Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the Russian Grand Prix, Round 15 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship season, at Sochi Autodrom.
Featuring race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) second-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) and third-placed Carlos Sainz (Ferrari).
TRACK INTERVIEWS CONDUCTED BY DAMON HILL
Q: Lewis Hamilton you have just won your 100th grand prix. Tell us, how does that feel?
Lewis HAMILTON: I just want to start by saying thank you to all these fans. We have such a great crowd here. I know it’s not been the best of weather but what a race it provided. So a big thank you to everyone in Russia for having us. It’s taken a long time to obviously get to 100 and I wasn’t even sure whether or not it would come. Lando did such an amazing job. He had incredible pace. He’s doing such a great job for McLaren. It was very bittersweet obviously to see my old team ahead. They are doing so well. They obviously won the last race. They are doing fantastic and obviously powered by Mercedes. It’s good to see them united again. Obviously the team made a great call at the end. I didn’t want to let Lando go and of course I didn’t know what the weather was doing but I am incredibly grateful to all these men and women that are here and back at the factory, because, wow! One hundred!
Q: A little sense of relief because after yesterday’s qualifying you were a little bit in the wars and emotionally it was a bit up and down, so how do you feel having finally overcome this at the Russian Grand Prix?
LH: Yeah, going to bed last night, obviously not the happy with the job I did yesterday. I watched the replay over and over again and there were subtle, subtle mistakes but just not ideal and I was so determined when I came in, when I woke up this morning. I woke up with a bit of pain in my neck but Ange worked on it, she’s been fantastic the last two weeks. I couldn’t have done it without here. I was just determined to do the best job I could. It was tough. I lost a lot of ground at the start, just trying to stay out trouble. Obviously Max must have done a really great job to come up to second from last, so yeah, we’ve got our work cut out.
Q: A little bit surprised to see Max so close at one time, of course he was a little bit further back but then the rain came, and some decisions about when to come in or whether to come in and put on inters?
LH: Yeah, I don’t think, I’m not sure… It would have been tough to get past Lando. He had great pace. He did the fastest lap, so it would have been tough to get past him unless we got traffic or something or he made a mistake, which he has not been doing at all. Then the rain came and it was very opportunistic and as I said the team did an amazing job so a big, big thank you to them. There’s nothing I can do about who is behind me. That’s a dream result for Max, naturally, but I’m grateful for the points.
Q: Max, well, all the way from the back to the podium but not only the podium – second place? What do you say about that? A little bit of luck with the rain, but did you heart sink at any moment during that race; you were stuck a little bit.
Max VERSTAPPEN: It was pretty tricky on the in-lap to make the call to go to inters but at one point it was really, really slippery. I think we decided at the right time to pit, because if we would have gone one lap earlier your would have probably destroyed the inter in the last sector, but of course to come from last to second is very, very good. The race itself was not very easy because it was very difficult to pass again and once you got stuck it was very easy to damage your tyres. Luckily with the rain it helped us to make that last jump.
Q: In this championship, did you think this was a race you thought you were going to have to maybe not get a lot of points from? You must be delighted to have come second?
MV: Yeah, with the penalty we had and to only lose one spot basically is definitely not too bad. When I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result.
Q: Anyway, there was enough of a gap that you two didn’t manage to get on the track at the same time and close enough to have to go wheel-to-wheel again. Quite relieved that you got a clean race under your belt and that you got some points.
MV: Yeah, I mean, especially from the back. A lot of things happened, also on the first lap and even in the first stint. With other cars fighting each other you just have to stay out of trouble and stay clean and I think we managed that really well. And then the crucial call to go to the inters worked out.
Q: Carlos, well how about that? Leading a grand prix there for a while. We thought for a moment that you and Lando had some kind of plan worked out.
Carlos SAINZ: Yeah. Well, first of all I got a good launch. That was the priority: not to lose position too much to George. And then I managed to tuck in behind Lando and do a bit of a send around the outside into Turn 2, which worked perfectly. Then unfortunately graining came and that’s when our race started to go bad. We started to suffer a lot. We had to go very early onto the hard, a lot of management on the hards. And then finally the rain came at the worst possible time because my hard tyres were going away and we boxed, we did exactly the right call at the right time and we managed to get back into P3 and a very strong race in general.
Q: Lewis, what a race. There are so many talking points but let’s start with that headline: your 100th win. What an incredible milestone. What does it mean to you?
LH: It’s a magical moment. I could only ever have dreamed of still being here and having this opportunity to win these races and get to drive against such phenomenal talent this late in my career and to continue to building with Mercedes, of which I’m so proud of everything we’ve done, not only on track but also off and yeah, this is just a special moment for everyone that has been a part of it. I’ve had the most incredible team. Back home in my little personal team at Project 44 and then obviously you’ve got Angela, you’ve got Ellen, you’ve got Omar my driver, you’ve got Lloyd who’s here with me, my security. Honestly there are too many to name, but ones that have been with me since 18 years. Just forever grateful to them for their continued support and belief in me. To my parents also. My dad… Even just last night, just the same as the first race I had or the first championship I fought in when I was eight, my dad messaging or called me last night and he has always been that one reassuring me and continuing to support me, so yeah. And as I said, there were moments where you didn’t even know that if it was going to happen. So, I feel incredibly grateful for the amazing support I have had. Especially to Team LH. Team LH Russia and all over the world they have been absolutely magical for so long. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Q: Coming on the race itself. So much to discuss but let’s start with that call for intermediate tyres at the end. Was it yours? Was it the team’s? You looked to stay out at their first request if it was the team’s?
LH: Yeah, firstly I can’t take credit for that amazing decision, that was the team’s. For me, I was very much in no-man’s land for a long time in terms of… I didn’t really know where I was in the race. I had no idea how far Lando was ahead. I was just trying to set the best time every lap. Once I got past one of the McLarens in my second stint, getting past people, chasing down Lando. They were incredibly quick all of a sudden. He was doing a really great job. Just in those last moments, it was slippery in 5 and a little bit in 7 but then everywhere else grip was pretty good. Lando went off I think in 5 on one lap and I was like ‘OK, OK, stay out, it’s most likely going to happen again, I’ll try to catch him out’. Then they called me in and I was like: ‘Yeah, but he’s right there!’ I only had three laps to catch up 24 seconds, so it was like ‘no way’. So I wasn’t convinced the first lap. The next lap it rained more and I was definitely more convinced then, so I came in.
Q: Lewis, just a word on Lando. I saw you have a chat with him in the pen outside. Can you sympathise with how he’s feeling now?
LH: Yeah, for sure. He’s so young, he’s got so many more wins up ahead of him. He did a fantastic job yesterday in the wet. He’s doing a great job leading that team, and look, McLaren won the last race, they’ve been very hard to beat for us all, but yeah, just blind faith at the end there. I put all my faith in my team and they called me in and I believed them – and that’s part of our journey together. It could have played out any way – but I think our team did a great job in terms of understanding where the rain was coming and it was going to get worse and they were 100% worse. Of course, I had to play my role to try to get us in that position in order for that to work. Team-work makes the dream-work.
Q: Max, last to second. It was a brilliant drive. Does this feel like a victory for you in many ways?
MV: It definitely felt very good crossing the line, you know, we all know how hard it is to pass and especially with the midfield being so competitive this year, it is really hard to get by and also that was shown again today. I of course got by quite a few but then, yeah, at one point you just get stuck. Today also was very hard on the tyres. I think they were just graining and opening up very quickly, so then you just lose a lot of grip and it makes you stuck even more and you just can’t really attack any more. We just stayed calm, stayed focused, just tried to follow them and basically yeah, when the rain came, I think at the end of the day we made the right call and the right lap to box – because the lap before probably, if we would have boxed, I would have destroyed the Inters in that one or two laps because of it still being a bit too dry for two-thirds of the track. So yeah, to basically go from seventh to second for us was, of course, today an amazing result.
Q: Who’s call was it to come in for Inters? Was it yours or the teams?
MV: Naturally when you’re driving on slicks and it starts raining, it’s more of a driver-feel, so they kept on asking me. Communication is very important when it’s like that – so they kept on asking me, even though sometimes I couldn’t press the radio button because you’re trying to keep the car on the track. I was saying, the lap before, I think we still have to continue, because I was only losing like eight, nine seconds and then yeah, that lap, when we boxed, at one point it was so hard to keep the car on the track. I was like ‘we need to box’ but you’re not entirely sure. Then the team said ‘OK, we’ll box’, they called me in and it was the right call.
Q: Can I ask you about two what looked like nervous moments for you during the Russian Grand Prix. First of all, on the formation lap, when you came on the radio and reported that your battery was draining, the new power unit. What was going on there?
MV: I don’t know. I mean, I think it was just because we were driving so slowly off the grid – but then as soon as I was accelerating, it was all good.
Q: OK, another moment, was lap 10 when you and Charles Leclerc got very close together – I don’t know if you touched but… how close was that?
MV: Yeah, Charles was fighting Seb in front and they were basically side-by-side from Turn 2 to Turn 7. I was still a bit behind but then of course because they were fighting… I had a good run out of Five and Charles went for the move but went a bit deep, so then of course Seb overtook him again, but then I think he didn’t realise I was that close, and he just threw the car to the right and I had to avoid him and he almost took my front wing off. At the end of the day, it all worked out but it was quite a few hectic corners, to also see them battling.
Q: Carlos, your fifth podium in Formula 1. How much pleasure does this one give you?
CS: Yeah, quite a lot, mainly because at some point in the race it really looked like it was going wrong. First, after suffering so much graining with the Medium tyre after leading the race quite comfortably for the first seven, eight laps, and facing so much degradation and losing the position to Lando and being one of the first ones to pit and getting in the queue behind Valtteri and suffering with all that traffic, yeah, at some point I really thought the podium wasn’t happening – but I found myself in P3 in front of Pérez towards 10 laps to the end and I said ‘OK, now it’s a good opportunity to keep this position’. I found my good pace with the Hard, I found a good feeling but suddenly I saw the rain coming. It was starting, as Max said, to rain in Turn 5 and 7 and all those of us out there on Hards were struggling massively to keep the car on track while people on Mediums, they looked to be having a bit more grip, they looked to be with a softer tyre managing to keep the car on track, while I was just nowhere – so I was at some point considering pitting for a Soft tyre, just to make it to the end and in the end we decided to go for Inters, the last four laps and it worked out beautifully and we ended up third, so good calls, good management, just a bit more obstacles than I was expecting after leading into Turn 2.
Q: Can you talk us through the start please? Because it looked like Lando actually made a better getaway from you.
CS: Yeah, pretty much I got the best possible start on the dirty side – I mean we know here the dirty side has quite a big disadvantage from the clean side, so I think both Lewis and I got away pretty decently, just I think it was Lando, George and Daniel who were just flying off the line – everyone on the left-hand side were flying, a bit like last year basically. I managed to get side-by-side with George and then we were nearly banging wheels to see who was the one catching Lando’s tow. In the end I ended-up, when Lando drifted a bit to the right, that gave me that extra bit of tow, I managed to get good momentum and brake really late into Turn 2 around the outside and make it stick, you know? I think I said yesterday I was going to try, and I had to try today, it worked well. It’s probably one of the first times in my career I can lead a race into Turn 2, and I had to try. It worked well, and then unfortunately the graining came, the fuel saving, the graining, then everything went a bit more complicated than expected but leading into Turn 2 was the target and we achieved it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Silja Rulle – Bild) My question is to Max. You gained a lot of positions today. Michael Schumacher did this in 2011 at Spa. He gained 19 positions, I think. Is that a race you maybe thought of now, that you’ve achieved approximately the same number?
MV: Oh, 2011? I’m not sure if I’ve seen that race! Probably Lewis knows a bit more about that. Carlos and I, we were still… 2011?
LH: Still potty training!
MV: I have no clue.
CS: Where was this?
CS: Still in diapers?
LH: So odd.
MV: Close! I don’t know. Was it raining? I don’t know how it went.
LH: What year?
MV: 2011. I think we all know Michael had some great races, some really memorable races anyway.
LH: I think that was a bad race for me, so I don’t remember.
MV: So I don’t know. I didn’t think like about stuff like that. At the end of the day, you have to always just go out from your own perspective. And every year, every track, the conditions are completely different. But for me, of course, what was very important for me was just staying out of trouble. And just tried to work your way forwards but safely. And I think that’s what we did today.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, just about the battle with Lando before the rain arrived; you caught up to him pretty quickly but then you seemed to get a little bit stuck there. Was that the case? Do you think you would have been able to overtake him or were you just waiting, saving tyres, saving everything to attack later on before the rain came?
LH: In the initial phases I was just saving, then I looked at my dash and I saw on my pit board and I realised, I think, it was lap 42 or something like that and then all of a sudden I start to attack but just like when I was behind Daniel, you need a bit delta to be able to have an opportunity to overtake here. They were quick on the straights, very quick out of the last corner so I don’t know whether or not I would have got by or got close enough. I think I was just about to get into the DRS zone or just got into the DRS zone and then obviously the rain came so it would be have been tough to get by. It is so quick on the straight.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, how concerned are you that Mercedes have not maximised what they might have done over the last two races?
LH: Look, it’s not only the two races, there’s been plenty of races where we’ve not maximised, as a team, collectively, both drivers and everyone but we’re still in a fight and we can continue to improve. There are definitely things that we will try and do better moving forwards but we just won’t give up, we’ll just keep trying, keep pushing, remain hopeful and just do the work.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Max, it was a topsy turvy race in which things went well, then less well, then well again. Why did you stop so early for tyres, because it seemed it put you back out into traffic and how did Alonso get past, towards the end?
MV: No, I had to… my tyres were done, just fighting and being in traffic… like so many cars. The left front was just done so in hindsight maybe it would have been better to start on the mediums, I don’t know, but I also didn’t expect the hard tyre to give up so quickly. In a way I think today was just very difficult on tyres, especially when you had to come from the back and then you have to clear slower cars, you open up your tyre and then basically once that is the case, you are just stuck, you can’t do anything but the pit lane here is so slow and you lose so much time that you can’t really put a two-stop into play so I was just very limited with my tyre options so I boxed and I knew it was going to be very hard to the end but also don’t forget that I have Charles, for example, before I boxed, very close behind and he was properly stuck in some traffic because I think at one point he was 14th so I don’t think we did anything wrong with the strategy, we just… the tyres were very limiting today in terms of what you could achieve. So even if the rain didn’t come and I would have finished seventh or sixth, I would have been like, well, that’s what it is because with the tyres we had today, the graining, there was not much more I could have done, coming from the back so all in all, then with the rain, we made the right calls but… It was fine. That’s what it is. And Fernando, yeah, he overtook me. He had better tyres, my left front was dead.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Carlos you could properly celebrate this podium this time and you also grabbed the opportunity available… is this your sweetest podium in Formula 1 so far?
CS: It’s a good moment, of course, it’s been a challenging year, obviously, changing teams and adapting to a completely new car with a completely new team but so far this year, obviously three podiums is not bad at all. This weekend, I think, was probably my best weekend as a Ferrari driver. I managed to put together a very strong lap in qualifying, a good start, a good pace management in the race so yeah, hopefully I can keep improving, There are still a lot of things to work on, mainly the tyre management side and obviously a bit the top speed there to make sure we are not so vulnerable when we are leading a grand prix because I want to make sure next time I have the opportunity to lead a grand prix, I am not suffering that much with the front tyres, we are not so vulnerable on the straights and as Ferrari, we need to keep working to be a team that we want to be, that is winning races and today we got the opportunity to lead but we didn’t make it stick, to win the race so yeah, next time I really want to enjoy that and try and make it stick.
Q: (Laurence Edmonson – ESPN) To Lewis and Max, you’re now separated by two points, there’s about a third of the season left to run. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your cars, you know what tracks are left roughly. How do you rate your chances of winning the title?
LH: Well, undoubtedly it’s going to be tough. I think, for two thirds of the season so far they’ve had the edge. However, it’s obviously been difficult with all sorts of things, curve balls sent to both of us and our teams. There’s still everything to play for in these next races. I think they’ve got a good set of circuits coming up and I anticipate or just continue to be really close between us. Just got to be hopeful of some good races…
MV: Fifty-fifty, yes or no.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, this time on the 100 victories: first of all, how do you feel about that alongside all your other achievements in your fantastic career, but also it’s quite a long time since you won your 99th at Silverstone in July; how were thinking about that over the summer? Was it something that was in your mind because it’s such a big number?
LH: No, honestly, since Silverstone, that was such a special moment for me, to be in front of the home crowd obviously and obviously it was the first time that they’d been back so… but I haven’t thought of… definitely not through my break, I don’t really think about racing, I try to think about other things. The last thing you want to be thinking about is racing but of course since we’ve come back, hoping to get a good result at some point but they came out of the starting box and winning every race generally, and then obviously the difficult race we had last… so yeah, I didn’t know when it would happen or… I knew that it would be difficult, just in terms of the pace that we have. It’s good but it’s not exceptional and so we definitely have work still to do and I’m hopeful that we can try out and squeeze out maybe a little bit more performance in these next races. I hope, fingers crossed.
Q: (Valentin Khorounzhiy – The Race) Max, it looks like pit stops have been a problem of late for Red Bull, ever since the… also today. Either they have not been quite quick enough or there’s been some errors. Is that an area of concern right now, that needs the focus of the team?
MV: I don’t know. I will look into it but it’s not… I mean two bad pit stops are not going to define how good we have been in the past so I’m sure we will fix these things.