Russian Grand Prix Qualifying Press Conference

sochi qualifying press conference 2021

Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conferences after qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 15 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome

Featuring pole winner Lando Norris (McLaren), second-placed Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) and third placed George Russell (Williams).

Track Interviews conducted by Johnny Herbert

Q: Lando Norris, your first pole position, how does that feel?

Lando Norris: Oh boy! It feels amazing. I don’t know what to say. It was quite a manic session but it was also going well and obviously made the decision in the end to go slicks. But I don’t know, you never think you are going to get a pole until you get it and now I’ve managed to do it. Yeah, extremely happy and big thanks to the team as well, they did an amazing job.

Q: And what about the circuit? That must have been so tricky to get the lap you needed to get that pole?  

LN: It was tough. It was tough. I’m mostly going to make myself sound good! It was tricky you know because it was really that crossover section and the lap before I was two seconds down and I wasn’t very confident we were going to improve on the previous lap. But I kept the tyres warm and prepared the final lap and I risked quite a bit I’m going to admit and it paid off, so I’m a happy boy.

Q: And what about tomorrow? Starting on that pole position, lovely clear track in front. How much are you looking forward to it? 

LN: I’m not really looking forward to it! I’m not looking forward to being first down to Turn 1 tomorrow. But you never know, it’s going to set us up well and we are in the best position we can be in. I’m happy, it’s my first pole position, hopefully the first of many. I don’t know, I’m just really happy. I don’t know what to say.

Q: I see you got your team manager there. What did he say to you?

LN: I don’t even know what he said to me! He just hugged me. I guess coming off Monza this is not something we expected but in these kind of conditions we can take opportunities and that’s exactly what we did today. Yeah, after Monza this is an awesome way to start and hopefully we can continue it that way.

Q: Carlos, how was that for you? Second place; tricky conditions. You have to be happy with that?

Carlos Sainz: Yeah, very tricky. To be honest it was right from the beginning a very tricky qualifying but right after Q2 I could see that there was a chance that the slick was going to come into play. We did a very good strategy pitting two laps to the end, getting the slick up to temperature and then I pulled out a pretty strong lap. Unfortunately I was one of the first ones across the line, which didn’t allow me to exploit the whole track conditions, but it was still a good lap, on the limit.

Q: What about race pace? It didn’t seem too bad yesterday, so this is going to put you in good stead for tomorrow. Hopefully it will be a dry one.

CS: No, this weekend we are looking a bit stronger. Probably our weakest conditions has been the inter. On the inter we were like this to go into Q3. We still have some issues there to solve. In the dry we have been competitive. Obviously there is the two Mercs and the Red Bull of Perez and we expect them to go through but we will put on a fight and we will try to have some fun.

Q: How much are you looking forward to the scrap down towards Turn 2?

CS: It’s going to be fun. Hopefully I can get Lando at the start and if not just get a good tow. Starting P2 here, the dirty side, is really penalising so I’m going to need to make sure I do my homework overnight to make sure that we don’t lose too much of the line on that dirty side and then see if I can get into a tow or why no pass him into [Turn] 1.

Q: George, how did that feel, getting third place today?

George Russell: It’s crazy, you know. It’s my second time in the top three in three or four events. The team have done an amazing job once again – pitting at the right time and putting the right tyres on. It was tricky out there. There was one dry line and if you were just a couple of centimetres too wide you would have been on the wet stuff and you would have been off. Well done to Lando and Carlos and excited for tomorrow.

Q: That’s going to be thing. Starting as high up as you are again and with dry conditions coming, how much are you looking forward to the battle tomorrow, especially with these two guys?

GR: Yeah, really looking forward to it. Yesterday our high fuel pace was one of our best of the year. It’s still a long way behind these guys and the Mercedes who will be starting behind us. We will have a battle on our hands but we are pretty slippery on the straights, we have some nice straight line speed, so we’ve got to go for the podium again – nothing to lose.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Lando, we heard a yelp of delight from you over the radio. Has it sunk in yet?

LN: I don’t know. It’s just an awesome feeling altogether. I don’t know what to say. It feels like you have just qualified well, but it’s a pole position, which doesn’t come around much. It’s my first in X amount of races and it could be my only pole for a while. It feels amazing, especially in these conditions. It’s tricky and you have to put a lot of risk on the line and just try to see if it pays off and it did. An amazing feeling, my first pole. Probably the only place I wouldn’t want to be pole is here, especially with the straight down to Turn 1, but I’m still very happy.

Q: How tricky was it to hold it together on the slick tyres at the end?

LN: We kind of did the first couple of laps. I did one on the inter and the first one on the softs and from those two you can gather a decent amount of information of where it’s dry and where it’s still damp and so on, but a lot of time it’s just hope. You go into the corner and hope it sticks and it did. That’s the kind of level you have to push at in Formula 1 when it’s so high. You never know what everyone else is going to do, when everyone is pushing as much as they can to also go for pole, because everyone knows there is this opportunity when the conditions are like this. A lot of pushing but we made the right decisions I think pitting when we did. I think most people did a similar thing. Yeah, not easy at all and I’m sure the other guys will say the same.

Q:You’re starting first tomorrow, what’s the goal for tomorrow? You have to go for the win don’t you?

LN: After last weekend what do you expect? Another race win for McLaren would be lovely. I don’t expect so, I think Mercedes are a long way up the road from us and Red Bull probably similar. I think we have decent pace. We saw yesterday that the cars are in a good position, in the wet now and also in the dry. A long run down to Turn 1 or Turn 2, whatever you want to say, so I have to look forward to that and make sure I prepare for that well.  But I think either conditions I look forward to, we can score some good points tomorrow, we can have a good race, because we are in the best position possible.

Q: Carlos, great result for you as well, your first front-row start in Formula 1. Just describe what this means to you? 

CS: Well, it’s a good result, definitely. I was so close to pole position that maybe the second place doesn’t taste as good as it should – but I think it was a well-executed session and a good lap there at the end. Unfortunately I was one of the first ones across the line once on the slick, which obviously you always are left wondering if you would have gone a bit later how much quicker could you have gone? But it was a good lap on the limit. Good battle with these guys out there, so yeah, got to enjoy it and it was tricky conditions that you enjoy more honestly in a Formula 1 car.

Q: And Carlos, what about the dry pace of your car over the long runs tomorrow? I think the forecast is dry. Do you think you’ve got the pace to at least finish where you start?

CS: We will see tomorrow. It’s a strange circuit this one – because obviously race pace is important and we need to see how easy it is to overtake. Normally in the past it has been quite tricky. Obviously we have the two Mercs and the Red Bull that are going to be pushing us a lot. They are clearly, around here, half a second to a second quicker than us – so at some point they will put pressure on us and we will need to see if we can keep ourselves ahead. Obviously the target is to finish ahead of them, try to get Lando at the start – although I am starting on the dirty side, he is at least starting on the clean side and see from there if we can race hard and have some fun at the front.

Q: And Carlos, you know Lando well from your time at McLaren of course, how does that change things for tomorrow in your battle down to Turn 2?

CS: He keeps looking at me! Let’s see. Let’s see. I think there’s two options. I either get a good getaway and it’s a direct race into Turn 2, or if not, obviously I’ll need to try to find a slipstream, because we know we are not the fastest on the straights and we are doing to need to find some tow, some draft, because if not, it’s going to be a long run down into Turn 1. Exciting. I’ve been sharing rows with this this guy pretty much the last two years in Formula 1, so we know very well each other and yeah, hopefully we can have a good start, both and keep pulling away because there’s going to be the guys behind coming, and that’s going to be when the fun starts.

Q: And coming to you George, huge congratulations as well. Now, you were the first car to swap to slick tyres. Was it clear cut, that decision for you?

GR: Well I came on the radio to say to the guys, let’s get the slicks ready, because it’s definitely going to go slicks, and they replied saying ‘OK, let’s box this lap’, so I thought they may have misunderstood what I meant by that radio comment. I said ‘let’s go for it’. We’ve got to go for it in these sessions. High risk, high reward. Especially in these conditions. When I came out of the pit lane on the slicks, almost crashing straight out of the box. It was only that last lap, I kept getting a bit of traffic here and there. I couldn’t complete the laps so that was a bit frustrating, but as it was for everybody, I knew that last lap was going to be the killer lap, so we saved it all for them and here we are. It’s a bit surreal that it’s our second top three in four races now.

Q: Well how do your emotions compare with this, compared to Spa where you lined up second?

GR: Certainly different. Equally happy for sure, and P3 here is an incredible position to start. As the guys were saying, it’s a really long run into Turn 2 here, we’re pretty slippery on the straights and hopefully Lando will give me a nice little slipstream into Turn 1, so, you know, definitely really happy. We’ve been scoring points now, three in the last four again, there’s no reason why we just can’t keep on going and we’ve got to be aiming for the podium. We’ve got nothing to lose and we’re just going to go for it.

VIDEO CONFERENCE

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to George please, just about the times on your initial laps after you’d switched to slicks. They didn’t quite threaten the leaders pace set on Intermediates at that point, so what was behind that? Was it, as you say, getting traffic or was it a case of having to build the temperature, save the battery a bit like you did for one all-out lap at Spa?

GR: It was a mixture of both, to be honest. I saw the dry line appearing and I knew if there wasn’t an interrupted session it definitely would have been slicks, so I was pretty relaxed. I was pushing the limits but I wasn’t going too crazy because I knew that on that opening lap, or on the out-lap I could have easily ended up in the wall, if you’re half a metre too wide and you get a wet patch, and as I said, it was saving it for that last lap and making sure I had the right track position. I had a bit of traffic here and there. I still wouldn’t have been quick enough to fight for pole at that point, so I thought, let’s just save it and make sure we’re in position for that final lap and go for it. So similar to Spa, to be honest.

Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for all three of you. Did you take any compromises in terms of set-up in regards to the weather today and tomorrow? Thanks.

LN: No. Not unless the team didn’t tell me!

Just out of interest, a fully dry set-up for you today?

LN: Yeah. Obviously if you knew qualifying was going to happen you’re still into parc fermé and can’t change anything for tomorrow, so we still know it’s a long race and there wasn’t too many things that we would have changed anyway, so we stuck to what we had yesterday, which I think is the correct decision for tomorrow.

Carlos?

CS: No, nothing.

George?

GR: Same here.

Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) For Lando: obviously these sort of circumstances don’t present themselves that often to go for pole given the pace deficit but you’ve had a couple of times earlier this year when it might have been possible: Spa is the obvious one but also Austria you got quite close even though you didn’t quite have the car for it, so does this kind of feel like it makes up for those near misses and the fact that you actually managed to nail that pole when the situation’s been in front of you?

LN: I don’t know if it makes up for Spa, in a way. It definitely makes me feel much better now, the fact that this is what I feel like I missed out on back then. I now have that feeling, I now know what it’s like to get a pole position, which is awesome. Yeah, like I said, we don’t get these conditions very often but they are conditions which are very fun and every time they’ve happened over the past, whether they’ve been all the way since back in karting, they’re always conditions that I’ve liked, the intermediate wet section and when you have to risk it onto the dries. Yeah, it is good and very similar to Spa. I tested the slicks out in P2 or P3 it was, even when it was too wet, but things like that helped me learn how to drive in these conditions, what to expect, what the car does in these kind of conditions. I feel like that when this opportunity arose, I was there to take it, so happy with everything.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lando, could you just talk us through the lap that got you pole? How did it feel inside the car? Were you aware of how up you were versus the other drivers or were there any moments where it nearly got away from you?

LN: Comparing to others, no. I don’t like my engineer talking to me normally. Obviously when I ask for information I like him to talk but when I’m on a qualifying lap, especially in these conditions, the last thing I want him to do was talk. I was asking for info from George, because I was watching his lap on the TV while I was driving round to see what it was like, whether he was up and so on and I was asking for sectors and corners where he was strong, where he was struggling and so on. I think that information definitely helped to know what sectors were definitely quick, what sectors were maybe a bit wetter and trickier but like I said, the difficult thing is now, I guess in Q3 you’ve got 10 of the best people on this day in Formula 1, in the world in a way, to try and put these laps in so you can’t just drive round under the limit and know what to expect. Sometimes you’ve got to push it over and just find out if you’ve made it once you’ve gone through the corners. There was plenty of corners where I thought I might have run in a bit hard here and this all could go rather wrong but I didn’t so that’s just the level you’ve got to be at to be in this position, so I’m happy I took those risks and made those decision because they paid off the way they have. Many times during the lap I thought it was going to go quite badly wrong and you’re going to mess it up, especially in the final chicane, 15/16 I think it is, it was still very wet in this section and I had quite a few big wheelspins and some big snaps but kept it cool and brought it home, so yeah, they’re just fun, from start to finish, it’s many risks but all part of it.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) George and Lando, it’s kind of been a case of one superlative to another for you guys this year. What’s the feeling like when you keep producing these outstanding performances and where and how do you feel that you’re both getting better?

GR: I guess we’ve both been fortunate that we sort of grew up together and were in the same bunch of racing, the same bunch of guys throughout our careers and obviously Lando, Alex and I were battling in the Formula 2 championship together and I think we just push each other and you feel like that is the norm, that sort of level, and I guess for us both, just the experience every race, talking for myself, anyway, you just feel like you’re getting stronger and stronger. You always feel like you do a good job but you look back and you feel like the following event you’re doing a better job and a better job. So, I guess in time it’s always experience, learning from those mistakes and sort of building that toolbox of experience to dig into and pull the right tools out when you need to in these tricky circumstances.

LN: George said that very well. His vocabulary is much better than mine, so his use of words was much better, but he’s right. I think we’re at the point where we have a lot of confidence because of some of these results coming along the way and they definitely help a lot going into every weekend, analysing what you could have done better, because there’s always times when you think what could I have done even better than before, even if you’ve done a good job, and like George said, especially for him, at times like this he can show what he can do and I can show what I can do, even when you don’t necessarily have the quickest car on the grid, so it’s a good feeling and a lot of relief.

Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsportmagazin.com) George, you mentioned energy management, whether you had enough battery for the last lap you wanted to go for; when do you have to decide if you’re going for the penultimate lap or the last one? Can you decide during the penultimate lap or do you have to do it before? Can you talk us through that situation?

GR: I was running quite a high energy mode anyway, just because we were doing consecutive laps, so you obviously can’t keep on deploying the battery, but I saw I think it was Fernando ahead of me who was pretty slow and I was catching him up and I knew that I’d get to the last lap and I would be too close, so I sort of made a decision out of Turn 10 to recharge the battery and make sure that it was full for the following lap and then deplete everything and that definitely gives you an extra four, five, six tenths really from the lowest mode to the highest mode so on a track like this it’s very important.