens, provisional pole and end up second. What was the difference? Was it just a preparation lap, that first one?
GR: Yeah, so we were planning to do a fast-slow-fast sequence but we thought we’d go for it on the Wet tyres but it was clearly too dry. I think we underestimated how much the track had dried up. And then, it’s really difficult on this long circuit because we’ve obviously got the same engine mode but the battery deployment is quite different, and you want to give it everything you’ve got on that one lap, so I knew the lap would be on the last lap, so I basically pushed but I didn’t deploy my battery, and just saved it all for the last lap, because it’s quite potent around here – so that’s the reason for that.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) George, I presume you’re aware you’ve just produced what is going to go down as one of the all-time greatest qualifying performances in Formula 1. How do you feel about that and how do you think you managed to pull it off.
GR: I was quite surprised to hear that, to be honest. I mean, there’s been some pretty stellar qualifying performances and especially by the two guys to the left of me. But, to be honest, I’m not really thinking about that kind of stuff. I think it’s obviously always nice to hear positivity and great things as you’ve just said – but I’m a race driver at the end of the day and I want to win and, as we touched on before, there’s no points for qualifying. There probably should be because I think qualifying, it is an achievement to be on pole position so maybe something in the future that Formula 1 could introduce – but no, just really pleased for everybody. The team have been doing a really great job and in circumstances like this, it really pays off, the hard work and effort they have done. Just all in all really pleased for the team.
Q: George, that was clearly your best qualifying position; was it the best qualifying lap you’ve driven in Formula 1?
GR: Well, it was incredibly difficult out there. The conditions were changing every single lap and the lap times were obviously quite a lot slower than Q2 so it was about really pushing right to the limit but not going over it, because if you go that one percent over the limit you’d probably lose a second or so. So, it was definitely a very good lap and clearly being in this position.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Lewis, you seem to be a bit lukewarm about potentially having George as teammate next year. After this performance, do you still feel the same way?
LH: I don’t feel any different. George has been doing a great job all year. This doesn’t really change anything, really. I’m sure he’s got pressure on him just as Valtteri does to do the job and it’s great to see him delivering. I can’t fault him for it.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) To all three of you: Lewis, you mentioned Lando’s crash there. It’s the second rather nasty crash we’ve seen this weekend at Eau Rouge after the shunt in W Series yesterday. We know the changes are coming for that complex next year but I was just wanted to know, all three of you, what are your feelings on the safety standards around Eau Rouge and the Raidillon, with the cars being as quick as they are now?
MV: Well, I think the changes I saw yesterday which are going to happen at the end of the year so for us next year, I think they look very good. It is of course a very fast corner and when you go through it everything is fine. The problem is when the barrier is so close and one person hits the barrier it’s very easily that the car bounces back onto the track and onto the racing line and then you can collect another car and even if it happens a little bit later you go over the crest which is blind as well so I think that’s as it was in the Spa 24hrs race with the GT3 cars when there was also a massive crash. I do think with the changes that are being made it will be a lot better. I mean racing is never going to be fully safe. I think everyone knows that but of course there are a few things around that corner which can be helped and they are doing that, so I think it’s going to be a lot better.
GR: Yeah, nothing more to add. I think we all saw yesterday the plans the FIA have in store for this circuit and its… yeah, nothing more to add to what Max said. I think all the changes will make the race and that corner much safer.
LH: I think they’ve just got to get rid of the bump and then leave Eau Rouge as it is, in my opinion, but they will do what they do. I don’t feel you need to spend the money.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) George, obviously this is far from the first time that you’ve done something impressive behind the wheel of an F1 car. There’s obviously plenty of talk about what’s going to happen with where you’re driving next year. How important is it for you, regardless of where a decision may or may not be, to kind of keep doing this and see an opportunity like this to show you deserve to be there? Your team boss, Jost Capito said you deserve to be in a championship-winning car so it must be vital for you to keep showing that and that justifies the interest and support you’ve had.
GR: I think Formula One’s a pretty ruthless sport. There’s only opportunity for 20 drivers in the world and there’s probably plenty more drivers who are deserving to be in Formula 1 so regardless – from my personal experience – these contract talks at the moment, you’ve got to keep showing what you can do and never lift your foot off the throttle because if you do, there’ll be a youngster coming through, trying to take your seat and then you can never be complacent so regardless I’m out every weekend to do 120 per cent.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) To all three drivers: Spa, which you rank as one of the most majestic circuits there is but you’ve driven it in the dry, you’ve driven it in the wet; which is better from a pure driving satisfaction perspective, a wet Spa or a very fast flowing dry Spa?
LH: Wet Spa is more exciting. I think now we just have too much downforce and Eau Rouge is flat, very, very easy flat in the dry and there’s a kind of an off there, you can run very wide everywhere. The wet makes it much, much trickier.
GR: Yes, I’m the saying as Lewis: the wet, definitely makes it exciting and when you’ve got the confidence in the car beneath you to deliver it’s sort of exhilarating, so yeah, the wet for me as well.
MV: I think, yeah, in the wet it’s super difficult because then Eau Rouge doesn’t become flat, Blanchimont is trickier but for me, in the dry, Q3 when you’re on low fuel with these cars I actually really enjoy it. It’s just insane how quickly you can go through corners here, like Pouhon would have been flat. That’s pretty amazing. Also, when you’ve driven here with other kind of cars, GT, F3, Formula Renault, whatever and you come here with an F1 car, you know, low fuel is pretty amazing.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, can you just talk us through the lap that got you pole at the end of Q3 and how did it compare to your efforts earlier on in Q1 and Q2 where you were edged out by the McLaren?
MV: Yeah, I think the lap was alright but I don’t think… in the wet it’s all about the lap. It’s also about how you warm up your tyres. It’s super sensitive for temperatures. If you have a little bit more temperature, more confidence on the brakes, you can brake later, you’ve more grip on turn-in so better traction and I do think the lap itself was OK but my tyres felt a bit cold, especially the first sector and maybe the start of the second one, so I think looking back at that, we could have done a better job but it’s so tricky out there, to make the right call. Tricky, but it was alright.