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Austrian Grand Prix: Top Three Press Conference

Austrian Grand Prix: Top Three Press Conference

Austrian Grand Prix: Top Three Press Conference

Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the Austrian Grand Prix, Round 9 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship, at the Red Bull Ring.

Featuring race winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull), second-placed Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and third-placed Sergio Perez (Red Bull).

Track interviews conducted by David Coulthard

Q: Max Verstappen, your fifth victory here in Austria. That was a dominant weekend, congratulations.

Max Verstappen: Yeah, thank you very much. I think most important for me, of course, was lap one, to stay in front, and after that we could do our own race. Of course, we opted not to box during the Virtual Safety Car and just to follow our normal strategy. And I think that worked out really well, because the tyre life was not that high around here. And I think out stints were perfect. So yeah, great day, I enjoyed it a lot.

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Q: Did you have any doubts when the team chose not to pit during that Virtual Safety Car how it was going to play out? Because going into this race, you had very little knowledge on the tyre degradation and how many stops you would need to do.

MV: Yeah, I mean, I could see already in the few laps before the Virtual Safety Car came out that we were pulling out quite a gap. So I knew that I would get them back eventually. And I think just following our own plan, I think, at the time, was the best way forward.

Q: You extend your lead at the head of the World Championship. Do you take your race by race? Or can you start to dream of a hat-trick of titles?

MV: I don’t like to think about that. I’m just enjoying the moment driving this car, working with the team. I think the whole weekend we have done a really good job. You know, a Sprint weekend is always very, very hectic and a lot of things can go wrong. And luckily, a lot of things went right for us this weekend. So I’m just very happy with this weekend and we’ll focus again on Silverstone.

Q: A sea of orange in most of the grandstands. Maybe a small message to the race fans?

MV: I mean, it’s an incredible support every time we come here and to see all the orange in the grandstands, the flares as well at the end, incredible atmosphere. So thank you very much for coming.

Q: Max. Congratulations Charles Leclerc, tough weekend in many ways, but you must be happy. The overall competitiveness of the car is looking stronger.

Charles Leclerc: Yeah, well, I think, Friday and today we have maximised what we have really. It’s more yesterday that I was off the pace. But it’s good to be back on the podium. The upgrades that we brought to the car made me feel a little bit better in those conditions, which is looking good for the future. The team has done an excellent job by bringing these upgrades earlier. So that’s great. But obviously, there’s still a lot of work to do because Max, and Checo too, had a lot of pace.

Q: We saw a super aggressive first lap from you, up into Turn 3, down into Turn 4. You were really looking to try and find a way past Max.

CL: Yeah, we are struggling quite a lot in dirty air. So I was trying to get the track position. Even though we knew that in the long term, for the whole race, it would have been difficult to keep Max behind, with the race pace he had. But I tried and it wasn’t enough. But at least it’s good to be back on the podium, especially after the last few races that have been a bit more difficult

Q: For the Ferrari fans around the world, it was super close on Friday, in Qualifying. We move forward one week from now to the British Grand Prix. A very different race track. What can we expect from the team there?

CL: Yeah, together with Austria actually, these are my two favourite tracks that are non-city tracks and in Silverstone we always had great results. So hopefully we can take advantage of the new upgrades we have on the car and be a bit more of a challenge to the Red Bulls.

Q: Charles, thank you and congratulations on being second. Our third place finisher and a fantastic comeback from a difficult Friday Qualifying. Checo, you must be very happy with that third place.

Sergio Perez: Yeah, I’m really happy. It’s been a very difficult weekend for me personally, physically. I have been really, really weak. I was sick on Thursday. So it hasn’t been an easy weekend. You know, high fevers, no sleep during the weekend. So great recovery from the team. A fantastic strategy and we had a great pace.

Q: A great battle between yourself and Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari. We saw him moving, defending, you trying every angle. Hard but fair?

SP: Yeah, it was very hard but fair, like you said, always a pleasure to race them. They were very, very strong, especially in the low speed. They were having very good traction. But it’s a good comeback.

Q: Overall, a double podium weekend for you, so good, solid results.

SP: Yeah, definitely. It’s been a bit of a rough patch for me. So now hopefully we are back and we can keep that consistency now.

Press Conference

Q: Max, your fifth win here at the Red Bull Ring. You also topped every qualifying session, you won the Sprint, just sum up what’s been a phenomenal weekend for you?

MV: Yeah, it’s been a pretty incredible weekend, of course, something I didn’t expect. But with the Sprint format, normally, it’s always a bit more chaotic to get on top of everything. But I think we did everything well as a team. Also today, I think with the strategy, with the pit stops, everything was smooth. And out there on the track we just had a very quick car and I felt comfortable in the car. And we could do everything we wanted, like we planned it.

Q: Including fastest lap at the end.

MV: That wasn’t planned!

Q: How much of a risk was that?

MV: To me not, but to the team, I think they were a little bit more nervous. But I mean, I saw the gap and I was like ‘we have to pit, I want to go for the fastest lap’. When you have the opportunity, you know… And that’s what we did at the end.

Q: Does the fastest lap mean more than just the one World Championship point to you?

MV: Maybe.

Q: Some people will look at that and go: ‘Gosh, he’s risking a lot for one point, given that he’s already in the lead.’

MV: Yeah, but I mean, from the outside maybe it looks like a big risk. But when you’re in the car… For me, it didn’t feel like a risk at all.

Q: Now, you had some close on-track battles today, especially with Charles. How much did you enjoy that?

MV: Yeah, I mean, it was good but also a little bit unfair. The tyre advantage I had as well and also the general pace advantage. But yeah, I mean, of course, Charles, he knows how to race. You could see that also last year, right, around here. But we were clearly just a bit faster today.

Q: Can you talk us through the overtake on lap 35? Because we saw some impressive race craft from you, ensuring that you stayed in the DRS on the run to Turn 4.

MV: Yeah, I mean, you know where the line is, right. But I also had a lot more grip and traction. So for me, I think… I mean, I don’t know, it was not really… It is what it is. It would have been better if you had, like, similar pace, same tyres. You know, you’re really fighting for it. I think the battle between Carlos and Checo was better in that sense.

Q: You were 24 seconds ahead of your nearest pursuer prior to that last pit stop. It seems your closest pursuers aren’t as close as we thought they were two weeks ago in Canada?

MV: Exactly. But I loved all the articles about it! Yeah, I mean, some weekends they work a bit better for you and some don’t. And for me, Montréal wasn’t that fantastic in the race, from our side. And here, I think we did a really good job and then naturally the gap is a bit bigger.

Q: Alright, very well done. Thank you, Max. Charles, coming to you now. Great job by you as well. Your first podium since Baku. How pleased are you with how things went today?

CL: It feels good to be back on the podium, especially after what was a very difficult day yesterday. I had a really good feeling in the car on Friday. I think with the new upgrades the feeling is getting there. And we were really waiting for this race in order to confirm the good feelings we had on Friday. And it worked out. I mean, no secrets, we still need to work extremely hard to catch up Red Bull, who are still quite a lot faster on race day. But the feeling is better. And the team is pushing like I’ve never seen before in terms of bringing the upgrades much earlier than what was planned. And this is great to see.

Q: You said on Friday that you wanted to wait until the race to make a judgement about these upgrades. How did they help tyre deg?

CL: Overall, we had a more consistent car today, which was good to see. I feel like maybe, like Max was saying, with these sprint weekends, it’s a bit more unpredictable, less preparation you have and maybe I was a bit out the window in terms of set-up for this race. I had the rear stepping-out a bit too much and struggling with rear degradation – but on the second and last stint it was a little bit better as I modified my driving, but maybe we left a little bit more of performance there.

Q: And what does this mean for Ferrari going forward? Can you repeat it, for example, at Silverstone next weekend?

CL: This is the target, if not doing better. So yes, it is a very different track in Silverstone. And it’s going to be very interesting to see where we are there, because I feel like maybe the weakness of the car now is still a little bit, the high-speed corners. And in Silverstone, there are lots of high-speed. So, it will be good to see if this new package helps.

Q: Checo, coming to you, many congratulations, a very busy race from P15 on the grid. What does it mean to be back on the podium? Your first here at the Red Bull Ring?

SP: Yeah, it’s really nice to get back to the podium, especially at home, such a special weekend for the team and on our weekend that started overall really bad with… I don’t know how to say it, I don’t want to use a bad word… but for the track limits, I think everyone got hit by it at some point. Hopefully next year when we come back, it’s something that it can be fixed. But anyway, that meant that we started P15 for the race today and we just had to fight our way through it. We had some great pace, some great battles out there but in the end, it’s a good one, especially not been close to 100 per cent physically. But with all the adrenaline going on, you forget about everything.

Q: Strategically, how complicated was the race for you?

SP: I think with the VSC, something that we’ve got to review from the position I was… yeah, something we need to see. Also, the way we did the strategy, when we use the Hard at the end, few things to tickle around, but I think, generally… I mean, I got to back to the podium, so it was a good strategy.

Q: You had some great battles out there. Who did you enjoy racing most?

SP: I think Carlos and Lewis, both were my biggest fights, so I think Carlos was a bit more enjoyable.

Q: He came on the radio and reported that you were intimidating him.

SP: I heard that! I haven’t spoken to Carlos, I don’t know what he means with it. We don’t see the face of the other driver. I don’t know. I don’t know what he really means when it!

Q: Do you feel that you were being particularly aggressive with him?

SP: Not really, I think we just had a proper fight. They were particularly strong, I’d say, in the exit of Three. It took me a bit longer in one occasion, I was down the inside into Turn Four and all of a sudden I find the Haas stopped in the inside, so I had to back off and so it took me probably a bit longer than I wanted but in the end, we got it done.

Q: Checo, you seem very happy and relaxed. Can we say that Checo’s back now?

SP: Yeah, certainly. I mean, without the issues we had on Friday, we had good pace since Lap One, we managed to understand our issues we had in the previous races so yeah, I believe that we are back.

Questions from the floor

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A couple of questions to Max, please. Max, around the VSC timing, obviously the Ferraris both pitted. You didn’t. What were you thinking when you found out they had stopped, and that you would come out behind when you eventually stopped? And when that was the case when Charles was leading, how close to fully were you pushing to catch-up?

MV: We just stick to our plan. I mean, you have these calculations before, if there’s a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car. And for us, it made sense to just go, because I think we had good tyre life. Already, the few laps before the VSC came out, I was definitely pulling even more of a gap over as every single lap. That’s why I wasn’t really worried about it. I just completed my stint that I had to do on the Medium. And then, when I came out on the Hard tyre, I immediately felt that tyre was not the better tyre, but you have to complete a stint on it. I mean the Soft, was not going to last, so once I got past Carlos, I just… yeah. The way you manage your stint I was just naturally closing in on Charles because of my tyre life advantage and probably also just a general pace advantage. So yeah, just step by step, catching-up.

Q: (Zsolt Godina – F1vilag.hu) Charles, maybe looking at the pace differences, we can say that the win was impossible for you today – but there was a point during the race where you were asked about the potential three-stop strategy. Was it about having another stint on the Mediums and put the Softs on at the end? And why did you say no?

CL: Oh, because for me, it was clearly not a three-stop race. At least it didn’t feel like that. And I don’t know what was the plan about the other tyre. I don’t think we had discussed that, before that. So yeah, I just said no, because I did not feel it was the right decision.

Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) It’s a question to Max, one that goes a bit further than this race weekend. But Christian Horner, he talked a lot about the 2026 regulations this weekend and he fears that if the engine regulations stay as they are now, that on the chassis side, a lot has to change with active aerodynamics, maybe even downshifting on the straights because the drag has to be reduced so much. He thinks that’s not the way forward for Formula 1. What’s your opinion on that?

MV: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been talking about that as well with the team and I’ve seen the data already on the simulator as well. To me, it looks pretty terrible. I mean, if you go flat-out on the straight at Monza, I don’t know what it is, like four or five hundred before the end of the straight, you have to downshift flat-out because that’s faster. I think that’s not the way forward. Of course, probably that’s one of the worst tracks. But for me, the problem is, it looks like it’s going to be an ICE competition, like whoever has the strongest engine will have a big benefit. But I don’t think that should be the intention of Formula 1, because then you will start a massive development war again, and it will become quite expensive to find, probably a few horsepower here and there. I think it actually should be opposite. Plus, the cars probably have a lot less drag. So, it will be even harder to overtake on the straight. And then I think yeah, you have the active aerodynamics, which you can’t control. Well, it will be… I don’t know… the system will control it for you. Which then I think makes it very awkward to drive, because I prefer to control it myself. Of course, when you’re behind someone, maybe you need more front or more rear. These kind of things. If the system starts to control that for you, I don’t think that’s the right way forward. Plus, the weight is going up again. So yeah, we have to seriously look at this because I mean, ’26 is not that far away. And at the moment, to me, it looks very bad from all the numbers and what I see from the data already. So, it’s not something I’m very excited about at the moment.

Q: (Daniel Majer – rallycafe.Hu) Charles, now you are 157 points behind Max, so realistically, you’re not going to challenge for the title this year. In a situation like that, as an athlete how do you keep up your motivation to be your best self this year and not start to look ahead to 2024?

CL: Well, I think I’m always motivated especially after weekends like this, where you finally see a bit more potential for fighting in the front. It feels good, then of course, in terms of the championship, I think it’s going to be difficult to go and win this championship, but on the other hand, there’s still plenty to work on. I see how high the motivation is within the team and how much they are pushing back at the factory again to bring the upgrades earlier and this gives me the confidence and motivation to push whenever I’m on track. And I’m already looking forward to Silverstone. It’s a very different track, and again, the team has done an incredible job. So I think we are all flat out to try and be back winning as soon as possible even though we are 150 whatever points behind, a win will feel nice and we are all working towards that target.

Q: (Silja Rulle – Bild/Sport Bild) Checo, you were feeling a bit sick on Wednesday evening, I think, and still on Thursday. Could you maybe just talk us through your weekend a bit, how you’ve been feeling and how your health was maybe still bothering you a bit and how you’re feeling?

SP: Yeah, definitely not great. I haven’t had a good rest. Every night I’ve had a fever and I think when that happens and then you are on medications, automatically you are not 100% at all. It’s a very demanding sport, in the car and out of the car. I’ve just been really sick, so I really hope that I can recover in a few days, because Silverstone is another very hard, race very demanding so I really need time. I’m really far from 100% at the moment.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Charles, could you just talk us through Max’s move at Turn 3 when it came to retaking the lead from your point of view? You seemed to stay quite far to the outside line on the left. Was it a case of holding back for the DRS line a bit like what you guys did in Jeddah last year, or something different?

CL: To be honest, yes and no. Honestly, at that point I knew that it was a matter of time. Max had much fresher tyres, they are also quicker whenever we have the same tyres, so it’s not like I tried to push like crazy. I knew it was crucial for me to lose as little time as possible in this battle and this is why I haven’t been as aggressive as I’ve been in all the times when we were fighting for real positions. This one was a bit difficult to… if he wouldn’t have overtaken me in Turn 4, it was the lap after, and I would have lost more time for my race so it wouldn’t have benefited me in any way.

Q: (Zsolt Godina – F1VILAG.hu) Charles, you said yesterday that when there are changing conditions you are actually nowhere with the car. Do you have any ideas how to change this and to find a solution? I’m asking because in Silverstone, at the Hungaroring and in Spa, the weather also could play an important role.

CL: Yes, for sure, and that’s why I’m working as hard as possible. Or at least I feel really good whenever it’s full wet or full dry. Whenever it’s in the in between, for some reason, with my driving style I’m just too aggressive and it’s not working out. So I need to make progress. We are working on it as a team to try and understand whatever we can do with the tools, especially for me to be a bit more at ease, and we’ll see.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Yesterday, Lance Stroll said that Raidillon needed to be changed after the fatality at Spa on Saturday morning. There have already been changes made there. Do you agree with him? How happy you about the changes that have been made there? Do you think Formula 1 is taking an unnecessary risk by going to Spa in three weeks’ time?

MV: It’s, for sure, quite a dangerous corner but we’re also going to Jeddah in Sector 1 and that, for me, is probably more dangerous even because well, I’m happy that nothing has happened yet in that sector because going through (Turns) 6, 7, 8, if you have a shunt there that can be the same – it’s all blind, you don’t know what’s coming. Even with people like impeding and stuff. I remember in the beginning of the year there, I got upset with my engineer because I impeded Lando, I think, and I know how that feels. It’s super dangerous when these things happen. And for sure, in Eau Rouge, going up, it is blind, but of course this accident now happened later. I think the only thing that maybe can be improved there is to make more space in terms of trying to move the barriers more out, because at the moment, it looks like as soon as you crash, you hit the barrier, you bounce back onto the track quite easily. And of course with that scenario, where there is almost no visibility, a lot of water, and that is of course a big issue. I think in the dry, normally, it’s a bit better. You see, of course, more of what is going on in front of you. I think already the changes they made in Spa, they definitely opened it up a lot more but it will always be a dangerous corner, but we are going to a lot of tracks where there are dangerous corners, where up until probably there is an accident, you won’t say anything. And now of course it gets brought up, but I feel it’s a bit unfair to just blame it on the track, because I think in the first place you have to look into why did they restart. It’s a big championship, a lot of cars. They are up and coming talents, they probably risk a bit more, because they want to show every race that they are the best driver out there. And with that visibility, it was just impossible to see anything and I know, of course, from your mind when you’re going there, you don’t see anything. You’re like, well, I guess the guy in front of me is flat so I’m flat. I just stay flat out. And that’s exactly probably what happened there. The drivers are just staying flat because they didn’t know there was a car in the wall and then another car in the wall later on. So yeah, there are a lot of things that have to come together, what we have to improve.

CL: Yes, I think the first thing to look at is when to start a race and in which conditions we are happy to race and it’s safe to race. Second is visibility. I think with our cars, with cars in general, motor sport now, the same… Formula 4, 30 years ago, the amount of spray there was, I’m pretty sure it was less, because the downforce now is more and more and with the spray it’s just going much higher up. And the visibility is just known. And as Max was explaining, you don’t see, you are just hoping that the guy in front is flat out and that there is no cars in the middle of the road, but this is not enough. And then the last thing I would say is maybe to consider for these tracks with very, very high speeds, to have the walls further away from the track, so when they lose the car, they don’t bounce on the wall and come back on the track. And at least they probably stop more to the left or more to the right but at least they don’t bounce back on the track, which is another problem. So these three things need to be looked into. It’s obviously horrible what’s happened, again.

SP: Yeah, I think first of all, there is room to improve the exit of Eau Rouge still and hopefully we are able to move the barrier back to make sure that there is no car coming back into the track. But to me, the most important one is definitely the track conditions, because I think sometimes race directors are pushed by, probably fans and social media, people sitting back at home thinking that the circuit looks fine to race but the visibility is just the most important. And it’s not about the leader or the second place; it’s about the 10th, 15th, 20th. Basically, they need to be able to see. So I think it’s something that we really need to force other categories and also in Formula 1 to make sure that we are able to race whenever it’s safe for everyone to see at least. Accidents can happen but you cannot have situations where drivers are basically blind and just going flat out, because it’s when those big accidents can happen in any series. So if that means delaying the start and means that we won’t have the start when the track is really wet, then fine. We’ve got to do what is safe for all the drivers.