Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Round 19 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship season, at Interlagos.
Featuring race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) second-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) and third-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes).
TRACK INTERVIEWS CONDUCTED BY FELIPE MASSA
Q: Max, you had a fantastic race, fighting until the end. Lewis was bit ahead in terms of the pace. What are your thoughts for all of us here?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, we tried everything we could of course. I think It was a good battle but of course at the end we just missed a little bit of pace. But we gave it all today and it was a lot of fun.
Q: Congratulations, it was a really nice race to watch, especially this battle, so what do you think for the next race? Ready to fight to the end as you did here?
MV: Yeah, we still have a good points lead you know, so today was a bit of damage limitation on a weekend where it was a bit difficult but I’m confident that in the coming races we’ll bounce back.
Q: Valtteri, the start yesterday was fantastic but maybe a bit different today especially in the first corner by being a little on the outside. Also when I saw you saw breaking for corner four maybe the grip was not 100% there, from the track, so can you explain your race today?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, the start was quite tricky. I’m a bit disappointed with the start and the first lap, but I tried. Afterwards the pace was actually quite OK. I thought we could have done one stop quite easily but we decided to do two stops, but I’m glad we could get more points than Red Bull. Lewis had an amazing drive today. He was in his own league today.
Q: And do you think the Virtual Safety Car was a little help also to pass Checo?
VB: Yeah, the VSC was in a good place for me for once, so I was happy with that. Yeah, still solid points.
Q: Lewis, it’s very difficult to do the questions for you. You are not the driver of the day but the driver of the weekend. Yesterday what you did was just incredible. I saw your face after the race yesterday and today what you give, fighting and overtaking, and also for the people, really for me you were the driver of the weekend. Did you feel anything different because the people were supporting you 100% from yesterday?
Lewis HAMILTON: I appreciate that, dude. I think I feel what it was like for you here with all the support in 2007 with your amazing country. I’m so grateful for the incredible support I’ve had this weekend. I’ve not had it since like Silverstone was when I had my own… a good group of support, but since then it’s been really difficult. So to hear these throughout the weekend has been really humbling. I’ve been saying ‘obrigado, Brazil’. I’m so, so grateful, as I said. What a race. The team did an amazing job, Valtteri did a great job today to get as many points as possible. I was pushing, you know how it is, just pushing as hard as I could. From last on the grid and then another five place penalty I think it was the hardest weekend I’ve had. But my dad said… he reminded me of 2004 when I was in Formula 3 in Bahrain, I started last and I finished 10th and then I finished first. So, this one’s for my dad.
Q: Can you tell us about the overtaking and can you tell us about the next race? Is it extra help for you to fight for the championship and nothing to lose?
LH: Coming into this weekend I never, ever thought that we would be able to close the gap like we have today. These things that just kept going against us, but I think it shows for everyone, just never give up. Whatever you are facing you have just got to keep pushing, keep tumbling away and never, never stop fighting. And that’s really how I’ve approached this weekend. Inspiration from all round. It feels like the first because I don’t think I’ve had a win for a long time.
Q: Many congratulations Lewis, that was a terrific victory, just tell us how you did it?
LH: Thank you. Jeez, 101, I forgot that’s where we were, so we start again. It’s been such a difficult weekend for everyone in the team and I think really I’ve just been inspired by everyone’s focus and determination. No one being… It’s easy to get down when you are faced with difficult things like penalties and engine penalties. But everyone just stayed positive, everyone has done such a great job. The mechanics did a fantastic job. And the strategy also was solid. Then it was just really down to me to kind of let go of things as quick as possible as just focus on moving forwards. But did I think we could come from last… I didn’t know what was possible but I just gave it everything. This has definitely been one of the best weekends, if not the best weekend, I have experienced in my whole career.
Q: When was the last time you overtook 25 cars in a weekend?
LH: Uh, never. I have definitely done something like… when I was in Formula 3 I think I started 20th in Bahrain and came 12th in the pre-final and then first in the second final. After that showing McLaren re-signed me. It was a good result. I was fighting for my career at the time. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to make it to Formula 1.
Q: And can you talk us through your immense battle with Max?
LH: Yeah, it was tough. In front of me he generally could match my pace. I would say particularly or more so in the last sector. It was very, very difficult to follow in the last sector and to get as good an exit as he did in Turn 12. So I kept coming up the straight and it wasn’t that easy to be in his DRS. And even if I was in the DRS zone it was a bit too far away. But I just kept trying, just kept pushing. Obviously I had that one chance into Turn 4 but I couldn’t hold it. We… Yeah, it didn’t work out. Then I saw I had that experience and just made sure that I didn’t make that mistake again, but I was adamant and determined to get back into that position. Yeah, it was fine. This is what a World Championship battle should look like.
Q: Just referring to that first attempt to overtake Max on lap 48, what did you think of Max’s defence?
LH: In the heat of the moment, it doesn’t… I don’t really know. I think I was ahead initially, and I think he held his ground and we both ran out of road. Well, I think he was running out of road, so I obviously had to avoid to go out of road – but I mean, I didn’t think too much of it and obviously I’ll have to watch the replay, but it’s hard battling and wouldn’t expect anything less really. We didn’t touch wheels, which is good.
Q: You said that you learnt a lesson on that attempt. What made the difference ten or so laps later when you did pass?
LH: I got into Turn 1, I got to kind-of dummy him as such into Turn 1. I was either going to dive super-late into Turn 1, so then he had to block, and I got to be able to position the car correctly through Turns 1 and 2, and I already knew through Three that I would have a far better slingshot past him because I was closer. At that point, I just knew I was ahead going into the braking zone, so yeah. And after that it was really trying to keep him out of my DRS, which wasn’t too difficult, because I guess it’s hard to follow behind. It’s just the first one lap, I think the first lap, or the first lap he got around, just making sure, but it was fine after that.
Q: And the gap in the Championship is now 14 points with three races to go. Can we just get your thoughts on that?
LH: Going into this weekend, since this year has been so difficult, I think for all of us, but we came in after the August break hoping we would be in a better position and we weren’t, and we’ve not really had a spectacular showing, so I would say we’ve had two races that we’ve been ahead but the others we’ve really struggled. I think coming here 19 points behind, obviously only one point ahead in the team championship, we really needed a solid result – but then obviously we had all these penalties, which just made it… mentally you could just think it’s over, it’s impossible but then nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. So that’s really just why we cultivated a positive mental attitude, and went in fighting, guns blazing.
Q: Max, coming to you, it was a fantastic drive by you today as well. Can you just talk us through the race from your point of view?
MV: Yeah, I think first of all, we had a good start. So that was, of course, very important, to get ahead, and basically from there on just trying to manage my pace, then of course we had a Safety Car, Virtual Safety Car for the debris and stuff, and then of course at one point Lewis was behind me and I could see there was a lot of pace, and it was already quite tough to match that. I think in general we did all the right calls, and trying to just cover, so there’s not much really to say about that. We were just a bit too slow. And of course, this weekend they were very quick on the straights. I, of course, have to get my lap time through the corners, but it was very hard on the tyres this weekend, the track. It’s not ideal but otherwise they anyway sail past you so it’s the only thing you can do. I mean, I had fun out there. Of course, I like to win but I think second today, with the defence I did, it’s also satisfying and, of course, we’re still ahead in the Championship. You can clearly see that one weekend it looks really good for you, then the other weekend it looks really good for them. Hopefully it will keep going like this for the rest of the season.
Q: And Max, could you just talk us through the decisive moments in the battle with Lewis?
MV: The decisive moment, I knew when we went through Turn 3 that he was going to get ahead because he was super-close. But already, two laps before, I was really starting to struggle on traction and tyres, so I knew it was going to be really tough but you never know. I just tried to do the best I could and, of course, once he got by then, you know, I was hanging on with the tyres to the end.
Q: Now, when you have such an intense battle like that, just how much did you enjoy it. Are you able to enjoy it in the moment?
MV: Yeah. Like I said, I like to win but also you can enjoy the battle, right? I mean, I was a bit of a sitting duck but in a way, I just tried to do the best I could – and that’s also, in a way, sometimes fun and nice for everyone watching.
Q: Have you been surprised by the pace of Mercedes this weekend?
MV: Of course, I would have liked to be a little bit closer, but it just seemed very tough for us here – and of course taking the new engine clearly gains them a bit of performance initially – but that will slowly come back to normal. So, yeah, maybe it looks a little bit more dramatic now but I’m confident that slowly that will be a bit more normal.
Q: And just a few thoughts from you as well on the Championship battle. Fourteen points, three races to go.
MV: Yeah – but I mean it’s been like this the whole year, isn’t it! It went up, comes down, went behind, I’m back in front, so you know a lot of things can happen still.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you now, great start yesterday in the Sprint, not so good today, what was the difference?
VB: I think Max had a really good start, I think mine was, let’s say, average. I was hoping that would be enough to maintain the lead, but he was ahead of me going into Turn 1. My issue was a bit of clutch-slip, a bit too much, like the grip was good but just didn’t drive out really good, so we’ll have a look. And then yeah, into Turn 1, I tried to brake as late as I could. We were side-by-side, and I was off the track at some point but, like I said, he was ahead, so not so much to do. Then, obviously getting a bad exit from Turn 3, defending Checo into Turn 4, he was on the outside, I was inside and yeah, went a bit wide and he got me, so for me lap one was a bit of a nightmare because, like this morning, one person after another kept telling me what to do in the first lap and how important it is and for me it was like… it was terrible. But I kept pushing and I have to say it’s so good seeing Lewis winning this race from where we started – like I feel Lewis was in his own league today and this weekend, so it was an incredible job. But obviously I didn’t give up, kept pushing, and still managed to get to the podium. It means we get more points than Red Bull and that’s something.
Q: And it was nice to see you get a little bit of luck with the virtual safety car in your pit stop.
VB: For once, yeah, that was good. I have to say, yeah, even surprised me a little bit like how good the pace we had was towards the end of the stints. I had a feeling, because on the first stop, for me, it was quite late, that it should have been one stop so I’m still thinking I should have been, possibly, second with one stop but we’ll have a look.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, can you please talk us through things from your perspective with that turn four incident where both of you and Lewis went off the track? What was the reason why you yourself went off?
MV: We both, of course, tried to be ahead into the corner and so I braked a bit later to try and keep the position and the tyres were already a bit worn so I was really on the edge of grip so that’s why I think I was already not fully on the apex so then it’s a safer way of just running a bit wide there, so in a way I was of course happy that the stewards decided that we could just keep on racing because I think the racing in general was really good today.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Max, your defence in the first incident was quite similar to what happened at Copse in the British Grand Prix, the difference being that Lewis gave you more room. Why is one OK and the other not?
MV: I don’t think it’s the same, so I don’t know what he is referring to. It’s a completely different corner as well, so yeah, there’s not much more to comment, it’s not the same.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, I just wondered, you said before the weekend, your comments seemed to suggest it might be tough to beat Red Bull this weekend, given Max’s win in Mexico, but even with all the adversity you faced throughout this weekend, you clearly were the fastest driver with the fastest package, so I just wondered why do you think you and the car were so strong all weekend?
LH: Yeah, I think, honestly we’ve been working so hard to try and … every weekend, obviously, to try and get the car into a place where we can compete but just with no answer for the pace that they were able to produce and then obviously, a long way ahead of us, obviously, in the last race so we were coming to a track where last time they were very strong here, I think in 2019. So I anticipated that would be… it’s going to be hot on Sunday. We knew that that potentially would be an Achilles heel for us but for whatever reason, the cars were working fantastically well this weekend. I chose to go a direction this weekend which we both ended up on and which worked really well, I think, for the both of us, and I think we just really optimised the car in these conditions this weekend and yeah, I was really surprised to be able to follow so closely and then once I was past Max I still had tyre left and I could keep going so it was strange because that’s not normal but we’ll take it, very very happy with it.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, Damon Hill tweeted and said: ‘that was one of the best drives I’ve ever seen in Formula 1 by anyone, utterly awesome,’ So I just wanted to get your reaction to that, and did you feel it was one of your great drives?
LH: Well, it’s never gets old hearing positive comments from such a great driver in Damon. I remember being such a big fan of his when I was younger, when he was racing and obviously we’re now men, we don’t kind of get too much… but I’ve always admired Damon and I think he’s always been super supportive, so I really do appreciate that. I really do feel, from my own personal experience, it’s been one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging with the things that we’ve faced during the weekend, but in terms of driving I feel like it’s maybe been my best… it’s difficult to say, because I’ve had so many races but I’m getting on now, catching Damon up, but no, I’m grateful for that, thank you Damon.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, there was a lot made about the hotter conditions on Sunday, potentially favouring you and Red Bull. I just wondered why that didn’t perhaps happen as many people expected today? And also you often say this really tight championship battle, seven weekends coming down to getting these key details right. What key details do you think Red Bull could have got better this time around?
MV: That’s a bit difficult to say at the moment, but around here there are not that many corners but high degradation and, like I explained before, they took a new engine and there is just a bit more performance in that and we don’t have that, we just have a pretty flat performance which is great of course, when you are limited with engines, but of course, on a weekend like this where straightline performance is very important on a track like this, and of course the deg is important, I had to get my time somewhere to try and match Lewis and that was of course through the middle sector where the corners are, mainly, and that means that I had to use my tyres a bit more and at one point I just ran out of tyres to try and defend but that’s how it goes. I said before, slowly that performance delta will become smaller in terms of straightline speed so I’m not too worried about that. I don’t really think we did anything wrong. It was just a bit too painful for us on the straights and then try to recover that in the middle sector with basically how the track layout is and the hot conditions was a bit too difficult for us this weekend.