Full transcript from top-three press conference after qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 12 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship, at Circuit Spa-Francorchamps.
Featuring pole winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), second-placed Charles Lcclerc (Ferrari) and third-placed Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing). Track interviews conducted by Tom Kristensen.
Q: A brilliant Qualifying again, Checo Pérez, and again in the top three. Theoretically you will start P2 on Sunday. Talk us through it. Sergio Perez: Yeah, a very tricky qualifying out there [sneezes] and a bit of an allergy! But it was very tricky. You know, I started on the Inter. Conditions were very tricky initially. We thought that it was going to get a lot drier, a lot quicker. But it took a long time and even there at the end in Q3, it was quite tricky in a few places like Turns 8, 9, very tricky. But it’s a good result. It’s a bit of a shame that I didn’t get Charles there, but I think in these conditions it was good that we had a good one.
Q: We loved it. And we look forward to see you challenging from the front row on Sunday. Well done. Charles, it was a fantastic qualifying for all of us watching and now P2, which will be pole on Sunday. Charles Leclerc: Yeah, not a bad qualifying for us, especially in those conditions it’s always tricky to put everything together. I put a lot of work in those conditions, as I wasn’t really comfortable a few races ago. And it seemed to pay off. We went a bit too early for that last run but pole was definitely not for us today and Max was too quick, but we could have been a bit closer. Having said that, we have a great starting position for Sunday. And yeah, let’s see how it goes.
Q: We really see it. And there’s a lot of great images in the background. I mean, you were pushing, you could see you were really dancing with the car, trying to extract the most, particularly Q2, where everyone just improved during the last seconds. How was it in the car in qualifying? CL: Yeah, it was really tricky. I had Kevin, also, that went in the wall and then continued in front of me. So I didn’t put a lap in early and then you’ve got all the pressure on that last lap that you need to put, and in those conditions it wasn’t easy. But in the end, everything went well. So yeah, happy. Having said that, there’s still quite a bit of work to do in order to catch the Red Bulls.
Q: Well done. You might have a wet day tomorrow as well. So all the best. Now, the pole man, the dominator, the world champion, what a lap you put in in the end. And you were nearly out during Q2. It was really close at that point. How did you see it all? Max Verstappen: Yeah, it was very tight. Of course, the conditions are very tricky. The track was really drying quickly. And yeah, my final lap, I just didn’t have that confidence in Q2 to push more. And I was very lucky to be in P10. But then, yeah, of course in Q3, you have two tyre sets, you know that you can push a little bit more, you can risk a little bit more. And that’s what we did on that final lap. And yeah, to be on pole again. I mean, I know that I have to drop back on Sunday with the penalty I have, but it was the best I could do today.
Q: And where was it where the car really came alive in qualifying? You were purple all three sectors on your last flying lap, just pushing at the limit, or over the limit, or just like normal? MV: I guess Sector 2 was still a bit damp, you know, so there was only really one dry line, or in some corners you had to do a bit of an alternative line to normal in the dry. And it was all about just feeling confident and basically risking everything in that final run to get more lap time. And we know that the car was quick and I think even with these tricky conditions today, luckily, we could show that again.
Q: Yeah, looks like we have to find some rain tyres for tomorrow. But for the Grand Prix on Sunday, you have the five grid penalty due to the gearbox. How do you foresee the weekend? MV: I mean, last year, I had more penalties and we could still win the race. So that’s still the target on Sunday. But let’s first see tomorrow what the weather will do and what kind of racing we will have.
Q: And it feels a bit like the home circuit, doesn’t it? MV: Of course. I mean, I’ve been here many times. I grew up not far from here, you know, so it’s definitely like a second home race for me. And it’s also great to see so many fans here. It’s been, I think, quite tough today with the rain, but everyone just stuck in and that’s great to see. So thank you very much.
Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying Press Conference
Q: What a lap in Q3 Max. You had a large margin over the field, just how good did it feel from inside the cockpit? MV: To be honest, I mean I crossed the line and… It’s quite hectic out there, you know, it’s still only one dry line in some places, you’re still not even doing the full dry line. So, yeah, it felt alright. But honestly, I mean, I didn’t know where I was until I looked on the screens. But yeah, Q3, that final lap, I think was very good. I just risked a bit more compared to all the other laps, you know, leaving a level of margin, which almost knocked me out in Q2. So yeah, it was tough out there today to get to get everything right.
Q: Just how difficult was it to find the limit in those conditions? MV: Well, it’s more about not actually finding the limit. Because then it’s very easy to make a mistake and hit the wall. So it’s all about just trying to leave your margins and just build up to it, basically. But yeah, it seemed like it was a bit tougher today. I think also because the sun was out at one point, so the track was drying really quickly, lap after lap.
Q: Are you surprised by the eight-tenths gap to the field? MV: Yeah, but honestly, I do know that we have a very good car, but I think it’s more just having a bit more luck with the line or the grip. You know, I think if it would have been a full dry qualifying the gap wouldn’t have been like this.
Q: Can you talk us through qualifying, the end of Q2, just what happened there? It was close. MV: Yeah, it was close, but again, I had to abort my first lap, because I went wide over the white line In Turn 9, I think, or 8, so I had to abort that lap. Then I did another slow lap. And it just felt like I probably lost a little bit too much temperature in the tyres. And then because of that mistake, I made in 9 or 8, I don’t remember the corner, I just took a lot of margin there and it was way too much. And yeah, with the track ramping up that quickly, yeah, it was very, very close.
Q: So Max, you’re going to be starting the race on Sunday in sixth place. What’s possible from there? MV: I mean, last year, we started 14th and I think this year, the car is better. So I’m still targeting to win the race for sure.
Q: All right, best of luck and very well done today. Thank you. Charles, let’s come to you next. A great session for you and Ferrari. Just how happy are you with how things went? CL: Happier, for sure. I mean, I put quite a lot of work in those conditions, half-wet, half-dry. I knew it was one of those conditions where I was still struggling with a car. I didn’t have the right feeling in Barcelona, in… I cannot remember the other races we had, but we had two or three races in a row where we had those conditions. And today, I felt much better in the car, so this was positive. Still very far from Max in Q3 especially. But yeah, all in all, I think in Q3 we could have done things slightly better. I don’t think pole was possible. I mean, I’m sure pole was not possible today. But we probably could have been closer going a bit later in Q3.
Q: You were talking about the wet/dry conditions yesterday in the press conference. You say you’ve made changes. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you found this extra pace when it’s like this? CL: Honestly, it’s more changes with my driving style. I have quite an aggressive driving style and in those conditions, it just didn’t work for me. I was making too many mistakes and it was difficult to build from a solid base. So I changed a little bit the approach and it seems to be better.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the track conditions and how difficult it was to find the limit, or as Max says not quite find the limit. CL: Yeah, it was very difficult, especially 8/9 was horrible. You would get into the corner and you never knew how much grip you will have and you just had to trust the car to grip again, because in between 8 and 9 there was really low grip and then in the middle of 9 you will get the grip again. And you just had to trust the process. But yeah, as Max said, you can never really go over the limit in those conditions. So you just need to go step-by-step and get as close as possible in the last lap of Q3.
Q: Let’s throw it forward to the race then. Last time you were on pole here, you won in 2019. How confident are you doing the same this time? CL: Not confident, especially with the two Red Bull guys right behind. I think they’ve got a much better race car than we have. I mean, it’s great to be starting first and I think it gives us a good chance to have a great result. But to say that we’ll target the win, I think it’s probably a bit too optimistic. If there’s an opportunity, for whatever reason, as always, I’ll try and take it, but I believe it’s going to be difficult to keep those guys behind.
Q: Alright, very well done today. Good luck on Sunday. And Checo, coming to you now. Very well done to you. Your best Quali for a while. Just talk us through qualifying. How satisfied are you? SP: Well, I think in these conditions, it’s so easy for it to go wrong. We already saw in Q1, if you’re on the wrong side of it, with the tyres too warm on the final lap, or so on, it can be very, very tight. Even in Q2, I had the wrong engine deployment, because I did consecutive laps, and that just puts you really, really close to the limit, you know. So it’s just one of those sessions that is so tricky to find the limit, and you have to go with the track. Already, I think every single Qualifying session was quite tricky today.
Q: There’s another qualifying session tomorrow, Sprint qualifying. What have you learned today that could help you tomorrow if the conditions are the same? SP: Well, I think certainly we have good information about the crossover times and where the circuit is damper, but it’s always changing here in Spa. So we will find out tomorrow, a new challenge, I’m sure.
Q: OK. And in the race, with Max’s penalty, you’re going to be on the front row. Just talk us through your prospects for winning this one? SP: Yeah, well, I will try my best. I will try to get Charles at the start, which is always hard, but I think it’s also a long race, high deg. So anything can happen on Sunday, but we certainly have a good position,
Q: Checo, do you want to get him at the start? Or do you want to get him on the run to Les Combes? SP: It doesn’t matter. As long as I get him. That will be my target. But I think tomorrow we’ve got a very busy day. So it feels like Sunday is miles away.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsport-magazin.com) Max, I guess the new gearbox is a bit of a tactical change as well. You could have swapped probably late in the season. But here you can overtake usually, but with these conditions, it’s all a bit mixed up. Don’t you feel it’s a bigger risk to take it here. MV: I think it’s still the best place to do it. I think Sunday looks more and more dry. So that’s why, I guess, we still went for it, basically.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, you said earlier, you risked quite a bit more on that final Q3 lap. Just wondering, could you just tell us which particular corners? MV: Mainly Turn 8/9, because I think I was incredibly slow there before, because I had a few moments. I almost crashed in 9 in Q2. So even in Q3 on my first run I was very slow there. So then on my second attempt I just went a lot faster.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Charles, you’ve spoken a lot about the mixed conditions and how much you’ve struggled, especially I think, in Hungary and Spain. Could you just elaborate a little bit more? Have you unlocked something that’s a bit different? You mentioned your driving style. So what’s changed that’s made it so significant that you’re sort of on pole. CL: Honestly, it is very difficult to give the details, because it’s very slight changes in terms of driving style. But that makes a big difference at the end. As I said, I have a very aggressive driving style, whether it’s in full wet or full dry, which pays off in those two conditions. But whenever I’m in between with slick tyres, then it doesn’t really pay off. And there I tried different directions, also with tools, so the way the car is set up and the way I can change it from one corner to the other. And this gave me much more confidence straightaway. And the lap time came better.
Q: (Nikarika Ghorpade – SportsKeeda) Max, you had a heated conversation with GP. Could you shed more light on that? And is that your normal banter? We don’t get most of the radio. MV: I mean, that happens sometimes. Most of it is normally or always blocked off. But I think we are both… We can be quite vocal or emotional. But we always solve it afterwards. It’s all good.
Q: (Rodrigo Franca – Car Magazine, Brazil) Max, did you imagine… 10 years ago you were announced here in Belgium as the youngest driver ever in Formula 1 with Toro Rosso. I think you were 16 at the time. Did you imagine, almost 10 years, you would be sitting here with two world titles, on your way to win three world titles, in the top five winners of all time. How do you see your life changing so much in 10 years? MV: Feels like a long time ago now. Honestly, I always had this approach of like, we will see. I was like, ‘Well, you know, I made it now to Formula 1’ at the time ‘and we’ll find out how it goes’. I mean, I didn’t really put any expectation or whatever. I mean, I always tried to get the best out of myself, and I jump into the car and do my preparation, but you don’t know, in your career, where it’s going to end up, because it also has to do with luck. I mean, I could have done the same steps I’ve done, you know, from Toro Rosso to here, but if the car is not competitive, then you’re not winning races or championships. So it all needs to come together. For some people, it happens sooner. For some people later, or it never happens. That’s also part of Formula 1. And I was well aware of that when you know I got into it. Because that’s just how Formula 1 works. So yeah, of course, back then I wouldn’t have imagined anything like this.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Another one to Max on the final minutes of Q2 in qualifying. Do you think that in hindsight that Gianpiero was right, because he feared that you might run out of battery and the track improve massively? Or do you still think that things could have gone a bit better in those couple of minutes? MV: Honestly, there is no need for me to comment on that here. I’ll discuss it with him.
Q: (Tim – GP blog.com) A question to all drivers. We had very little time in FP1 to set up the car. Can you explain a little bit or how hard it is to drive in qualifying right after that? MV: It’s definitely a bit more hit and miss. Because we went onto the slick tyres during Qualifying, and then you finally can start to pick up a bit what the car is actually doing. I think, luckily, it wasn’t too bad. But yeah, I mean, honestly, with these kind of Sprint formats, when you have a FP1 like that, but even if it’s like fully dry, it’s still sometimes a bit hit and miss. And that makes it always very chaotic. That’s why I never really enjoy these kinds of weekends, because you just don’t have the time. And then once you do a mistake, you’re stuck with it for the rest of the weekend. And I don’t think it should be like that. So for sure, you can do better things with the format. But I guess they implemented that for this particular reason that there’s a bit more chaos and people not getting it right. But I don’t think how advanced everything is in this sport that it should be like that: that on a Friday if you arrive with the wrong set-up, or you make the wrong call after FP1 that you’re stuck with it for the rest of the weekend, which basically also happened for us in in Brazil last year. It’s just super painful. CL: Yeah, especially for the race it’s going to be very tricky, because we didn’t do any long runs. So also for tyre management and all of those things we are just going in the race with a big question mark. So yeah, it’s going to be important to analyse everything very well, straight from the get-go on Sunday, trying to understand in the first few laps where it’s going, where the degradation is going, how it looks like, and then adjust the strategy as quickly as possible. SP: I think the biggest concern is come Sunday, because we haven’t done any high fuel. We don’t know how the car is going to behave with heavy tanks, the ride, how it will be. It’s always a massive concern going into the weekend basically blind. And yeah, like Max says, you can get it wrong very easily.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Max, given your Belgian and Dutch identity, how important is it to win here compared to Zandvoort? And is it also important for you to dominate here just as much as you dominated in Zandvoort? MV: I think it’s important to try and win everywhere. For me, it would be weird if I want to win more here or in Zandvoort. I mean, it’s nice and I really appreciate all the support I have, but I want to win on any track. Because that’s my motivation all the time, I want to do the best I can. But, for sure you know, when you have all the fans around the track supporting you, it brings a big smile on my face and it makes the weekend a bit more enjoyable for sure.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Sergio, please. You were in the top three after the Sprint qualifying in Austria, but this is your first time back in the top three in a, sort of, regular Qualifying session in quite a while. How satisfied are you with your performance? SP: Yeah, I’ve certainly had a rough patch with the car and with my driving style. I’ve been working on it. And you know, it’s no different to any other driver out there. I think drivers, we go through these periods where we are just finding our sweet spot. It has happened to anyone. But yeah, it’s a long season and like I always say, people only remember where you finished in Abu Dhabi. So for me, it’s still a very long season ahead. I want to get my season back on track, but I know, and I’ve done it before, so I think we are heading in the right direction.