Belgian Grand Prix: Top Three Press Conference

Belgian Grand Prix: Top Three Press Conference

Belgian Grand Prix: Top Three Press Conference

Full transcript from the FIA hosted top three press conference after the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 12 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship, at Spa-Francorchamps.

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

Track interviews conducted by Martin Brundle

Q: Charles, your 27th podium in Formula 1. Ferrari have been quietly very competitive this weekend, but difficult to have an answer to the Red Bulls.

Charles Leclerc: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we’ve had quite a positive weekend on our side in terms of pace. Of course, the race went well on my side, but a shame for Carlos, as I think we had good pace. So that is good. When you look at the Red Bull, we still have a lot of work to do, especially in terms of race pace, because degradation and everything they are quite far ahead still.

Q: And Lewis was pushing quite hard behind you. Were you confident you had him covered off?

CL: Yes, until I’ve been told to do some fuel saving. And this was quite big at the end of the race. So there I was struggling a bit more, but the pace was there to keep Lewis behind. And then I knew that he was going to pit for the fastest lap, which made my life a little bit easier.

Q: I saw you putting on the bands. Is there a significance to those bands that you were keen to get on?

CL: Well, actually, it’s a brand from Monaco, and I’m very proud of wearing them so I always have them on me.

Q: Congratulations, Sergio, second place today. How do you feel about that race?

SP: Yeah, it was a good race for the team, we deserved it really well. We had a great start. So I managed to get through Charles, which was one of the targets of today. And yeah, from then on, I was just doing my own race and then Max came through in the second stint pretty fast. So nothing I could have done there. And then afterwards it was just about making sure we brought it home safely without too much damage on the car.

Q: You had a few difficult races, but a brilliant drive in Hungary last weekend, and another second place today. Are you getting back on balance and going well?

SP: Yeah, certainly. I really look forward to not leaving the podium anymore from now until the end of the year. It’s been a bit of a rough patch, but I think we overcome and today we managed to score great points for the team.

Q: And you head into the summer break with some confidence?

SP: Yeah, definitely. I really need the summer break. It’s been really intense the last few races, so I look forward to it and come back very strong for Zandvoort.

Q: Congratulations, Max, you’ve won the last 10 starts in Formula 1, including the Sprint races. You seem like you can win from anywhere, anytime, anyplace?

Max Verstappen: It’s a new spot, that’s for sure – P6. Yeah, I mean, I knew that we had a great car. It was just about surviving Turn 1. I could see that it was all getting really tight. I’ve been in that position before as well, myself, so I was like, ‘I’m just going to stay out of that’, and it worked out and then from there onwards, I think yeah, we all made the right overtakes, moves. I just got a little bit stuck at the beginning and in a bit of a DRS train but once that cleared, I could do my own pace. And again, it’s really enjoyable.

Q: Now we heard your great friend and your engineer Gianpiero Lambiase saying ‘slow down, slow down, you’re using the tyres too much’, but you didn’t seem particularly interested in that message?

MV: I did slow down. Of course, you know, we all look at the numbers, we look at the wear of the tyre and you know, this track is super hard on the tyres, so you don’t want to do any unnecessary things. So that’s what we did till the end.

Q: You did have one fright, though, when it was raining a little bit, in Eau Rouge and Raidillon.

MV: Yeah, that’s probably the worst corner to have a moment, but it was tricky in those laps when it was raining, because you could see that it was raining but not how much exactly and I had the little sideways moment. Luckily nothing happened but it’s definitely a corner where you don’t want it to happen.

Press Conference

Q; Max, brilliant job by you, your eighth win in a row, the 45th win of your Formula 1 career. You had to work for this one, just talk us through the various challenges you faced out there?

MV: Yeah, lap one, Turn 1… My start was OK, but then I could see Carlos lock up, so you had to go to the inside. But then of course, Oscar was kind of there as well and then they both went deep into the corner. So I knew exactly what was going to happen, because I have had the same thing happen to me in 2016, I think it was or something. So it’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to stay out of it, I go wide’. But then, of course, they had damage. And you have to wait and see what they’re going to do on the exit, because I could see Oscar couldn’t really steer anymore. So we lost a little bit of momentum there, but luckily, it was all OK. And of course, I also got Carlos into Les Combes. And yeah, from there onwards, basically, my race started. But I was a bit unlucky, because I got stuck behind Lewis, because he was in the DRS of Charles, and with them having the highest top speed, Lewis, this weekend, it was just impossible to pass. So I had to wait for him to drop out of the DRS and as soon as he didn’t have DRS anymore, I could pass. And then I think two or three laps later, I could pass Charles. But with that, I think I hurt my tyres a bit too much. So basically, as soon as I had my stop on to the Medium, I could feel that the car was in a much better window and I could go a lot faster. So yeah, from there onwards that was really where it started to come alive. And really enjoyable to drive and once I got into the lead, also, I could really look after the tyres as well. But then, of course, the rain started to come down. So you had to slow down quite a bit in some places. And once that cleared, we went back to a Soft tyre set and, again, the car was well balanced. And it shows that, you know, once you’re not in traffic, how much better you can be on tyres. So yeah, it was, again, a great race.

Q: Given that this was the first heavy fuel running you’d done over the weekend in the dry, how many unknowns were coming into the race?

MV: There were a few unknowns. I think, also, the first stint [I had] probably a bit too much understeer in the car trying to follow. But honestly, if I would have to do it again, I wouldn’t really change a lot on the car. So I guess we nailed it pretty much.

Q: You nailed it. You took the lead on lap 17. What was your approach when you were sitting on the grid in terms of getting to the front?

MV: I mean, you just have to wait and see what happens in front of you. I mean, once you’re clear through lap one, then basically you can just settle in and work your way forward.

Q: Now, you touched on the rain: tell us what goes through your mind when you’re sideways through Eau Rouge?

MV: Yeah, that’s probably not the best place to go sideways but luckily nothing happened. Of course, also, with the new, like the changes through there, you have a little bit more run-off, but it’s still not a nice corner to have a moment.

Q: What were you thinking?

MV: A swear word.

Q: Now look Max. You’re leading the Championship by 125 points. Does the summer break come at the good time or a bad time for you? Would you rather keep the momentum going and have another race next weekend?

MV: I don’t think it matters a lot, to be honest. I just want to have a nice time now. Have a bit of time with family and friends and we’ll go to Zandvoort. It’s a completely different track again to Spa but I’m expecting if we do a good job with the set-up, we will be quick.

Q: Checo, coming to you now, your best result since Miami, seven races ago. What is the most satisfying aspect of this second place?

SP: I think just getting that form back. We were on the podium last weekend and now, and I think, having these sort of races in clean air, is where you learn a lot and you make those steps in the coming races, because my last few races have been a bit of… yeah, very hard to get a proper read on them, because the way you have to race with dirty air, and so on, so that to me I think is where we’re going to be learning the most on that stint on free air and the second stint as well.

Q: Very aggressive at the start. Just talk us through the opening lap and when you took the lead.

SP: Yeah, I knew that it was quite crucial for my race to get Charles on lap one. We had a good launch but he also had a good start so it was just about making sure we got him into Turn Five. It worked well and we were able to do, basically, our own race from that point on. I think we managed to do a good first stint.

Q: Just looking at the lap-times, were you more comfortable on the Soft tyre than the Medium tyre?

SP: Yeah. Certainly. I did struggle quite a bit on that Medium tyre, especially with the rain. Felt like I lost a bit of temperature on it. We never really got a good read on that tyre. I think it was pretty obvious, most of the field went back onto the Soft tyre and yeah, had a good moment into 11 when the race was very tricky, the conditions were very tricky at that point.

Q: Same question that I asked Max really. Do you feel the summer break comes at a good time for you, or a bad time for you?

SP: Yeah, I think it doesn’t really matter. I think for us, it gives us a bit of time to go deep on our analysis, see what we can improve for the next ten races and, yeah, basically keep the momentum going for the end of the season.

Q: Charles, your third podium of the year. Very well done. You started on pole but, realistically, was this all you were going to go for today? Is this all that was achievable?

CL: err… yes! This was the best we could achieve today, no doubt. So yeah, you always hope to try to win the race, but on the other hand, realistically, we knew that both of the Red Bulls would be much quicker, and… yeah… but our target was to maximise the points with the package we had and honestly, I don’t think we could have done anything better today.

Q: Well, you had a very similar pit-stop strategy to the Red Bulls. How was the longevity of the tyres, particularly the Softs?

CL: It was good. It was good. Basically, we had to react to what Lewis was doing behind, which then the Red Bull had to react to us a lap later. So that’s why we were all on the same strategy, because everybody was reacting to somebody else’s strategy. So, yeah, our strategy was based on Lewis and trying to keep him behind during the whole race. He had a good pace but I felt we had him under control.

Q: And how much time do you think you were losing through the fuel saving that we heard you talk about earlier?

CL: A bit too much. But on the other hand, when Checo started to push again for a few laps at the end, I could not match that, so I think they also had a bit of margin. But yeah, at one point I was seeing that I was doing the same lap times as Checo, I didn’t know how much he was saving but I knew how much I was saving, so I thought, ‘OK, maybe we can get second place – but then very quickly I understood that he was just saving.

Q: And Charles, summer break coming up. Can you give us a summary of how you feel the first half has gone and whether you feel a month off would be good for you and the team?

CL: It didn’t go well. Before the first race, the target was to do a step better, compared to last year, which was to win the World Championship. If we look at the first half of the year, we are very far from where we put our expectations before the season. So, on the other hand, as soon as we understood that, we reset it and there was an incredible reaction from the team. They brought upgrades, sometimes a month and a half earlier, and this requires a lot of effort from everybody at Maranello. And this, we saw that, it helped us have great results. I think we still need to try to understand – because if I do a step back in the last two races, I think we expected to be much more competitive in Budapest than on a track like here and at the end, it’s the opposite. So, these are things that we need to look at because maybe we haven’t optimised the package in races like Budapest and maybe we’ve done something that was surprisingly good on a track like here. So, it’s good, anyway, to finish on a positive note the first part of the season and now we will take the time of the summer break – or at least whenever the guys can work again – to try to analyse those two last races and hopefully maximise the package at all races for the second half of the season.

Questions from the floor

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Max please. You spoke about what you were thinking when you had that moment at Eau Rouge. I wondered if you would just expand on what caused it – I know it was wet at the time – and also how you saved it. And also, to both of the Red Bull drivers, were you also having to fuel save and, if so, at what point.

MV: Yeah, the rain was just moving around on the track, like sometimes it was just increasing in other places, you know, from lap to lap. So, I just got up there and it probably rained a bit harder when I was on the other side of the track, in Eau Rouge, and I got there and it just caught me out. It was just a bit more slippery than I thought it would be. So yeah. I mean, it happens, you quickly try to correct it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Luckily, at that speed as well, you have quite a bit of downforce on the car. That helps. Yeah, it was not great. Yeah, we did have to save a bit but it’s always a combination of things throughout the race, what you’re saving.

Q: (Silja Rulle – Bild) Max, you had some interesting conversations with your race engineer. Could you just explain how much seriousness was in that or how much joking around and humour was that?

MV: Probably 50-50 in the messages. I know that the team doesn’t like to do another stop but I like to mention it so they might get a bit nervous. And then I like the response: ‘no, no, we’re not doing that today’. It’s fine. We know each other very well and we have a very good relationship.

Q: (Lawrence Edmondson – ESPN) Max, on the same subject of GP: clearly, that’s a very close relationship, as you said. How important has he been to your success? And what would happen if he was removed from your engineering side because it’s clear that you two have this really good ability to talk to each other?

MV: Yeah, I think it’s very important, the relationship with your race engineer. I find it always a really important part of your performance, not only your race engineer but everyone very close around you, performance engineer, these kinds of things. And of course, over the years, you build up much more of a relationship, you know each other much better. So yeah, for sure, if he would be removed or whatever that’s definitely not ideal at all.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – SportsKeeda) Charles, your car suffered from degradation at the beginning of the season and now we are halfway through; how has that problem been improved? And have you really been able to solve that problem of degradation which is to compromise your tyre performance?

CL: I think it’s a bit too early to say but it’s been two or three races where we are managing our tyres better. I think today, this was definitely not the reason why we finished so far behind the Red Bulls, I think they were just quicker. But in terms of tyre management, we didn’t have a huge degradation. And also looking at Mercedes behind, I was in control of the pace of my tyres. So on that it looked good, we still need to keep an eye on that because sometimes, especially in very specific conditions, we sometimes get off the window of the tyres, the right window, and then we struggle quite a lot.

Q: (Gerard Bos – Formule 1 magazine, NL) Max, if you look back at the first half of the season, all those victories, is there any one that’s the most satisfying for you? And could you please explain why?

MV: It’s difficult to choose. There have been a lot of nice ones, some of it most straightforward. I think the one actually which I really enjoy was like back in time in Miami. It’s a tough track, also to get through the field but we managed I think that whole race quite well after, of course, the tough qualifying. So probably for me, that was a very enjoyable one but honestly, also today, the last one in Hungary – there are a lot of nice ones. I think also throughout the first part of the season, we have improved as a team. And also from my side, I feel more comfortable in the car. And it’s all about little details. So a lot of enjoyable moments. It’s tough to pick one.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – SportsKeeda) Checo, this is a bit off-beat but this is about Otmar. You’ve worked with him since your Force India days, so were you surprised hearing the news? And also reflecting on your experience, how has it been taking that news and what are your thoughts on it?

SP: Yeah, I think I was quite surprised with it, given how short notice it was. I think Otmar is great, any person in that position, you’ve got to give them time. And I think Otmar lacked time to really show his potential, which I know is huge because I’ve seen what he’s done in other teams with very limited budgets and with not so limited budgets as well. So I think that it’s a shame that they let him move on but yeah, I think on the other hand, whoever comes needs to have proper time because all these things in Formula 1 takes a massive time.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Another slightly left field question to Checo, please. Just taking you back a couple of days to Friday night qualifying. Once you’d crossed the line at the end of Q3 and done your lap, Christian Horner came on the radio, congratulated you and you replied saying: ‘you’ll talk to me now.’ Could you please explain what that meant?

SP: It was a joke. He came before qualifying and said ‘if you’re not in the top three, I will not talk to you the rest of the weekend’. So he was talking to me the rest of the weekend.

Q: (Rodrigo Franca – Car Magazine Brazil) Where do you guys intend to spend the days of vacation and if you at least do some karting, racing, or forget 100% about racing in those days?

MV: A lot of cardio and a lot of wrist training. Not what you think it is. (Indicates tilting)

SP: Training my skills in the golf cart, through the golf course. And yeah, I will disappear for a few weeks as well.

CL: No racing for me. Around Monaco, Corsica and Sardinia with my family and my friends.