Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Round 21 of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Featuring race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), second-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) and third-placed Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes).
Track interviews conducted by David Coulthard
Q: Max, well, I don’t know where to start. That was an incredible grand prix and in the end second place. Give us your thoughts on this race?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it was quite eventful. A lot of things happened that I don’t fully agree with but it is what it is. At least I tried it on track, to give it all. I’m not sure that the tyres were lasting to the end. I think it was good for the beginning of that end of the… the last stint basically, but yeah I was just lacking a bit of rubber towards the end. But nevertheless, still second.
Q: We have to talk through, ultimately, where you lost this grand prix. The instruction came from your team to slow down. Clearly there was a miscommunication or a misunderstanding with Lewis on track and then there was contact. Talk us through your point of view on that incident?
MV: I slowed down. I wanted to let him by. So I’m on the right but he didn’t want to overtake and then we touched so, yeah, I don’t really understand what happened there.
Q: As to the championship standings, it’s all square going into Abu Dhabi.
MV: Yeah, it all will be decided there. Hopefully, of course, we will have a good weekend, but let’s see.
Q: Valtteri, your 67th and pretty hard-fought and late-coming podium.
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, it was not an easy day. There were many obstacles and obviously with the red flags and everything made it a bit tricky and with the first red flag being on the hard tyre that was a mistake I think. Some of the guys with the medium tyre got me but then I got the medium after and it was OK. I just kept pushing. It wasn’t easy to overtake today but finally on the last straight I got third.
Q: You have definitely got a healthy glow about your face, which suggests you were fighting hard all the way. Put us in the cockpit, how was this first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?
VB: It’s a nice track. It’s a big challenge physically and mentally. Yeah, a good grand prix and I look forward to coming here next year.
Q: Lewis, your 103rd grand prix win and I think your hardest-fought victory in Formula 1.
Lewis Hamilton: I don’t know, I’ve been racing here a long time, but that was definitely incredibly tough. I tried to be as sensible and as tough as I could be out there, but also sensible, and with all my race experience over the years and just keeping the car on track and staying clean. It was difficult but we persevered as a team. We have had all sorts of things thrown at us, particularly in this second half of the season, so I’m just proud of everyone. And also, I am really grateful for the crowd we have had this weekend. It has been nice to be here.
Q: Lewis, there were so many incidents during that grand prix, so many restarts, but the one we have to talk about is the contact with Max. Tell us about it from your point of view?
LH: Yeah, I didn’t quite understand why all of a sudden he hit the brakes quite heavily and then I ran into the back of him. And then he moved on, so I didn’t understand exactly what was going on, but then I got a message that he was going to let us pass, so it was a bit confusing.
Q: We’re all square going into Abu Dhabi. This championship can go either way.
LH: Well, they have got some raw pace. They have been so quick and it was very hard to overtake them here. We have done an amazing job with what we have. Valtteri did a great job today to get the team points as well, so it’s great points for the team. This is for all the guys and girls back at the factory.
Q: The emotions were running very high with the team during the race. You seemed a lot calmer in the cockpit. Some closing thoughts on this victory and this first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?
LH: Well, it’s been an amazing event. As I said, I have felt very welcome here. The people have been lovely and the track is phenomenal to drive. Very difficult, physically and mentally, but we wouldn’t want it any other way, so onto the next one.
Q: Max, if we can come to you first, what a wild race. Can you just sum it up from your point of view, please?
MV: Confusing! Third, then starting first, dropped to third, third to first, five-second penalty, second, finished second, touches… yeah, I don’t know, I mean, I don’t agree with all the decisions, but I also don’t want to talk about it too much, because I don’t think we need to talk about it, they don’t deserve any mentions.
Q: You are going to the stewards to discuss the incident on lap 37 at Turn 1…
MV: At Turn 1?
Q: And the incident after that of course, when you and Lewis made contact…
Q: Can I ask you about that run to Turn 1. What is your take on what happened there?
MV: Yeah, so of course he had the run, a bit like Brazil, and of course I braked late and I think I got a little bit off line at one point I guess and I had a moment, so I went wide, but he also didn’t make the corner so we both basically missed the corner and I don’t think it’s fair to then just say that I get a penalty but, yeah, it is what it is.
Q: What happened after that? Just in terms of the communication with the pit wall?
MV: Yeah, so then at one point they told me I had to give the position back. That was I think just before 22. So after 22-23, I went to drive to the right side and I slowed down and I was braking and downshifting and he just stayed super close behind me and I don’t really understand why. I was just trying to let him by. I’m just going slower and slower, pulling the downshift. We had a… oh I don’t know, a miscommunication or whatever and he ran into the back of me and that was it.
Q: Was there much damage to your car?
MV: I haven’t checked my car. When I jumped out.
Q: How did it feel?
MV: It felt alright – but I think also, well, I was on the Medium tyres and I think just the last few laps the Hard tyres may be a little bit better.
Q: I was going to ask you about that decision to go on the Medium tyre. It got you into the lead of the race at the start, didn’t it, but then do you think you would have been able to hold on, had there not been all the incidents? If you’d been leading with Lewis second, do you think you had the pace?
MV: It was a virtual safety car, so you don’t really lose time, you know, I think it was actually alright, yeah. It was just difficult. They were very quick, and, you know, especially when you have good pace, and then around here when you’re all the time in the tow, the clipping becomes a bit less and you can stay in the DRS, you get more energy, so it’s quite efficient.
Q: Final one from me Max. You’re level on points going into the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi – a race that you dominated last year. How confident are you?
MV: Yeah, let’s see. It’s very important to have a good Saturday, the car is working well, get the long runs in, and then we’ll see what happens – but of course it’s exciting. Basically, we start again like we started the season.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you now, well done, a great race by you as well. First up, that was very tight with Esteban Ocon at the end. How satisfying was it to pip him right on the line.
VB: Thank you. I mean, definitely it was an exciting finish, and it was really close, obviously. It was, to be honest. It was harder to get by him today than I thought it would be. He actually was driving really well and they were quite fast, and also before that I was stuck behind Daniel for a long time, which made me consume my tyres quite a lot, so actually my front-right tyre was pretty finished, so that made it even more tricky but yeah, once I dropped to fifth on the first restart, I knew that it was going to be all about being patient and eventually getting there, whatever is going to be possible. It was a bit closer than I thought, but made it.
Q: What about that battle with Daniel Ricciardo? Felt like history repeating itself again after Mexico?
VB: Yeah. We obviously didn’t collide this time, so that’s a bonus. It was good racing. It was a tough race today, you know, pretty intense, like the qualifying yesterday, so… but yeah, I enjoyed it.
Q: And you’re now 18 points clear of Sergio Pérez in the Drivers’ Championship [sic. Bottas is 28 points ahead of Pérez]. Happy with that amount of daylight with just one race to go?
VB: Is it more? Did I secure third? I think I secured third place. But I don’t know. Anyways, it was a good day as a team, for the Constructors’, and obviously for Lewis and it’s going to be exciting for them to be battling in Abu Dhabi, and obviously I tried to do my part, but… yeah.
Q: (Mark Mann-Bryans – PA) It’s a question for Max. Going to one of those incidents you had with Lewis during the race, he came over the radio and called you “f***ing crazy” and said you were brake testing him. How do you respond to that?
MV: Not really. Like I said, emotions were running high at the time, so it is what it is.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Max please. Max, you pulled off a brilliant overtake against Lewis and Ocon at one of the restarts but twice you were off, cutting Turn 2, ordered to give the positions back. Do you think some of your moves were over the line today – or were they within the racing rules the FIA outlined after Brazil? Thank you.
MV: I don’t agree with the decisions but, like I said before, I also don’t want to waste too much time on it because we don’t need to make headlines out of it. They don’t deserve that.
Q: (Laurence Edmondson – ESPN) Another question for Max. After the race you said that Formula 1 is more about penalties than racing. What exactly did you mean by that – and are you now concerned, in some way, that this title might be decided by penalties rather than racing?
MV: Oh, it’s not only this race, but in general lately, the trend in F1. Yeah, that’s not how I grew up watching Formula 1 but I mean, again, like I said also after the race, it is what it is and we just have to deal with it and move on.
Q: Lewis Hamilton, win number 103. Many congratulations Lewis. That was a wild race. Can you just start by summing it all up from your point of view please?
LH: It was amazing. It was an incredibly difficult race. What a great circuit we have here. It’s very difficult to follow through Six, Seven, Eight, Nine. To then be close to be in the DRS area, through the next DRS areas, and then Turn 22 is pretty hectic but such a thrill to drive. I like to think we approached…. We approached it with a cool head today, as a team, and I think the key for us was just staying calm. It was clear that others around us were willing to take it to all sorts of levels in order to overtake, so I just tried to keep it on the track and stay out of trouble, which meant avoiding incidents if I could, and I’m really, really grateful that I still had a wing at the end. And then I just took a lot of risk at the end with the bit of damage that I had to get that extra point, as we continue to fight, no matter what we’ve experienced as a team, and I think probably all of us, no matter what we face, we just keep pushing, never give up, and I think that’s been the mentality of our team. I think today I’ve seen a passion and excitement within my team that, I think, in 10 years I don’t think I’ve seen that, which is amazing.
Q: And Lewis, the incident on lap 37, going into Turn 1 where Max was given a five-second penalty, can we just get your reflections on what happened there?
LH: Yeah. I was just reminiscing about 2008 in Spa, in my first championship winning year, when I was fighting Kimi into the last corner of the Spa chicane and he ran me wide and I went across the chicane and I had to let him back past but then I overtook him straight away and I remember Charlie Whiting telling the team that it was OK and then finishing the race – Kimi obviously didn’t finish the race – but then getting a, I think it was a 10-second or whatever it was, 20s (cross talk) yeah, OK, yeah, and then finishing third. At this point of the… obviously I knew that Max had overtaken two of us by going over Turn 2 which at the beginning of the race we were told that that wasn’t allowed, but I hadn’t yet had the information yet that he would be backing off, so all of a sudden he started slowing down into 27 where the DRS zone is but it wasn’t quite clear to me, it was a bit confusing and then all of a sudden, he slowed down at a real… at a rapid pace and that’s when I had to avoid going completely up the backside of him. Yeah, I felt grateful that I obviously didn’t take us both out. For me, I need to be finishing both races and get all these points and it’s obviously tough to do so in these circumstances, but yeah, I managed to keep the car in one piece.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To both Lewis and Max: earlier this season, you were avoiding any collisions and you both insisted you could race hard but fair. That’s changed and there have now been several flashpoints. Is this inevitable with such an intense battle or do you believe that something’s changed in how you’re racing that’s caused it?
LH: I don’t think I’ve changed the way that I race. I think we’re seeing multiple incidents this year where even with Brazil we’re supposed to do our racing on track in between the white lines and the rules haven’t been clear from the stewards, that those things have been allowed, so that’s continued. From my understanding, I know that I can’t overtake someone and go off track and then keep the position but I think that’s well known between all us drivers but it doesn’t apply to one of us, I guess.
MV: Well, I find it interesting that I am the one who gets the penalty when both of us ran outside of the white lines. In Brazil it was fine and now suddenly I get a penalty for it. Well, you could clearly see both didn’t make the corner, but it’s fine. I mean I also don’t really spend too much time on it. We have to move forward. We’re equal on points on now and I think that’s really exciting, of course, for the whole championship and Formula 1 in general but I said it earlier on my in-lap, I think lately we’re talking more about white lines and penalties than actually proper Formula 1 racing and that’s, I think, a little bit of a shame.
Q: (Michael Milewski – Bild) Lewis, when we had our interview on Thursday, you said that this was not the most intense or the hardest championship fight you’ve had in your career in F1. Did that change today?
LH: It’s definitely an incredibly intense year and time. I think I was just saying because I’ve raced for 28 years. I’ve had so many intense battles through karting, through single-seaters and this is one of them. Of course this is the pinnacle of the sport so everything’s heightened, everything’s at the absolute max and so much weighs on it, so yeah, but I think it’s great for the sport. I think it’s great for the fans. I think they’re enjoying it more than ever. I’m enjoying it as a racing driver. Yup.
Q: (Mark Mann-Bryans – PA) Lewis, during the race, after one of the incidents, you came over the radio and called Max a ‘f***ing crazy guy’ and that you were being brake tested by him. Do you feel that he drove dangerously and were you at any point worried that you might be put out of the race and lose the championship, the chance to take the title fight to Abu Dhabi?
LH: I definitely feel that there were scenarios where that was the case. This is not the first time that I’ve had to avoid a collision and yeah, that’s how I felt at the moment, but you know sometimes you say things in the heat of the moment and you go back and rewatch things and then you maybe feel differently but in the moment that’s how it felt. But I really just tried to recompose myself and chase down and keep fighting.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, when you ran into the back of Max when he slowed down, why did you not just go past him if he was slowing in front of you?
LH: It really wasn’t clear. So, there are two scenarios. There’s one that it wasn’t clear, two I didn’t get the information, and then it became apparent that he was trying to let me past, which was what he, I guess, had been asked to do but before the DRS zone. So then it would have meant he would just DRS back past me coming through the last corner, followed me and then DRS-ed me into turn one. So that was the tactic, but I think that really the worst part was the steep, heavy braking that then happened at one point, which then I had to really… that’s where we collided. That was the dangerous part.