Full transcript from the FIA press conference following the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, won by Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
Drivers: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), George Russell (Williams) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes).
(Conducted by Paul Di Resta)
Q: Max, well it’s a race win, not obviously the way you probably wanted to do it but I guess absolute credit to the job you did yesterday securing pole position and getting the job done when you had to be at the front?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, of course now in hindsight it was very important to get that pole position but of course it’s a big shame to not do proper laps but the conditions were very tricky out there. I said at 3.30 let’s go. I think the conditions were decent but of course the visibility was very low so I think if we would have started at 3 o’clock we had a better chance, but nevertheless after that it just stayed really wet and it kept raining. Of course it’s a win but it’s not how you want to win. I think today you know big credit goes to all the fans around the track, to stay here the whole day in the rain, in the cold, windy conditions, so I think they are actually the bigger winners today.
Q: I guess you have closed the gap to Lewis. Closed the gap by half of what you normally would have had but all those points are going to make up to the end of the season.
MV: Yeah, we have to keep on pushing, keep on trying to close it and of course go ahead. We have a few more races to do that and I am confident that we have a good car. We just need to keep on trying to get a bit more performance out of it.
Q: George, it doesn’t matter how you reach the podium, it goes down in the history books, but absolutely credit to that lap yesterday. That’s what secured it isn’t it.
George RUSSELL: Yeah, absolutely. We don’t often get rewarded for great qualifyings but we absolutely did today. But first I want to say sorry to all the fans. It was amazing, their support, to stay out here throughout, and we were all in the same boat. It was shame we couldn’t get this race underway but just from our side and the team’s side it is such an amazing result.
Q: At least it will go down when people call you Mr Saturday, at least it actually counted there.
GR: It actually counted, it actually counted, so a little celebration tonight I’m sure. My whole team deserves it as there has been so much hard work going into it over the last few years and there has not really been anything to show for it or prove for it and we absolutely nailed it yesterday and here we are standing on the podium. I can tell you I didn’t expect that this year, that’s for sure.
Q: Lewis, it’s the end of a difficult day for everybody in Formula 1 when you don’t see cars racing, but I guess it’s a podium for you and the guys in the grandstands are the heroes aren’t they?
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, firstly I feel really sorry for the fans today. Obviously it’s no one’s fault with this weather but the fans have been incredible today to stick with us this whole time and hold out for a potential race. They knew when they sent us out at the end there that the track wasn’t any better and they did it just so we could start two laps behind the safety car, which is the minimum requirement for a race. I really hope the fans get their money back today.
Q: How difficult were the conditions out there? Were you able to race at any time during the three hours we had?
LH: No, no. You couldn’t really see, like five metres in front of you the car disappears, so it was very difficult down the straights to even know where that flashing light was. You couldn’t even go flat out because you didn’t know what part of the track they would be on. It’s a shame because of course I wanted to race and it could have been a great race if it hadn’t rained so hard.
Q: Max, it’s been a long day, but a win is a win. How do you sum it all up and have you ever experienced anything like this in your career before?
MV: Not this extreme… I mean, but it has to happen. What can you say? This is of course not what you like, especially not for the people at the side of the track, the fans. They expect a race. But the conditions today were not good. It just kept raining all the time. I think from 3 o’clock onwards it just got worse and worse and when you already start that late in the day there is not much room to move around, even though we still waited for like three hours. Unfortunately it didn’t improve. Of course when you are the leading car the visibility is naturally a bit better, so it’s difficult on my side to judge how the others felt. I think at 3.30 I said it was OK to race from my side but of course the visibility behind was very bad and especially I think with the recent events you don’t want to risk a big shunt to happen or even you know the risk of it. It just didn’t feel right. Of course the fans won’t agree with what happened today but you also have to think about safety at the end.
Q: What’s the biggest concern for you as a driver? Is it the visibility?
MV: I guess that was the biggest problem. I mean the grip was low, we know that, in the wet. We don’t have a lot of grip with these tyres but when you can’t see where you are going or you don’t know where the car ahead of you is, that’s never really nice, so you can’t properly race like that.
Q: How did you fill your time in the break?
MV: Just talking to people in the team and of course on the right side there were a lot of mechanics working on the car of Checo to try and get it out again so there was a bit of entertainment around. It’s a long wait. In a way when you start at 3 o’clock and you have days like this maybe it’s better to start a bit earlier, at 12, 1 o’clock. I think that’s a better time anyway to start, for me. Now it’s just dragging on and on and the weather just gets worse and worse. It gets dark.
Q: Looking at the positives, Quali yesterday was a great pole lap for you.
MV: Yeah, it was fun and of course at the end of the day now it was very important. There’s not much more to say.
Q: Final topic from me. You have closed the gap to Lewis in the championship. That was an important thing to do this weekend.
MV: We had two races where we didn’t really score points, so we needed a decent result. Of course, again, it’s not how you want to have the result, but still I think the whole weekend we were very competitive, and that’s very important on a track like this with long straights. And now we go to Zandvoort, which is new for everyone, so there will be a bit of a question mark over how everyone will be performing and maybe some surprises as well, you never know, but I’m looking forward to it.
Q: George, your first podium in Formula 1. Not the way you wanted it, of course, but it’s still been a very significant weekend for you, hasn’t it?
GR: Absolutely. Obviously not the way I’d have liked to have scored my first podium. A little bit of a strange feeling achieving it in this way but at the end of the day we’ve been rewarded for such a fantastic job yesterday. And, as Max said, I mean, such a shame for everybody at home watching and all the fans here. Even I was, in second behind Max, anything over 200kph, I could not see a single thing. I may as well have been closing my eyes down the straight and was having to lift off the throttle. So, it wasn’t safe at all to race. I think the FIA made the right decision.
Q: And that visibility problem was the same at 1500 and 1817?
GR: I think, to be honest, as Max said as well, it probably got worse. As it starts to get dark and the rain increases slightly it was probably never really in a good state to drive. So, yeah, it’s been a very long day for sure – but for the whole team it’s a massive result. For us to be standing on this podium, didn’t really matter how we achieved it, standing on this podium, is a huge result for us to… remembering we finished last in the Constructors’ Championship three years in a row and here we are this weekend, qualifying on the front row and standing on the podium. I’m really proud to have achieved this with the team.
Q: And you’ve really secured that eighth place in the Championship, it would look like.
GR: Yeah, I’d say so. I believe the amount of points we scored in Hungary were probably enough to have secured that eighth in the Constructors but I believe it probably takes even more pressure off now, to go out, really put everything on the line, maybe try some more extreme things, see if we can learn anything more – because there’s no reason why we can’t score more points. And, looking forward already to next weekend and to Zandvoort. Amazing circuit. It’s probably going to be difficult to race but I think the whole atmosphere there is going to be great.
Q: And how did you fill your time?
GR: Just talking to people. I was really hungry throughout the whole duration. I wanted to nibble into something – but because we didn’t know when that restart was going to be we really dragged it out, dragged it out, and when it got to six o’clock, or whenever it was, I was starving. Played a bit with some tennis balls and that was about it. Waited for the rain and got wet.
Q: Lewis, can we just get your thoughts on the afternoon, the conditions and how you filled your time.
LH: It’s a real shame. We obviously can’t control the weather. I’m sure all of us love racing in the rain, especially here in Spa. It’s one of the greatest circuits in the world. I think today, I think just really disappointed for the fans. They stood out there for absolute hours in the rain, no covering in the grandstands – I think maybe on the pit grandstand there is – but cold and wet and particularly the kids. More importantly, they had to spend so much money with travelling, accommodation and then they didn’t get a race. Unfortunate, and I’m a little bit confused as to why they restarted the race because between the two hours when they stopped us the first time to the last time, there was no change in weather. But… yes… I mean I know why, but I do feel the fans were robbed of a race today and I think they probably should get their money back.
Q: Lewis, you’ve had a long career in Formula 1. Have you experienced anything like this before. Brazil 2016? Korea 2010? Was the weather reminiscent of any of that?
LH: Weather-wise I don’t think… I don’t remember experiencing… I mean, I’ve raced for years, so I don’t remember on the weather-side. In the background, us being in Melbourne last year when we shouldn’t have been, there are some similarities to how today’s gone down but at least everyone’s safe. Ultimately, the visibility behind… once we did the start on the grid, as soon as Max pulled away, he just disappeared. I couldn’t even see his red light ahead of me, so it must have been even worse for the guys back at the back. The worst thing is to see drivers in carnage and getting hurt. So…
Q: And how did you fill your time in the gap?
LH: I was back in my room, listening to the new Kanye album. I was watching the weather, looking out of the window most of the time just praying the thing would clear up so we could get going. Obviously that time never came. I did speak to Stefano, who came along, just telling him how bad it is out there.
Questions from the floor
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, just regarding your comments just now and also to TV crews earlier on about F1 making the wrong choice today. I just wondered, what do you think should have been done differently? What would have been a better outcome?
LH: Well, there was no point at which we could race so there wasn’t a race, but there is a rule that says for it to be a legal race, it has to be – I think – a minimum of two laps so they knew that and they sent us out for two laps behind the safety car and that activates a bunch of things and I don’t know all the politics and the background but my most concern is that the fans should probably get their money back, I think, and I don’t know if by doing the two laps it means they don’t and that’s… I just don’t think that’s what we want. We have better values than that as a sport.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to all three drivers: if it was logistically possible, it could be contractually arranged, would you be in favour of maybe returning to Spa later in the year, given that races have already been cancelled by COVID? We don’t know what’s going to happen with the pandemic and it might be easier to have another race in Europe if possible. Would you like to see that?
MV: We already do too many races, so we should pick the proper tracks, of course first of all, the good ones but now, to come back again here, I don’t see that happening, especially when you already have 22 races.
GR: If we did have to have a replacement race, I would have nothing against coming back here: obviously one of the best races and circuits in the world and obviously so many fans who probably love Formula 1 who live locally or in Belgium didn’t have the opportunity to see what they came here for so maybe that could be another way to repay them for the loss today.
LH: I’d absolutely come back. I love it here so if there is a way we could find a window where it wasn’t raining and we give the fans a free race, that would be great.
GR: We’d never be able to race in Spa if we’re looking for a window that isn’t raining.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckhas – Autosport) To all three of you, but just returning to what it was like in the car during those laps that you did do behind the safety car, I just wondered, could you just explain what were you thinking at that moment, at those particular moments, and also were there any areas of the track where the water was particularly bad, where it felt particularly unpleasant with aquaplaning and things like that?
LH: Yeah, there was aquaplaning into five, I had aquaplaning there. I couldn’t go flat out down the straight because I had no idea where George was, whether he was braking, to get a gap to the guy because he can’t see the car ahead of him and there was moments where I was like ‘I’m slowing down’ because I can’t see where they are and who knows where the car is behind me also? And then Eau Rouge was pretty tricky and I guess really the worst thing would be if we had a crash, like we saw yesterday with Lando and you come up that hill… you wouldn’t be able to see if there was a driver in the middle of the road. There definitely was, unfortunately, no moment today that we could race. Maybe in the morning, I think there was less rain in the morning.
GR: Yeah, as Lewis said, coming out of Turn 1, all the way up through Eau Rouge and into turn five I think, for me, I felt like as soon as we were over probably 200km/h that spray was just too drastic and I had absolutely no idea where Max was. That was probably less concerning… it was probably more concerning for drivers behind me because they can’t see me as well and yeah, I don’t think I rarely got full throttle down the straights and you were just losing tyre temperature as well. The laps behind the safety car and everything, one after another, was just making it impossible out there so yeah, we may as well have been driving up the straight with our eyes closed at points because that’s how it would have been had the race started and it would have been chaos, so we made the right call to not race from three o’ clock onwards. Whether we could have pushed it forward, pre-empting this weather – who knows?
MV: Yeah, there’s not much to add to that.