Full transcript from the FIA hosted qualifying press conference at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Round 2 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship in Jeddah.
Featuring top three pole winner Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing); second-placed Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and third-placed Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
Track interviews conducted by Khalil Beschir
Q: Checo, pole position again in Jeddah! How do you do this only here?
Sergio Perez: It was tricky. It was tricky that Q3, especially [after] not getting that second lap. That [first lap] was quite good, you know, it was quite clean, really clean. Nailing that lap, you know, you really feel the Formula 1 cars coming alive in this place and yeah just maximising that lap was very important, you know, because with the issue we had into the final run it was really important as the track was improving.
Q: You must be happy to hear it was only driveshaft on Max’s car, nothing else. It was a scare wasn’t it in the middle of the session? It was a scare for you when you saw Max’s problem. You were happy it was only a driveshaft?
SP: Yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s a shame, you know. Max has been really strong the whole weekend. So hopefully tomorrow we can have both cars up there, as you never know, with these cars, you know, reliability issues can hit you at any time.
Q: Well, Checo, fantastic. Hopefully tomorrow you will be the one with the win. because points count tomorrow. Congratulations. Charles Leclerc, P2, you must be happy with that. I know the penalty is there for tomorrow, unfortunately. But you must be happy with the qualifying?
Charles Leclerc: Ah, happy? Yes and no. On one hand, I think it’s been a very difficult weekend in terms of pace for us. But I’m very happy about my lap, I think I put everything in it. It was really, really on the limit. On the other hand, Red Bull are on another planet. And we are struggling a little bit. So we need to keep pushing. But that’s what we are doing as a team. Tomorrow is not going to be easy. I have a 10-place grid penalty. So we’ll be starting a little bit further back. But we’ll focus on the race and hopefully come back in the front as quickly as possible.
Q: We can’t separate you too much from Max, because Max is also starting from the back. But race pace is much better. Yesterday, the long runs, the car looked good on Soft, also on Medium. You must be looking forward for improvement from Bahrain, on race pace I mean.
CL: Yes, the race pace looked quite good. But it’s very difficult to compare because in FP2 everybody has a very different programme. So we will see, but it seemed a little bit better. But it’s not going to be easy because I feel like everybody is very close in the race pace.
Q: Well, we wish you all the best of luck. Tomorrow is going to be a long race, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to enjoy the fastest speed circuit in the world. Fernando Alonso everyone! I know you are one of the favourite drivers for the crowd here. P3 in the race in Bahrain and now a fantastic qualifying. You must be happy starting third and also to be in front of Mercedes as well?
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it has been a very good weekend for us. Qualifying was our weakness, or a weak point in Bahrain but today the car seemed to perform very well on one lap. And yeah, let’s see tomorrow what we can do from here. Obviously, Charles has a penalty, so we’ll start on the first row the grid, so this is just amazing.
Q: I think the first few laps are going to be amazing for you, between you and Checo. But tell us, the race pace was good as well. Obviously in Bahrain, you had one of the best cars around the whole race, but how was it yesterday? Were you happy with the… There was a bit of a drop at some stage after lap 13, are you confident for a good race tomorrow?
FA: Yeah, we are confident. I think that the gap or let’s say the long run yesterday was affected a little bit by traffic but the car felt very strong. Still, I think the strongest point on the car is the long run pace and how we treat the tyres, so I’m looking forward to it.
QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE
Q: Checo, many congratulations, back-to-back poles here in Saudi Arabia. Just how sweet was this one?
SP: I mean Jeddah, I enjoy it a lot. You know, I think we all… When you have a good car that you can push around this place, you really feel the F1 cars coming alive. And getting a clean, good lap, you know when you nail it. And yeah, that Q3 run one was quite a good jump. I had a good jump from all my previous laps. And that meant that I was able to get the pole, because my second lap, I didn’t manage to get it. I just had a front lock going into Turn 1. That has been really tricky. Turn 1 and Turn 2, always starting the lap into 1 and 2, it was so easy just to lose two tenths straightaway there, especially with the low downforce that we’re running. And just nailing that combination of corners will require a lot of temperature on our tyres as well, so yeah, just in general, just getting that lap, nailing that lap, was really nice.
Q: Had you finished that second lap in Q3, was there more time in the car?
SP: I think it’s just tiny. I went a little bit deep into Turn 4. But no, nothing major. It was already a very clean lap. But I think, yeah, the track was improving, there should have been a little bit more to come.
Q: Where has the car been especially strong around this track?
SP: Well, I think just in general, you know. I feel like it will be interesting to see, because some cars are running very high downforce others lower downforce, like us. So it will be very interesting to see tomorrow in the race, what we are able to get through and yeah, that will be very interesting.
Q: Let’s talk about tomorrow’s race, then. First up, you’re probably hoping to get the rub of the green with the Safety Car, which you didn’t get last year, of course. But how do you think it’s going to play out? Do you have reliability concerns, given what’s happened to Max, and I believe there was a little bit of an issue in Bahrain as well. Just how do you view the reliability of the car?
SP: There’s always reliability concerns, especially around this place. It is so easy to make damage to the cars and at the end of the day, there will always be reliability concerns. But hopefully not tomorrow.
Q: Very well done. Thank you. Charles, coming to you. Now, of course, you’re going to drop 10 places on the grid tomorrow because of the penalty. But how much encouragement does this performance give you in terms of the Ferrari’s pace?
CL: Not that much. In the lap, I’m really, really happy. It was really on the limit. On the other hand, I feel like Red Bull are quite far ahead. And that is our goal, to beat them. So there’s still a lot of work to do. Having said that, I think it’s a bit better than what we expected for this qualifying session. We expected to be a bit further back. But there’s a lot of work to do.
Q: You said a moment ago that it’s been a difficult weekend for the team. Just what have been the issues with the car?
CL: Well, to be honest, if you ask me to pinpoint one thing, it’s very difficult. It’s just that we were quite slow. And yeah, just overall grip to be honest.
Q: OK, so what can you do from the middle of the grid tomorrow?
CL: I think our race pace is stronger this weekend. So this is a good thing. Then, I don’t know how easy it is going to be to overtake on this track because the midfield seems to be all extremely close in terms of race pace. And if you have a DRS train, then it makes things very difficult. But I’ll give my best, try to come back to the front as quickly as possible. And we’ll see what happens.
Q: Thanks for that. Fernando coming to you. You’re going to start on the front row tomorrow. First time since Canada last year. Let’s start with your quali lap. How good was it?
FA: Yeah, it was good. The thing that probably we didn’t improve much from Q2 to Q3. Q2 we were P1 with 28.7, and more or less we repeat the same lap in Q3, so we still miss a little bit that jump from Q2 to Q3 and follow the track evolution. But, yeah, all in all, I think we have to be very happy. We start on the first row of the grid, on the second race, very different circuit compared to Bahrain. So yeah, I think it has been a very positive weekend for the team.
Q: How much did the track evolve during the course of the qualifying session?
FA: I think it did. But probably we were expecting more. To be honest, I think the expectations for the Q1 cut-off and the Q2 cut-off were a bit faster. So the track was not mega fast, let’s say, tonight. But the same for everybody. I think we optimised our lap and our package. Our strength so far has been the long runs and how we treat the tyres on the long runs. So yeah. Let’s see tomorrow what we can do.
Q: Well. Look, how close is your race pace to the guy on your right? Do you think you can beat him?
FA: I don’t know. I think we are not in that position yet. I think on pure pace, I think Red Bull is in another league. And I think we have to concentrate more on the teams behind. So Ferrari will be very strong. Mercedes, they are strong, and also Alpine, they are fast here. So I think our race is just behind us. But we saw today, Max probably was in his league today in qualifying and he could not complete the qualifying with a mechanical issue apparently, so we will try to take the opportunity for sure.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Fred Ferret – l’Equipe) Fernando, apart from the start and the first corner, is there any other chance that you can beat Checo?
FA: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice, we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone. So that’s not, let’s say, the target tomorrow, you know, to fight for the win with Checo. But as I said before, Formula 1 is not exact mathematics, you know, anything can happen and today no one of us will put Verstappen P15, you know, but these things happen sometimes. So, for us, the most important thing is to score points. We are starting both cars in the top five. We try to finish both cars in the top five and keep accumulating points for the Constructors’ Championship. That’s the main goal for Aston Martin this year.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Fernando, given your long runs on the medium tyres, there was about a two-tenths difference between you and Checo. Do you think that kind of gap can be covered tomorrow? And also, you have the Alpines and Ferrari, which are less than a 10th away on the same tyres. So how do you think that’s going to play out for you tomorrow?
FA: Yeah, very tight race, I expect. And that will be defined by small details. One will be the start, one will be the tyre management. The other one will be the strategy. And probably the final one will be the luck, because we saw even last year with Checo, you know, how luck and the Safety Car can play a big factor here. So, you know, we have to nail all of these points. I think as a team, we are ready to take care of everything that is in our hands. The car seems to perform well on the long runs. Seems very easy on tyres, as we saw also last year with the old Aston Martin, but also in Bahrain, it seems good. So yeah, let’s try to maximise our strengths. And hopefully be lucky as well.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Fernando, what kind of race do you expect in terms of strategy and also safety car is quite common here. And also, do you think Max will reach you at some point during the race?
FA: Yeah, I think so. I think Max will come eventually in the race, you know. They have this advantage. I don’t know which race it was last year that he started last, so he changed the power unit and still finished P2 or even won the race. So, I think tomorrow, there is no doubt that he will be in the podium, probably, minimum. So yeah, as I said, this is not our goal. You know, when we launched the car on the 13th of February, I remember very well a conversation with Mike Krack, with Lance, with the senior management of the team, setting the goals for this year, and the goals were not fighting Red Bull for the win tomorrow. So let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep the feet on the ground, and don’t make any mistakes, you know. Even if we are competitive we cannot leave these kinds of weekends that they are so good for us with no points, you know, that would be our biggest mistake. So whatever is available tomorrow, I’m sure we will take.
Q: Checo, can I bring you in here. How far do you think Max can climb tomorrow, in the car that you’re driving?
SP: I think we certainly have a good race car. I think it’s where probably we are a little bit better than the competition. But yeah, it depends. Like Fernando says, so many things can happen in a race, you know, but I do expect him to come back. Our car, our race pace, was very strong on Friday, so we’ll see. We’ll see what… hopefully for the team, we are able to come back and get maximum points because these weekends are very important. The competition, it’s only going to get closer. So, to be able to maximise maximum points will be important.
Q: (Pedro Fermín Flores Martín – TheGodFlores) Congratulations to all of you. Two short questions for Fernando. First one, how do you feel now Fernando, because in Spain at this moment, it’s crazy time. And second, tomorrow, anyone can tell there is two Red Bulls on the front line? Thanks.
FA: I feel good. Obviously, I came to Jeddah with some question marks about our performance in Bahrain. It was very good – but we did our winter testing in Bahrain and race one in Bahrain, we didn’t test the new ’23 cars in any other circuit, so it was important to come to Jeddah and see if we kept being strong in the order. So, you know, to feel competitive again, here, obviously, is a huge relief for the team. And this is, again, an extra motivation for everyone in the factory to keep pushing – because the car seems to perform in any conditions. And then for the first row, I don’t think, as I said already on Thursday, I don’t think, you know, two Red Bulls are on the first row tomorrow. I think they are very different. Red Bull said that the cars were the same, but they are very different. And also Toto said that the cars were the same: the Mercedes and the Aston because we share 50 per cent of the car or something like that. But it seems that everyone is an Aston Martin now.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) For Checo. You’re driving a green Red Bull tomorrow?
SP: Well, it’s not what Fernando says, so…
Q: I just wondered, is there anything in your head that okay, it feels comfortable, you in P1, Max in P15, but do you have a bad dream tonight about him approaching after 15 laps in your mirror? And what will happen then?
SP: Well, I am not going to approach the race tomorrow thinking about Max. First of all, I have to make sure I’m able to keep the lid on the initial laps. And if I’m able to do that, to keep this lion behind, it will be good, because I think I can focus on my race.
Q: (Frédéric Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Charles and Fernando. Are you worried about the pace of the Mercedes of George?
CL: Well, I’m starting in the back, so I first need to get to that level before worrying about anything. But let’s say that I haven’t seen anything that worries me from George. I think it’s more the pace of Red Bull that is very, very impressive. And the Mercedes pace is more or less in line with ours, I think.
FA: Yes, I am the same. We know that they are very close, and George particularly, he was very fast here last year as well. I think we were faster than him in practice and Qualifying and then in the race he was very, very strong in 2022. So yeah, I think tomorrow is going to be very close with him and, as I said before, with Alpine as well. So, it’s going to be tight.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Question for Charles please. We saw you and Carlos doing a little bit of work on the Mediums earlier on today. Has this generally just been a race-focused set-up given your penalty for tomorrow – and with that in mind, does perhaps your Qualifying result come as a little bit of a surprise? And lastly, is a podium possible for either you or Carlos tomorrow?
CL:I think for Carlos, it’s definitely possible. He’s starting a bit further up. On my side, realistically, I think it’s going to be a bit more difficult, especially once I arrive around the top cars – because there, the race pace is very similar to everybody. The Medium this morning, we did few laps on them just to have a bit more information – but it’s not like we sacrifice a lot of our Quali pace for our race pace tomorrow. However, our race pace looks better than Bahrain. So, I think we’ll be a bit better on that. But yeah, for me, we are still too far in Qualifying compared to what I would like to be, especially compared to the Red Bull.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) A question to Charles and Fernando, how realistic is Alpine’s pace when it comes to a threat, to either of your teams? They seem to have gone from P20 to P9 in Bahrain, and even in FP2, they seemed strong. So, what is it that your teams would be strategising to keep them at bay? How will it play out with their strategies?
FA: I mean, nothing really that we will have to do specifically to them. I think we have to concentrate on our race and let’s see what is possible. You know, if they are faster than us, and they finish in front of us, that’s something that maybe it’s not in our hands. What we have to do is not make any mistake and execute the race to perfection. And that perfection, if it’s enough to finish in front of some of these teams, okay, if it’s not enough we will try to improve for the next one.
CL: Yeah, exactly the same. Alpine seems to be very quick, especially coming race day. But yeah, let’s see tomorrow. I don’t have any particular plan for beating the Alpine.
Q: (Mat Coch – Speedcafe.com) Oscar Piastri was ninth fastest, he’ll start eighth, obviously. What are your thoughts on his performance in the early stages and particularly in that session?
SP: I haven’t had a chance to properly look at it. I was focused mainly on getting my lap done. I think we will certainly have a good look later on. It’s a very unique place and yeah, you can really see something that stands out between teammates as well. You know, sometimes your car might not be performing at a very high level, but you are able to get those extra two-tenths from yourself by nailing a perfect lap here.
CL: Well, I think it’s, it’s impressive, especially after a year off, and second race in a street track – and a very challenging one, probably one of the most challenging of the season – to see him have such a performance, is great. However, it’s not really a surprise with what he has shown in the past. I was pretty sure that he was extremely talented. And he has shown that today so it’s good. I think the grid is in a really good place at the moment with all the drivers there.
FA: I mean, same. We didn’t have much time to really look at the other’s performance. But yeah, Oscar, you know, I think there is nothing new. He has this huge talent. Very tricky place. So, I’m happy for him and happy for McLaren as well. We need, you know, a strong McLaren as well in the fight.