Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after Qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, Round 8 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship, in Montreal, at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Featuring pole-winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), second-placed Nico Hulkenberg (Haas) and third-placed Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin).
Parc Ferme interviews conducted by Danica Patrick
Q: Nico, the fans are out here, they’re having fun, even in the rain. Did you have fun?
Nico Hulkenberg: I did. It was a it was a wild Quali, it was crazy. You know, changing conditions are tricky, especially around here with, with the walls so close on the exits, and the speeds high. Obviously it was wet, dry and back to wet, you know, you have to readjust all the time. But it was fun. It was good. Obviously, this comes a bit unexpected, but obviously very happy and proud. The team did a solid job. It was very smooth. So super happy.
Q: Talk about the decision making process going between the different tyres all throughout Qualifying. Was that a lot up to you or the team?
NH: Yeah, in this weather it’s just a lot of communications, you know, a lot of radio calls going back and forth. Obviously, you look at what the others do, and you think for yourself, but I think we pitted pretty well today. No major mistakes. And I guess that’s also why we stand here now.
Q: Well, you’ve all accurately made the calls so far. So what do you have to do tomorrow to make the calls that are accurate to stay as far to the front as possible? And what do you think is a reasonable expectation level starting so far up?
NH: Yeah, we’ll have to see. Obviously, first row is nice. It’s very sweet. Let’s see how long we can keep that and let’s see what the conditions are tomorrow. All the signs are that it will be very different. A dry race. So a very different cup of tea. You know, I just want to go out there race as hard as we can, squeeze it, and hopefully we’ll get a nice result.
Q: Alright. Good job. Good luck and thank you. Max on the pole, even though yesterday, maybe for you guys was an off session. Talk about yesterday and were there actually any challenges? Or was the car good all along?
Max Verstappen: Yesterday maybe wasn’t fantastic. So we made a few changes to the car. Of course, today, you know, it was completely wet, so it’s a bit different. But I do think that the car improved in general to drive. And yeah, I mean, in the wet, you have to just stay on top of all the conditions. And it was super slippery out there in some places. But yeah, we just made all the right calls at the right time on the track, you know, to do the lap times. And of course, we’re happy to be on pole here.
Q: Are these conditions fun for you at all?
MV: I like driving in the wet. I mean, I come from Holland, you know, so we are used to driving in the wet!
Q: You’ve talked about shifting being a little bit of an issue here and there this weekend. Is that still an issue?
MV: It’s just fine-tuning. It’s not really a problem, but you always want to improve in little areas.
Q: Do you think that your dominance is still going to continue for Red Bull tomorrow with another one?
MV: Let’s see. I mean, maybe it’s dry tomorrow. And then it can be again a bit different. But normally we have a good race car.
Q: Fernando, you’re already changed out of your suit, you’re ready to go! Feeling good?
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, our garage is in this part of the paddock so we have a little bit of an advantage! But yeah, it was a very tricky Qualifying in terms of choosing the right tyre at the right time. And yeah, P3, you know, we take it, I think it’s a good starting position.
Q: You’ve been around a long time, talk about these Canadian fans for a second. They’ve been out here all weekend, through yesterday, in the rain, when the session didn’t run. I’ve always found Canadian fans to be amazing.
FA: It is amazing every time we come here. It’s not only the race track, it’s also the city. You know, I love Montréal, how they embrace the GP and yeah, yesterday in FP1, unfortunately, they waited for us to go out. And today, I hope they enjoy and tomorrow they will.
Q: You said you’re not going to be off the podium in the rest of the season. I hope that happens. That’ll be exciting to watch. But what is it going to take to get to the top? What is it going to take to knock Red Bull off their streak?
FA: Yeah, let’s see. I think tomorrow we have a chance to put some pressure. I think they had very easy wins until now and hopefully tomorrow they have to push a little bit more.
Q: You said pressure. Where is that pressure that you’re going to apply? Where do you think you can be better?
FA: Two seconds behind them. Not 20 seconds behind them.
Q: Max, very well done. That was a very tricky session to manage. How difficult was it? Just talk us through it?
MV: Yeah, I think Q1 was quite straightforward with Inters. The track was quite dry in some places. So there are not many things that you could catch you out, because the tyres were getting up to temperature quite quickly. So that was good. But after that, of course, then you had to make the call in Q2, with when to switch to the slick tyres. I opted to initially go out on the Inter, just to get a lap in, because they work a bit better, of course, than cold slick tyres on a bit of a damp track. But then it was quite clear that I needed to go to the slicks. So we did a pit stop and those slick tyres, the first lap, the first two laps – so, out lap and first timed – it’s quite tricky knowing the grip levels and knowing how hard to push, so you’re a little bit under it. Luckily, then we got a decent lap in at the end, which was enough to go through to Q3. And then after that, it started to slowly increase, the rain. And at one point it was not possible anymore to drive with the slicks. But overall, I think we just had good communication with the team, you know, throughout Q1, Q2, which I think is the most important, and we were clear with what we wanted to do. And then in Q3, of course, it kept on raining, so it was very important to be out there quickly and get the laps in. Of course, I had to wait a long time at the end of the pit lane. You know, the tyres are cold, but it does give me like clean air and good vision, which I guess also helped to put the lap in.
Q: How significant was that track position at the front in Q3?
MV: Well, you know, from our radar, it said that it was continuing to rain throughout the Q3. So, we just really want it to be up front and just wait.
Q: Well, the weather looks better tomorrow. I think we could end up with a dry race. You’ve made some changes to the car since practice yesterday. So, how many unknowns are there for you going into this grand prix?
MV: Well, I think it’s better already today. Okay, it was in the wet, but the general behaviour of the car was improved. And tomorrow yeah, we’ll find out. I mean, the long run still looked alright; we’re quite happy with that. But they’re always, of course, things that you want to look at and improve and that’s what we did. Maybe the one lap pace wasn’t fantastic. But that’s not what we are, of course, worried about tomorrow in the race.
Q: Well, 70 laps tomorrow. Who do you see as your main challengers?
MV: Difficult to know. I mean Fernando had a very good long run. The Ferraris were quite strong in the dry, including also Mercedes. So it’s a bit difficult to say at the moment.
Q: Nico, what a qualifying session. Conditions reminiscent of Brazil 2010, when you took pole position, just how sweet is this moment for you?
NH: It’s definitely nice to have a strong qualifying result. Challenging conditions, like Max explained, but I feel like we stayed on top of the situation, had good communication throughout and clean laps. And yeah, hence, we rewarded ourselves with this nice, sweet Quali result.
Q: What’s the team said to you already? What’s Guenther said?
NH: He said well done, good job. Obviously, we’re pretty pleased. We have… realistically, obviously, we’ve qualified out of position for a normal, dry running, or dry pace. Yesterday was tricky. Also, I didn’t really get much dry running. Whatever happens tomorrow we’ll just take the moment now, enjoy it and fight as hard and do what we can tomorrow.
Q: But what were you expecting coming into this qualifying session, knowing it was going to be wet?
NH: Yeah, it’s always tough, knowing what to expect. I mean, this is still half a street circuit with a lot of walls on the exit. There’s a few tricky corners on parts of the circuit and you’re pushing. So, when you push, exploit the limit, you never really know what can happen, but I think we’ve managed the tyres well, we’ve managed to switch them on as well, which often is a struggle in these conditions. But it’ll work for us. It worked out and happy days.
Q: And what’s your strategy for the start tomorrow lining up alongside Max?
NH: I’m going for fame into Turn One! But let’s see what happens after that.
MV: Eyes closed!
Q: Fernando, great job as well by you. Now you were three-tenths up on Nico after the first two sectors in Q3 but lost out to the red flag. Just how good was that lap?
FA: Yeah, well we’ve been unlucky generally with the red flags today and in Q1 also, I think it was one second to see the line and then the red flag came just in that moment. And in Q3, yeah, it was I think four seconds before crossing the line to be in the first row. But, I mean, we take it. I’m extremely happy because it was very complex qualifying to execute and as they said, you need constant communication with the team. Sometimes you feel things on the car but then on TV, or on the pit lane, there are different ideas, so you need that feedback: engineer-driver. And yeah, it was a difficult day but we have a strong chance tomorrow to score many points. So, I’m happy.
Q: You’re running a lot of upgrades this weekend. Just tell us a little bit about how the car is performing and, had you had a few more laps in Qualifying, could you have challenged Max for pole? And with the car you now have, can you genuinely challenge him for the race win tomorrow?
FA: I think on the new parts, early days, still under evaluation, and I think we still need to optimise a little bit the set-up of the car now with the new package, which is what we found yesterday, that I think in Austria or Silverstone, we will extract the maximum of it. Yesterday was too short an FP2. But happy: the new parts were good and delivering what we were expecting. So that’s another very good sign. And let’s see tomorrow in a dry race if we can challenge Max a little bit. I don’t think that we are at that level, that’s for sure but in a state of being 20 seconds behind or 30 seconds behind, hopefully we are a little bit closer.
Questions from the floor
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Nico, obviously you’ve been away for a few years, not being in a full time race seat but you don’t seem to have suffered from any real race rustiness and here you are today taking full advantage of the conditions. Is that something that you feel in yourself, you don’t feel that you’ve lost out from not having been in the full time race seat for the last four years?
NH: No, I don’t feel I’ve lost out. Certainly the first few weekends, especially, in a race, a race is very dynamic, things change all the time and you have to keep adjusting, that took a couple of races to fully get comfortable again and to get on top of things and on top of that just learn a new car but that’s kind of natural. Yeah, I never really felt those three years that they’ve taken something away from me. I think if you know how to drive, if you know the laws of racing and then the physics of driving they don’t really change even though cars or tyres change. It’s still the same subject thing, it’s more you know optimising everything else around it.
Q: (Pedro Fermin Flores – TheGodFlores) Max and also for Fernando: Max, you said before, after the words of Nico, to close your eyes after the red lights. I think it’s also a joke, but you can explain something like this. And for Fernando: Fernando, I feel you are not so happy with third position. You are realistic for tomorrow that you can do something else or it’s impossible to beat Red Bull?
MV: I mean, we always try to have a good start but it’s important to just stay calm. It’s a very long race so a lot of things that can happen.
FA: Yeah, I’m very happy. I’m just thinking that when you are close to the line for two times on this red flag, if you finish with a little bit of different tastes, but if I see the results and I see Checo starting at the back tomorrow. Also, Charles not in the top 10, obviously it’s a massive opportunity for us in terms of points for the Constructors, and also for the Drivers eventually if Checo is not scoring too many points.
Q: (Simon-Olivier Lorange – La Presse) Nico, how do you manage expectations between this excellent third place and what’s possible for tomorrow? And what your car can give you compared to what the other cars are in the race?
NH: Yeah, exactly. Good point from you. I think, like I said earlier, I think today we can take it, enjoy it. Take that moment with us. Obviously, we have to prepare for the race. We’ve got to be realistic. Recently our race pace hasn’t been the strongest point from us; actually, it was more always qualifying than race. On top of that yesterday was a difficult day with… anyway it was compromised and short running for everyone but even more so for myself. So, yeah, a lot of challenges to overcome that tomorrow and a big job anyways, but at least we start from a good position. For sure, there’s going to be a lot of heat from the back, there’s a lot of faster cars that will come through, but our focus is just to maximise tomorrow’s race and the potential.
Q: Where is your battle tomorrow Nico?
NH: Hopefully somewhere between P1 and P10.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Fernando and Max: last year it rained here in the qualifying and you are first and second and this year there’s rain again and you were first and second for almost the whole of qualifying until the last minute. What do you do in these conditions that makes the lap special? How do you extract the maximum performance in this tricky situation?
MV: Yeah, I don’t know. I think in general it helps if you are confident in the wet but that only – I guess – happens when… it’s a lot of feeling as well, knowing how to drive it, what lines to take, it’s difficult to fully explain why that happens but it’s something you have been learning since a little kid. I remember back in the go-karting days my Dad was literally standing on the track telling me where to drive in the wet because I think he, back in the day, was also quite decent in the wet. Just learning and then at one point understanding yourself what is going on and what you have to do, how to drive fast in the wet.
FA: Yeah, I don’t know really. Especially this year, the conditions were changing a lot and position yourself at the end of the pit lane, in the first couple of cars; I think it did help as well which I think this weekend, for example, we are on the wrong side of the pit lane. Sometimes we took advantage of being on the good side. So all these details can make a difference when the conditions are changing so much. I think confidence in the car is the key and yeah, I had a lot of confidence this year and last year.