Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after qualifying for the first Qatar Grand Prix, Round 20 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Losail International Circuit.
Featuring pole-winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Max Verstappen(Red Bull Racing) and third-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Track Interviews conducted by David Coulthard
Q: So Max, you’re first to the interviews but sadly for you, you are second in qualifying. Just not the pace underlying in the car or was there more you could have done?
Valtteri Verstappen: No, I think just lacking a bit of pace. It’s been just a bit more tricky for us, again. In Qualifying you could clearly see… I mean Checo is not even in Q3, so this shows that we are definitely struggling a bit more than normal. But nevertheless, still second, so all to play for but of course I wish we could have fought for more.
Q: As you say, second gives you a good position to try to launch it at the start. Looking forward to the race, we haven’t been seeing, in free practice, high deg on the tyres. Is there much that can be done with strategy here or are you already almost in the position where the start and the first corner will decide this grand prix?
MV: It always difficult to say, because we have never really done a race here, so that’s a lot of unknowns. I don’t really think about these things too much. We just need to work on our start and we’ll see where we end up.
Q: You mentioned the start. It is a very long run to the first corner and it’s not a big stop, so anything that you will play through in your mind tonight or with the engineers?
MV: Not really. Of course we will go over qualifying and we will just focus on the race in general.
Q: Our polesitter, Lewis Hamilton, the fine form from Brazil continues. That’s quite the gap to Max Verstappen in second.
Lewis Hamilton: First, hi everyone! How are you guys doing? It’s my first time racing here so it’s good to see new fans. Yesterday was a really difficult day for me. Thursday and Friday I wasn’t feeling too well. I really struggled throughout practice and I was just off yesterday. I really had to dig deep. I was here until midnight last night working with the engineers, who also always work so late, they are such hard workers, and found a lot of areas in which I can improve. We made some changes for P3 and it seemed to work. Of course you’ve got to try to carry that through into qualifying. I’m so grateful for the timings they put us out on track, we didn’t have traffic. That last lap was beautiful. It was a really sweet lap. This track is amazing to drive, it’s incredibly fast, all medium- and high-speed corners and it felt good.
Q: Just to clarify, when you said you didn’t feel too well, do you mean in terms of balance in the car or physically?
LH: Yeah, I had a bit of a stomach-ache from Wednesday but felt fantastic today. I slept really well last night and that made a big difference.
Q: I’m going to assume you are going to sleep well tonight as well, because that’s a bit of a pace advantage. But it’s a long run down to the first corner so any concerns for the race and give us a little insight into what you expect on strategy?
LH: Yeah, being that it’s such a fast circuit, I don’t think from the little bit of experience we have had through practice, it’s not the easiest of circuits to follow but it’s also not massively degrading on the tyres and I think the top three of us at least are all on the medium tyres and the hard is a C1 so it looks like it could go quite a long way. But it could be a one or a two. We’ll find out tomorrow. Yeah, fairly decent long run down to Turn 1. There’s a tailwind but it’s nice and wide into Turn1 , so I will be giving everything.
Q: Finally, the man that’s had a great run of poles of late and you certainly looked very strong through all the practice sessions, but it seemed to slip away when it came to this qualifying session. Explain to us why?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, it’s been a good weekend so far until the qualifying for me and I felt really comfortable in the car but I don’t know what happened overnight. I could feel in FP3 for sure that the wind was different to yesterday. I was still fastest but I really had to push a lot so I knew that I couldn’t find much more. In quali I struggled quite a bit, especially in Turn 1, so I struggled to get the tyres read, unlike yesterday evening. I need to have a look but obviously I tried my best and I’m a little bit confused as to what happened overnight.
Q: In Brazil we saw you be the ultimate team player, moving out of the way for Lewis. You obviously don’t have, as you said on the grid, the ability to do that, but you do have the ability to go for it into Turn1. Will your approach be any different given the championship battle?
VB: Yeah, I mean, I don’t really have much to lose personally. I hope the grid is going to be good on the clean side for me and Lewis and go from there. But obviously we’ve got two cars against Max and I’m sure we can do something.
Q: Tremendous final lap in Q3, Lewis, well done. It looked exhilarating out there, talk us through it?
LH: It was. The wind changed like 180˚ from yesterday and once you get through Turn 1 the downforce is amazing around the track and obviously it’s such high speeds, it’s only one relatively slower corner, which is Turn 6, but otherwise it’s all medium and high speed and it’s all about getting the flow and using all the track but it was really beautiful out there today, especially under the night lights. I generally really enjoyed it and I didn’t know that I was going to gain as much time as I did on that last lap. Normally it’s a bit of a struggle on the second run in Q3 but over the last couple of races I’ve managed to put a nice clean lap together. It felt amazing.
Q: Are you surprised by the gap to Max, it’s more than four tenths?
LH: Of course. Same as in the last race. Probably the last three races in qualifying we have been ahead of them, which has been a bit of a surprise. Today definitely wasn’t expecting to have as big a gap as that. I looked, I was relatively comfortable and was around tenth or so ahead throughout the session, but to be able to pull out that extra time felt great and it’s a great showing of the hard work, all the guys, as I said we were here until midnight last night. The guys were here even later than that. Really great work from everyone.
Q: What about tomorrow then? How confident are you? How’s the long-run pace of the car?
LH: Long-run pace in good. We always end up getting closer… or our pace closes up to each other when it comes to race pace and yeah, I think the car is a in a good place. It’s a difficult circuit to follow so, yeah, I’m looking forward to the start.
Q: Max, coming to you now. Great effort by you out there today. How easy has it been to dial-in your car for this racetrack?
MV: It’s been a bit up and down. I was quite happy for FP1, not so happy in FP2 and FP3. Then I was actually happy in quali again but just not quick enough. That sometimes happens. There were a few corners where I would have liked to go faster but tried everything and there’s just not a lot of extra pace coming, you know? You think you do a better corner but there’s not much more lap-time actually. So yeah, the last few races qualifying has been a bit more of a struggle for us. So, we definitely, of course, need to try and understand, and try to be better, like we always try to be. My last lap, I thought I had a really good lap, and then I heard the difference in lap time and thought, ‘wow, didn’t even need to risk it then if it’s such a big gap’ – but nevertheless, I had a lot of fun out there you know? Qualifying here has been really cool. It’s a really beautiful track and a lot of fun to drive. Of course, it would have been even more fun if it had been a bit faster – but you know sometimes that happens. Nevertheless, still being second is OK – but it’s a big gap. And also, for tomorrow, yeah, when it’s such a gap it’s going to be tricky, but we never give up.
Q: And tomorrow you’re also going to be the meat in a Mercedes sandwich – at least at the start of the race. How much harder will that make the task for you?
MV: I mean I’ve been used to that, the last few years has been like that.
LH: Could be the lettuce!
LH: It’d be a vegan sandwich!
MV: I mean it’s fine. We’ve had it before, so I’ll just try to do the best I can.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you now. Just talk us through your final lap in qualifying.
VB: The final lap wasn’t that good. I mean, I was going to improve between maybe five hundredths, and a tenth but in Turn 15 I knew I would need to risk it so went a bit too wide and bottomed-out and lost the momentum. But still, otherwise it was a bit of a struggle. Like I was pushing as hard as I could but for me there was no chance really to get it into the top two today, which is really strange because I’ve been pretty quick in all the practice sessions so something to have a look. But Lewis was very quick today, so I could see him on pole, just need to figure out that everything is fine for tomorrow with the car, and I’m sure with the race pace being close with Red Bull, it’s really good to have two against one, so looking forward.
Q: The track temperature was dropping throughout the session. How did that affect car performance?
VB: Car performance itself, not much but I did struggle today with getting the tyres ready for the start of the lap. So, most of the laps I struggled with just not enough rear end in the first two corners and didn’t have the confidence like I’ve had the whole weekend, so it was a bit weird but yeah, we’ll have a look.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Question for all three drivers please. The drivers’ briefing last night went to over an hour and it’s understood much of the conversation was about that Turn 4 incident in Brazil. I just want to ask all three of you, is it clear what counts as hard and fair racing, and what will result in a penalty? Thank you.
MV: Well, I think it’s always trying to align everyone in having the same process in the way you think, everyone. Everyone is different, right? And everybody I think has their own way of racing and defending and overtaking, and of course very hard for the FIA as well to, how do you say it? To get everyone on the same line. Of course, they decide but every driver has a difference opinion. And I think yesterday it was all about sharing their opinions, and then the FIA explaining their process of thought behind it. So, I think we came a long way, and it was a very long briefing. So, yeah, I think at the end it was pretty clear.
Q: Thank you. Lewis please
LH: What was the question again? Was it about the…
Q: Rebecca was asking about the drivers’ briefing yesterday. It was quite a long one. Is it clear now what the rules are for overtaking with reference to Turn 4 last week?
LH: No. It’s not clear. Every driver, except for Max, was asking just for clarity, most drivers were asking for clarity, but it wasn’t very clear. So, yeah, it’s still not clear what the limits of the track are. It’s clearly not the white line anymore, when overtaking but… yeah, we just go for it. We just ask for consistency. So, if it’s the same as the last race then it should be the same for all of us in those scenarios and it’s fine.
Q: Lewis, you say it’s not clear, so what’s the mindset going into this grand prix tomorrow?
LH: With what?
Q: With regards to, if you’re wheel to wheel with someone?
LH: Then what’s happened in the last race is OK.
Q: Thank you. Valtteri, your thoughts please.
VB: Yeah. I mean it is clear in that way that, if it’s a similar incident to Brazil then that’s OK – but obviously it’s always a fine line. But, yeah, also the consistency. That’s the key. For us to know exactly. I don’t think we got really an explanation like what we actually can do, or not. So, I mean, every overtake, every defending is different. I’m sure they try to do the best job, giving the best penalties, or no penalties, so I don’t think it really changes anything. We’ll obviously go for it and at least we know what Lewis and Max ended up having in Brazil, that is OK, so that is a good thing to know.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Just to follow up to Bec’s question, a point of clarity on what may or may not have been said in the meeting. There have been some stories going around that the stewards said that they wouldn’t necessarily make the same decision in the same set of circumstances as Brazil. Is that true or not?
VB: That would be a bit weird, then we don’t know what we’re supposed to do, if that’s the case. I don’t know what to say.
LH: It’s not clear, as I said. They said it’s going to be different with different stewards, so… it could be different with different stewards is what they said. We have the same ones as last week so this week is one way and we’ll see.
MV: For me, the thing I don’t like… I mean we discuss these kind of things and they don’t need to go to the media. We talk to the experts and I think it’s more important that we discuss these things with the experts and not just throw things around on social media for nothing. Yeah, I don’t really what to comment on that. I prefer to talk to the people in charge and just discuss with them about future things in general, not only like an incident or whatever.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) To Max and to Valtteri please: after Lewis came through on his final run in Q3, Pierre Gasly was running behind him and he had a front wing problem and a right front puncture out of Turn 15. I just wondered, did any debris or any yellow flags or anything impact your runs?
MV: Yeah, I mean I heard after the session he damaged his front wing. Yeah, from my side, it was all OK.
VB: Yeah, same thing. I heard only afterwards and I had no yellow flags or anything.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Lewis, just following on from what you were saying on Thursday about the need for accountability and scrutiny in the world of sport and where F1 and other sports go racing. I just wanted to get… two part question… your comment on the situation of the disappearance of Peng Shuai. I know that your friend Serena Williams and also Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic are among the people who are demanding answers. And the second part is, you’ve raised a lot of awareness in the past about the situation in Bahrain. I was wondering if you were aware of the situation of the Doctor Abduljalil al-Singace who is on the 136th day of hunger strike there?
LH: Firstly, on the tennis star, I don’t know all the deep details about it but I’ve obviously seen the support and the questions that some of the top athletes have asked. I can’t really comment too much on to be honest but it’s obviously devastating to hear. And then, yeah, of course I’m aware of the hunger strike but there’s not really a lot that I alone can do about that.
Q: (Khodr Rawi – Motorsport.com Middle East) Lewis, your helmet design caused some different feedback and comments among F1 fans here in the Middle East and I was wondering if somebody from Qatar asked you about it or if they were OK with it? And as Formula 1 is heading next to Saudi Arabia, are you going to use the same helmet design there?
LH: I’ll be using the same helmet through probably the last two races after this, or at least next week also, but I am not aware of anyone commenting on it or any negative feedback. On the back it says ‘we stand together’ and ‘love is love’ and it’s important for me to represent that community, I think, here as I know there are several situations which aren’t perfect and need to be highlighted but I hope that someone reaches out and I would love to know what is happening here and what they’re doing to help support that community more, the LGBTQ+ community. I wait to hear.
Q: (Laurence Edmonson – ESPN) My questions again relates to the track limits rules: I think Max kind of answered this already on Thursday but to Lewis and Valtteri, based on what happened in the review of what was said in the drivers’ meeting, will you change your approach to racing? Will you be able to be more aggressive as a result of that?
LH: Yeah, I guess so. Potentially, can’t really… I would assume so, yeah.
VB: Yeah. I mean if that’s most likely going to be OK then obviously they can do it (inaudible). It just depends on the situation, it’s not like something had suddenly changed but it was good to get at least 20% of a confirmation that is OK. As they said, maybe it’s not, maybe it is. We’ll see.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Simple question for Max: are you 100% convinced that you’re in a fair fight for this championship with regards to legality of the Mercedes car?
MV: It’s difficult to know, of course, fully. Also, not only what is moving forwards but of course what has been now already done and raced with in the previous races but yeah, I mean, we have footage from it so these things can get highlighted but let’s just hope that we’re going to have a good battle to the end.