Full transcript from the top three press conference after qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 22nd and final round of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, at Yas Marina Citcuit.
Featuring pole-winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), second-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and third-placed Lando Norris (McLaren).
Track interview conducted by David Coulthard
Q: Max, what a difference a week makes, you could have had the pole in Saudi Arabia, you have the pole for the final grand prix of the season. Where did you find the lap?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it’s of course an amazing feeling. We definitely improved the car again in qualifying because so far this weekend it had been a bit on and off. But incredibly happy with this. This is of course what we wanted. It is never easy, especially with their form in the last few races. Yeah, now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow because of course that’s the most important thing.
Q: That’s where the points are tomorrow. We have conflicting tyre strategy – you are on the Soft and Lewis Hamilton on the medium. Can you throw it forward from Friday, what that is going to mean in terms of strategy?
MV: I mean I felt good on both tyres. Naturally, now, in the evening, it’s a bit cooler, so it should be a bit easier for the Soft tyres but we will see tomorrow. Of course it’s very important to have a good start and from there onwards we will just try to do the race to our very best and we will see where we end up.
Q: You guys are brilliant at deflecting questions regarding pressure but you must feel a little bit of weight lifted from your shoulders with that qualifying result?
MV: I was very relaxed going into qualifying. I know I always do the best I can and I know my team always gives me the best possible car. We have been doing that the whole year and again today that worked really well.
Q: Lewis, great to see the respect there between Max and you as you walked up, you did the fist bump. The battle between you is going to continue into tomorrow evening. You looked like the man on form and the betting was all on your for pole position. Clearly it hasn’t quite worked out. Talk us through that session?
Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, first of all, Max did a great lap today, so… Yeah, we just couldn’t compete with that time there. It was looking very strong through practice. Firstly, we have got a great crowd here, regardless of the boos, I’m just grateful to see people here, healthy. We couldn’t answer to that lap, it was a fantastic lap from him. But we are in a good position, I would like to think, with our tyres tomorrow and I hope that we can have a good race.
Q: Put us in the cockpit, Lewis. I got the sense that wasn’t a really clean lap from you, I get the sense there was more pace from the car. Is that the case and how do we throw this forward to the all-important grand prix?
LH: Yeah, well, as you saw, the first lap I dropped a little bit of time in the last, in Turn 5, but the last lap was nice and clean, I just couldn’t go any quicker. I don’t know if it’s tyre prep or something in terms of the out lap but nonetheless I couldn’t beat that time that he did today, he fully deserved the pole.
Q: We just heard from Max that he was super relaxed before qualifying. He must be elated because you know the importance of pole. You’ve done this a lot of times before, you’re a seven-times world champion. So, a little bit of disappointment or all it’s going forward now to the opportunity?
LH: No, I’m still on the front row, we’ve got the difference, obviously, between the tyres but I am grateful that I can see where he is and we can try to navigate from there.
Q: Lando… Look at that smile. Where did that lap come from?
Lando Norris: I don’t know really! It came already Q3, run one. I made some improvements but also a few mistakes and I just needed a clean lap in the end. I went for pole, it didn’t quite work out, I was still a little bit off. It was a nice lap and to be P3 was a little bit of a surprise.
Q: Now, it won’t be lost on you as you celebrate this strong end to the season for McLaren that you have one of the best seats in the house on the run down to the first corner of this championship battle.
LN: Yeah, I’m a bit nervous. I kind of want to just stay where I am and just watch everything unfold over the first few laps or even the whole race. I don’t want to get involved too much because it can cause a lot of controversy. I don’t know. I don’t know whether I should go for the move, not go for the move, you tell me! But I’ll do my best and if I have a chance I will go for it.
Q: Well done Max, that was a fabulous lap by you, just talk us through it first of all.
MV: So far our weekend has been a bit on and off in terms of balance but I think for qualifying we made the right decisions and as I soon as I went in to qualifying I had a bit of a better feeling. Nevertheless, Q1, not perfect, still need to fine tune a couple of things. From Q2 onwards it was a bit better. But of course in Q2 I had my flat spot on the mediums so I had to go out on the Soft again. Then in Q3, basically, both laps, the last lap until 13, I was more or less on the same lap time so, yeah, the car felt pretty decent in these final two laps.
Q: Couple of questions about the end of Q3. We saw you working well with your team-mate Sergio Pérez. How much help did he give you?
MV: For sure on that first run it was very nice and then on my second run I had a very good exit out of 7 so I actually didn’t even lose time on that straight on my own, just with the following the cars, but for sure for that first run it was a nice tow.
Q: A quick word on the start tyre. You are going to be on the Soft. Was that always the plan?
MV: Well, naturally, it wasn’t because I wanted to try to start on the medium but I flat-spotted that one. But I felt good yesterday as well on the long run on the Soft. So it was not a difficult decision to make to say. “OK, we will focus on the Softs”.
Q: Just a quick word on how you are feeling. Are you excited?
MV: Yeah, of course, naturally when you are first, that’s where you want to be, so definitely looking forward to tomorrow.
Q: Lewis, great job from you as well. How was the car, first of all? How was the lap?
LH: The car was good. Max did a great job on that final lap. Generally, through practice, P3 at least and into qualifying, the car was feeling solid. Through the qualifying session it felt like it got a bit harder to try to gain speed, and the last two laps weren’t easy to really pull out the time. I don’t know if it’s track temp or what – but the last lap was OK. Definitely can’t complain but, of course, we wish we would be a bit quicker today.
Q: We’ve just heard Max talking about the way he worked with his team-mate during Q3. Was that discussed at Mercedes? You and Valtteri working together.
LH: No. No it wasn’t discussed. We’ve never, ever really done that, so…
Q: Let’s talk about the start tyre. You’re going to be on the Medium, Max is on the Soft. Straightforward decision for you to start on that tyre?
LH: Yeah. It’s interesting. I’m always kind of sceptical with everything, so it’ll be interesting when we go back and look at the information and onboard laps. It’s very rare that people lock-up in Turn 1 but if he truly did lock-up in Turn 1 then maybe whether or not we’ll be in the better position in terms of that tyre or maybe they know something we don’t and that Soft tyre was their plan all the time. We struggled, I think, a little bit more on the Soft tyre for long runs, so I think we’ve got the right tyre but I guess we’ll see tomorrow.
Q: Lewis, you’re on the front row. Quick word about how you’re feeling. Are you excited as well?
LH: Yeah. I feel good. I’m happy that I’m on the front row. I can see my opponent. Obviously it’s going to be a little bit harder at the start off the Medium tyre as opposed to the Soft tyre but nonetheless, I’m giving it everything.
Q: Lando, coming to you. Fantastic to see you here in the top three, your best qualifying since Monza. How are you feeling? How please are you?
LN: Massively pleased. Very surprised to be here. Also very happy at the same time, obviously. I think we were confident all weekend that we could get to qualifying and put in a good performance but probably not to be this high up on the grid – so yeah, very happy, especially with my lap I did in Q3. It was definitely just putting it all together. It was a very clean and nice lap. And of course it put me here ahead of the people I want to be ahead of, so… happy.
Q: The car seems a lot more competitive than it has been in recent races. Why is that? Is it something to do with the layout? Have you found something with set-up?
LN: Just layout. The car is still so sensitive to different types of corners and banked corners, not-banked corners and so on, so yeah. Qatar we were very competitive as well, we were quicker than Ferrari but apart from that, in the last bunch we’ve generally been a bit slower. So, to come here, to be ahead, I think it was very close between us, I was only something like five-hundredths ahead of Carlos, so it’s not like we’re miles quicker and are going to be comfortable tomorrow – but definitely just edging them out was definitely a good thing for myself but also a good thing for the team.
Q: And you’re going to get a great view tomorrow at the start of the two Championship protagonists. Looking forward to that?
LN: Of course. I think I’m in the best seat for tomorrow, so I’m very excited to see everything unfold, to see what goes on. I think it’s just a genuine pleasure to be in this position, to see everything that’s been going on this season between Max and Lewis and to watch the battles, to watch the racing because I have a lot of respect for them. Yeah, I’m very happy to be P3, not only because it’s a good position to start but because it gives me the prime position for the view tomorrow.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Questions to both Max and to Lewis. Max, the tow there, was that something that was worked out pre-qualifying or was it something that was worked out on the fly, given what had happened in Q2 with a lock-up on the Medium and you needing to go to the Soft tyre. And question to Lewis. You said that you’d never discussed that kind of situation, going for a tow, it’s not something that the team does – but given what’s at stake this weekend and how vital it is to be on pole, and given what Red Bull and Max have done today with the time that they have compared to yourself, why was it not discussed, do you feel? And should it have been?
MV: Yeah, it was discussed before quali. So yeah, it was very nice, nicely executed as well but, I’m mean, it’s not… whatever the gap was. I might have gained a tenth towards Turn 9. It’s not a massively long straight but nevertheless, Checo’s a great team-mate and a real pleasure to work with, so of course, also a big thank you to him.
LH: For us, I’d like Valtteri to focus on getting his… we work as a team in terms of Valtteri needed to get the best job done for himself, so that we can have both of us up as high as possible. So, it’s never something that we discuss, or we work on. I don’t believe that we should have either.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Lewis, I wanted to ask you, how does this compare for you, on the eve of the final race, to five years ago when you were battling with Nico Rosberg? Are you more tense now than you were then or were you more tense then? How do you feel compared to that deciding race five years ago?
LH: A million times different. It was a much, much different scenario, completely different. A million times better I feel now than I did then. Yeah, I feel good.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, you mentioned the car being better in qualifying compared to practice; how crucial was your wing choice in terms of getting that set-up to feel better?
MV: I wanted to try it and it felt quite nice but even when we changed it, the car balance itself wasn’t perfect yet so after FP3 we still made some changes and clearly they were working well for qualifying.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Lewis and Max, regardless of the outcome tomorrow, before you go head-to-head, could you list some positives about each other so far, through the last 20 races and what you’ve experienced, and the respect you have for each other?
LH: [Aside to Max] I don’t think we really need to, do we?
MV: [Laughs]. I think Lewis has already won so many championships but also this year I think we have been pushing each other, certainly in some races, to the limit. We have been really basically trying to get everything out of our cars, tyres, to the last lap, to the last corner and that’s very exciting, especially when it’s been between two teams as well, because when it’s team-mates always a bit different, but when two teams fighting you have different strategies you don’t know about, preparation, so it has been really enjoyable for most of the time. That’s normal in a championship and yeah, of course, in 10, 20 years’ time, people will look back at it and even myself and you will remember this year, for sure.
LH: Yeah, well said. I agree fully. It’s been an incredible year, an amazing battle and I’m grateful that I’ve had such a close battle with Max and his team. I think they’ve done an exceptional job and shown true strength and so it’s pushed us to the limit in ways that we needed and we, I think, have grown stronger as a team in ways we didn’t know that we could grow and yeah, it’s been amazing. I hope that we have many more seasons like this.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) Max, the pole-sitter has won the last six races here, that would in theory put your first championship in sight. I’m wondering, you said you feel good, what would do the next 20-ish hours, in preparation, mentally and otherwise?
MV: I mean, first of all, I never look at these stats because these things can already change at the start or whatever, first lap, so I just need to focus on what we can control as a team and yeah, the coming hours… I think what’s most important is to have a good sleep, but also I have friends and family around, so I’m not going to do anything different to what I normally have been doing.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Lewis, you just said a few minutes ago that you feel a million times better this time around compared to five years ago when you were battling with Nico. Could you just expand on that a little bit? Why is that? What is the difference for you this year?
LH: It’s not something that I particularly really want to go into but I’m just in a different place in life to in 2016, facing different resistance in life and yeah, this time we’re just in a much better and happier place.
Q: Lewis, are you a better driver now than you were in ’16?
LH: Yes. And team-mate.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, you mentioned that you discussed the tow plan with Checo, did you have a chance to practise it in the practice sessions before qualifying?
MV: No we didn’t. Checo and I said to ourselves we were confident to do it, just for that one run and that’s what we did.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) Lewis, were you surprised by the boos?
LH: No, there’s a lot of orange here, so… Yeah, I think you’re always surprised by the boos, no matter how many times you experience it. But I don’t care, it doesn’t make no difference to me if it was a cheer or if it was a boo, makes no difference to how I go about my life, so it doesn’t affect me. If anything I use that as fuel so I’m grateful for it, one way or another.