Full transcript from the top three press conference after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, Round 18 of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship, at Suzuka Circuit.
Featuring top three in the session, pole winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing); second-placed Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and third-placed Carlos Sainz (Ferrari).
Parc Ferme interviews conducted by Johnny Herbert
Q: Max Verstappen, pole position, fifth of the season, 18th in your career? Tell us a little about the lap. How was it?
Max Verstappen: It was pretty incredible to drive here again, and especially in qualifying, when you’re on low fuel these cars really come alive through the first sector. So yeah, of course very happy to be on pole, but also in general, just super happy to be back here.
Q: We could see you were looking at the back of the car, something sort of fell off. What could you see?
MV: I lost a part, a part of the duct on my final lap, so probably that’s why I couldn’t really improve. But nevertheless, the first lap was good enough.
Q: And you’re being investigated, it seems at the moment, about Lando. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MV: Yeah, I was just, you know, driving quite slow and I wanted to accelerate but my tyres were quite cold. So then I had a big moment. And then of course, Lando was trying to pass me at the same time, so he had to avoid me a little bit, but luckily, nothing happened.
Q: Well, tomorrow for the race you’ve done the right thing today with pole position. You’re going for the championship tomorrow. How do you feel with the race car?
MV: Yeah, it will be interesting first of all to see the weather. I mean, some say it’s going to be dry, some say it’s going be raining at some point during the race, so we just need to see what happens with that. And I’m quite confident we have a good car so yeah, excited for tomorrow.
Q; Charles, a bit frustrating. It seems that middle sector here was really good for you. Tell us a little bit about the first and maybe the third sector?
Charles Leclerc: Yeah, well, it’s a very tricky lap around here because whenever you are first in the first sector, then you lose out in the last sector. And I tried to find that balance in the last lap, but lost a little bit the tyres in the last sector and lost a little bit of time. So yeah, it’s so close though with everyone, so that’s nice, and we’ll try to have a good race from there.
Q: Yeah, what about tomorrow? Because it is mighty close, like you’ve said, but of course it’s so important to get off the line going down towards one. And the race car itself? How does it feel do you think, going into Sunday?
CL: I mean, we have a very limited amount of data going into the race so that’s always a challenge but the feeling was good with a car, so yeah, let’s wait and see about the conditions. It seems we will have a bit of rain somewhere in the race, so yeah, it should be a fun race.
Q: A lot of Charlie Leclerc fans here and Ferrari fans, are you get to take it to Max tomorrow?
CL: Yeah, it’s always nice to be here and see so many people passionate about the sport and being so creative, so hopefully we can give a good show tomorrow.
Q: And Carlos Sainz, a mighty tight top three. Tell us a little bit about the qualifying lap itself.
Carlos Sainz: Yeah, it was a very clean lap, a very good laugh all the way until the last corner that I picked up quite a bit of wheelspin, probably used to be too much credit from my rear tyres in that lap and yeah, it’s a shame to be half a tenth again from pole you know. It’s been so many qualis now with Max and Charles that we are all within half a tenth. And the last half a tenth tends to fall more to the other side. Hopefully, yeah, towards the end of the season this half a tenth falls a bit more to my side and I can get a pole position.
Q: Yeah, and of course, speaking to the other two guys, obviously, tomorrow’s weather is looking a little bit suspect. But the Ferrari itself, how is it going to work? If it’s wet or if it’s dry, what’s going to favour you?
CS: Yeah, I think the weather tomorrow is going to play its part. The rain is going to arrive. We don’t know if it’s going to arrive at two o’clock, three or four, which is after the race. So yeah, I think there’s plenty of things that could happen tomorrow. There’s also a great opportunity starting in P3, you know. We managed to save also a set of softs in case we need it, so, yeah, I think we are in a good position to fight Max tomorrow.
QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE
Q: Brilliant job, Max, your first pole at Suzuka. How sweet was that first lap in Q3?
MV: Yeah, it was, I think a pretty good lap at the time. Of course, you know, there’s normally always a bit of track evolution going on after every run. But at the time, I think it was a good lap. The balance of the car was quite good. So then, of course, it’s really enjoyable to be pushing here, especially through that first sector.
Q: You say it’s enjoyable, and you clearly love driving the car here. Just how much of a driving challenge is this track – and how rewarding is it when you get it right?
MV: Yeah, it’s all about just finding the right balance for that first sector. And, you know, once the car is hooked up there, you get a lot of confidence and you can really push it through this combination of corners, and it’s definitely one of the best on the calendar.
Q: And can you tell us a little bit more about what happened at the start of Q3 when Lando Norris caught you going quite slowly through 130R?
MV: Yeah, we were all on our out lap. And yeah, we were all lining up to try and create a gap to everyone. And somehow he still wanted to get me into the chicane. But I was at the point of accelerating but I was on very cold tyres, so I had like a little moment and that’s why you had to drive around me. But you know, if you’re just a bit more respectful than everyone is anyway already lining up. I don’t think anyone is trying to pass into that last chicane. So basically, by trying to pass me you create that kind of problem.
Q: And final one for me. You can win your second world title tomorrow. How does it feel to be so close to something so special?
MV: I’m not thinking about it too much. Just taking it day-by-day. I think what was most important is that we would have a competitive car and clearly we had that today in Qualifying, and I hope of course it’s going to be the same tomorrow in the race – because we do need a perfect race to be able to win it tomorrow. But at least it’s a good start.
Q: Charles, if we could come to you now, many congratulations to you as well. You found a lot of time in Q3, just how good was the car?
CL: The car was good, I was struggling more with the tyres to put everything together, first and last sector especially. The more I was pushing in the first sector, the more I was going slow in the last sector, losing a little bit the tyres. So, it was a tricky one but overall the car felt good.
Q: They were your first laps in the dry this weekend. Just tell us as well what it feels like to drive a car that’s clearly hooked-up around the Suzuka Circuit during qualifying?
CL: It’s incredible. Especially the first sector feels crazy. There’s so much grip. And in Q3, once you go for that last lap, it really feels special. So yeah, it was a fun qualifying.
Q: And do you get that sensation at any other racetrack?
CL: Well, I really like the sensation of the street tracks I think it’s really fun too. It’s a bit of a different thing, but Silverstone I guess is pretty similar on the quali lap.
Q: Let’s throw it ahead to the race tomorrow. What impact does the wet weather from yesterday have on your plans?
CL: Well, not much data to look at for tomorrow, apart from the few laps that we did this morning, race run in FP3. So yeah, going a little bit into the unknown but it looks like the conditions are also pretty unpredictable for tomorrow. We don’t really know whether it’s going to rain or not. Or maybe both. So yeah, we’ll see.
Q: Carlos coming to you now half a tenth of a second from pole position. Just how good was your qualifying lap?
CS: It was a good lap. Clean all the way until the last chicane. There, probably I overcooked a bit a tyre, going into that last chicane and it cost me quite a bit of lap time. But another half-a-tenth that we could have got there but yeah, a bit fed-up of being half-a-tenth off pole. I think it’s been a few qualis now, consecutives in Zandvoort, also before the summer break where we are, all three, very tight with each other but somehow it tends to fall into Max or Charles’ hands instead of mine, which hopefully towards the end of the season I will end up getting one and get it out of the way.
Q: With so little dry running this weekend, how close to perfect was the car?
CS: It was pretty close. I think we managed to hook up a good balance in FP3, which is a good sign. It means we understand the car and we know the baseline set up normally works well in every track now. It’s now a matter of who that last half-a-tenth falls in favour of, which today was in favour of Max. At other circuits, it’s in favour of us. But it’s super tight, at least in quali.
Q: Max mentioned track evolution; just how much do you feel the track conditions changed during the session?
CS: Here, there’s not only track evolution, but a lot of driver evolution and I think especially, when we have a bit of margin in Q1 and Q2, when you really go for it in Q3, you really go down on lap times, like we did. And we went to find that those last two or three tenths from the car that were particularly exciting to find around this track, because you really put yourself on the limit and you put the car properly on the limit with a lot of G-force here. And it’s one of these trucks that gives you just a lot of pleasure to drive in that limit, and it’s the best thing in Q3.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Max, this morning we’ve had the confirmation that Nyck de Vries will be driving for AlphaTauri next year. First of all, what’s your reaction to that? And secondly, Helmut Marko just told me that you have been quite helpful behind the scenes to get him into the seat. Can you please elaborate a bit, did you put in a good word for Nyck, for example?
MV: Of course I knew this already… it was coming. But yeah, of course, this is incredible for him. He’s been pushing hard for it for a long time and to finally get that opportunity is amazing for him. But also, I think after Monza, there was no real discussion any more, I think. Helmut is the guy, when he likes something he is daring enough to then put him in the car, right, whereas maybe other teams are a bit more careful. And, yeah, that’s great news. We are good friends as well. We had a dinner the day after Monza and I told him, like, just give him [Dr Marko] a call. You never know what happens and it was also the right time to call him, so Helmut is still probably excited on a Monday from the race on a Sunday, so it worked out really well. And I’m very happy for him.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Max, after Charles was getting four poles in qualifying from the first six races you really called on Red Bull to give you a better car on a Saturday and now that’s your fifth pole, I just wondered if you could talk about how much better it feels when it’s low on fuel, when you’re really sort of pushing in Q3, now the car’s a bit lighter?
MV: Yeah, it was just in the beginning, especially, because our car was very heavily overweight so then you know that once you got really down on fuel, it’s just extra painful, I would say. And I think yes, the improvements on the car definitely helped but I still think that our car normally is better in the race than over one lap and luckily with the new regulations even if your car is not – let’s say – amazing on a Saturday it doesn’t really matter because if you have a quick race car you can still pass on most tracks apart from – of course – a few street circuits but at least it’s not all qualifying biased, which I think it’s good for the sport as well.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Question to all three: today it’s dry but tomorrow there can be some rain around again. Just how tricky has it been for you guys to find a decent setup and did you have to go for a compromise in the end, maybe running a bit more downforce around here than you would normally like?
CL: No, honestly, there was no big compromises done for tomorrow. Obviously the forecast is predicting a little bit of rain here and there. We won’t know whether it will happen or not but it was very tricky though, to actually have the car ready and in the right spot for qualifying after only FP3 but I think we did a good job on that so it didn’t compromise us.
MV: I always tend to feel like I want different things for qualifying and the race here, every year of being here, and same in the wet, that’s another thing I want from the car, so maybe for me it’s been a bit more difficult but I think at the end of the day, you have to find a bit of a middle way and that’s, I think, what we agreed on
Q: What do you want in qualifying and what do you want in the race?
MV: Different things!
CS: You know big compromises apart from obviously having quite a bit of a hectic FP3 to put the car in the right place for qualifying but once quality started, you think about the dry and how to make the car quicker in the dry. Tomorrow, the rain, we don’t know if it’s going to arrive at two, at three, at four but it looks like it will hit us but you don’t know if the rain is going to arrive in the last stint, in the first stint or after the race, which then it’s not worth taking any compromises. But yeah, the good thing is that we are both cars up there again, ready to put the pressure on Max and see what… when the rain comes and how we can get both of us ahead.