Featuring Pole Winner Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), second-placed George Russell (Mercedes) and third-placed Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) with parc ferme interviews conducted by Danica Patrick) after the evening session.
Q: Charles, great job, top three. But obviously, the times are so close. Explain just how hard it is to execute here when you’re just threading the needle, with walls all around? Charles Leclerc: It’s extremely difficult, as everywhere, but here probably even more so, with the tyre temps and the overheating throughout the lap. It’s always a balance between the first and the last sector. But yeah, everything was super close. Mercedes was really strong today, too. So it was an interesting qualifying. Unfortunately, I missed just a little bit to gain a few positions. But again, Carlos did a great job. One-three for the team tomorrow, and let’s see what we can do.
Q: What’s the team morale? You guys have really come on. Obviously, it’s been a challenging year. Just talk about that. CL: Yeah. The physical challenge tomorrow is going to be something for sure. It’s extremely warm, extremely humid. But until now, we’ve had a very good performance. Honestly, we did not expect to be so competitive on a track like this. So this is a good sign for the future. But yeah, let’s see what we can do tomorrow.
Q: You guys have struggled on the race long runs. Do you think that that’s going to be the case again, tomorrow? And why do you think it might be different? CL: I don’t know. I think we looked quite strong all weekend. So hopefully we won’t see that tomorrow.
Q: George, it’s hot out there, huh? George Russell: It’s hot out there for sure. I’ve got a bit of a sweat on.
Q: You guys spent a lot of time sitting in the cars there. Just talk about the chaos of the session – red flag, all the traffic everywhere. It’s a bit of a challenge here in Singapore, just help us out and explain what that was like? GR: Yeah, it was definitely a challenging session. When you’re sat in that car, it’s like you’re sat in the sauna, just sweating it out. But you’ve got to keep your composure, stay cool. And yeah, really, really happy with this weekend as a whole. I’ve felt really confident in the car. The team did a great job with the strategy: we’re on an offset strategy compared to everybody else, so we’ve got an extra set of Medium tyres tomorrow, which nobody around us has. So to get to Q3 and be on the front row with a strategic advantage tomorrow is an exciting place to be.
Q: Well, traditionally, only one stop, so you obviously have to have the right tyres for the right situation and then you have to pass. There’s a new passing zone potentially. Do you feel like that’s going to help you guys tomorrow? Because starting on the pole eight out of 13 times has proved to be the winner. GR: Yeah, I mean, the track is different this year. The tyre degredation on Friday looked pretty bad. So I think it’s going to be very close between a one- and a two-stop and with our Mediums we can put Ferrari in a difficult position and try and force them into an error and get the upper hand. So that’s what we’re looking for.
Q: Carlos, well done. Sitting on the pole, you’re on a run. Just talk about how that feels. You guys have had a really trying year and here you are sitting on the pole again. Got to feel really good? Carlos Sainz: Yeah, again, a bit like in Monza really, hitting the ground running from FP1 and feeling very confident all through the sessions and putting it together Q3. Just focusing on not doing any mistakes in that lap, keeping it clean around here in Singapore normally pays off. It was a bit of a messy session for everyone but we kept the focus, put a good lap in at the end and now pole position.
Q: You’ve been happy with the balance, you said, since the first lap on track. Where is that coming from? What is it that you guys have done that has helped you be so happy from the start that’s allowed you to sit here on the pole again? CS: Yeah, I think it’s the story a bit of our year, you know, We have a very good car in certain tracks and in certain conditions like one lap, on these sort of short apexes, quick changes of direction our car seems to be very good. This weekend again, a bit like in Monza, we know our weakness, it’s always a the race pace and it’s somewhere we always pay the price. But I think the team has been doing a great job over the last couple of weekends to understand the package understand the car. And I think we’re definitely making a bit of progress keeping in mind that this circuit has always suited Ferrari quite well.
Q: How is the race pace? CS: Race pace? Bit of a question mark. It’s not like on Friday you can learn much. But yeah, Mercedes is normally a bit quicker than us come race day. They have a bit of a different strategy with the tyres that we will have to keep an eye on. But if I focus on my own race, put together a good first stint and a good stint on Hards, then I think we can still target the win.
Q: You have the opportunity here to dethrone Red Bull. They’ve been on the top of the podium for so long now. How would that feel? CS: Yeah, that would feel amazing and that’s the target. I mean, try to get the win tomorrow. I’m going to give it everything like I gave it in Monaco and hopefully tomorrow it’s enough.
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE
Q: Carlos, very well done. First time you’ve taken back-to-back poles. How sweet does this moment feel for you? CS: Yeah, it feels very good, I must say. I felt on it again since FP1, FP2, FP3, building it up. Again, another clean lap in Q3 with no mistakes. I knew I had the pace. I knew I could do it and just putting a clean lap together in Q3 gave me pole position again, which is an incredible feeling. And now more than ever it’s true that I want to get it done, no, not like in Monza, tomorrow we will try and get that win.
Q: You say no mistakes in quali, but just talk us through that final lap of Q3. You look very strong in the final sector? CS: Yeah, it’s been, I think one of my strongest points of the weekend, really, keeping the rear tyres alive for the last sector. Yeah, again in Q3, I made sure that I kept that advantage going into Q3 because it’s always easy in Singapore to over-push, to have a snap here and there and end up losing the lap. And yeah, even though I felt like I didn’t take too many risks during that lap, I kept it clean and it gave me a strong last sector and it was enough for pole position. So yeah, very happy with it.
Q: Now, you weren’t that confident about Ferrari’s pace when we spoke on Thursday. So how surprised have you been by the car here? CS: Pleasantly surprised, because our last high downforce tracks, we’ve really struggled. We’ve haven’t been on the pace. We’ve been third, fourth, fifth-fastest car and certainly since we arrived to Singapore, a high-downforce track we were clearly one of the fastest, if not the fastest. So it has been a very good progress. I think we’ve done a lot of work to try and understand our high-downforce package and the team has done a very good job to put it together for Singapore. But it’s true also that this always, historically, has been a very good track for Ferrari. It’s also been a strong track for me, I like driving around here and yeah, I think it’s a good job well done. But it’s also I think the track is suiting our car a bit more than Zandvoort, for example.
Q: But Carlos, irrespective of what happens in the race tomorrow, quick at Monza, quick here, how much confidence does this give you for the remainder of 2023? CS: A lot of confidence for sure. I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling very well with the car and I’m driving very good, probably the best since I’ve been a Ferrari driver and finally I’m extracting my full potential. And I’m happy to see that. I’m happy, too, with the work that I’m doing with my engineers to little by little keep extracting more and more potential and more performance out of the car. And it’s obviously going to give me a lot of confidence moving forward. But yeah, we need to keep working on the race pace. In Monza, you could see what happened and tomorrow is another good test to see how much progress we’ve done in that area.
Q: Looking ahead to tomorrow, how much more confident are you this weekend compared to starting on pole at Monza? CS: I’m more confident, mainly because of the track layout. I think it’s a bit easier to hold on to our track position. That obviously gives me more confidence than Monza in terms of pace, I really have no idea how we’re going to be. Looking at long run data from Friday. the Merc, the Aston and the Red Bull did look a bit quicker than us in tyre degradation and race pace, so it could be that tomorrow we have to run, yet again, a bit of a defensive race. But I don’t discount that even around this track we could hold on to a P1 because it’s a lot more difficult to pass than other tracks this season, but our race pace still looks like our weakest point.
Q: George, coming to you now, your first front row start since Melbourne, 12 races ago. You’ve been hooked up all weekend. Just how good was that final lap of Q3? GR: Yeah, the car has been feeling amazing, this whole weekend. Huge credit to the whole team, they’ve been working so hard, put in a lot of efforts to maximise the car we’ve got, understanding it, looking ahead to next year as well: everybody’s you know, given 100 per cent so really pleased to translate that into a really solid result today. And, as I said, it was really, really enjoyable. To be honest, since the break, I feel like I’ve been really hooked-up with the car. Set-up’s been in a great window, working really well with my engineers. Some say it’s the new hair. I don’t know. I think it’s just good work and just enjoying it. Having fun out there.
Q: Were you expecting this performance from the car here? GR: Yeah, to be honest, I think we were. We know that on the high-downforce circuits, we tend to go better. Ferrari always fast on the street circuits, C5 tyre. So we knew there’d be quick. Red Bull are obviously a big surprise, not too sure what’s gone on there. Their long run pace didn’t seem stellar, either. So yeah, this is a great opportunity, this weekend, to get a victory. We’ve got a different tyre strategy to every other car on the grid out there. We’ve got two Mediums. So, we’re the only team who’ve got the chance to do a one-stop or two stops, so that really gives us a great chance for tomorrow.
Q: Well, tell us a little bit more about how you’re viewing the race. You’ve got the strategic advantage, you could argue. How important is it that you get the lead of the race at the start? GR: I’ll definitely be going for it. I think that will make our life easier. I think we’ve got the pace over Ferrari in the race but, as I said, we’ve got a strategic advantage over them. So, I’m pretty relaxed, even if we are P2 after Turn One – or even P3, because as I said, we’re the only team who can do a two-stop race. Tyre-deg looks bad and I hope we’re going to put them in a challenging position to fend this off. So, it brings… I’m feeling good, I’m feeling excited.
Q: Charles, coming to you now. So close to a front row start. What was the car like for you? CL: I’m struggling a little bit more – since the restart of the break actually – with the car. Quite a bit of understeer, but then also quite snappy. So difficult to predict what is the car going to do on the track, which I pay the price a little bit with the confidence I have inside the car. But at the same time honestly, it was a good lap. A small mistake in Turn 17 which cost me too much but apart from that I’m happy with the lap. It wasn’t enough today, though.
Q: But Charles, clearly you’re much happier with the car here in high downforce trim than you were at Zandvoort a couple of races ago. CL: Yes. This for sure. The team has done an incredible job, as Carlos said, though, I think Singapore we’ve always been quick so we shouldn’t get carried away. But it’s a good step in the right direction. I think we understood a few things in Monza on a very different track, but we still understood things that I think will be helpful for the rest of the season. But I don’t think it will do that much of a difference on every track. But it’s good to see that we have a very good performance until now here.
Q: What about the race pace? And can we get your reaction to what George has just said about the potential strategic advantage that Mercedes might have? CL: Well, I mean, Carlos is starting first, I’m starting third. So I think we can also put them under quite a bit of pressure. So, I’m not worried.
Q: And how do you think the new track layout towards the end of the lap will play out in terms of tyre wear, brake wear? CL: In terms of overheating, it’s a bit better. It would have been better if there was DRS to at least overtake a bit more but we don’t have that this year. But hopefully we can be a bit closer than what we were in the past in the last sector. And hopefully, that will help overtaking.
Q: Charles, final one from me, are you going into the race tomorrow, believing that you can win it? CL: Of course, as always. I think we’ve got a good car this weekend, so why not? Again, Carlos and I have great starting positions. Now, let’s see what’s possible tomorrow.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jesús Balseiro – Diario AS) Question for Carlos, what are your main concerns for tomorrow? I mean, it’s not easy to overtake here, So maybe the start, the strategy. And als, Max is starting, I think, 11th, or maybe even further. So, do you think he’s going to arrive at some point? He won the last 10 races, will he be a concern? CS: I don’t think you can ever discount Max and Red Bull. they might turn up tomorrow with a race pace that they’ve had there all season, and still managed somehow to make through the field. But, for sure, around here, they have a much more difficult task. And it’s a much better opportunity than Monza, for example. I think tomorrow the race is going to be between the top five cars that we’re starting. I think it is true that George has this extra medium tyre but we could also do a two-stop as the Soft didn’t look too bad. Yeah, I think it will be a tough race to manage, a tough race to put together but I think if we nail it, we have a great opportunity. And that’s the target tomorrow, of course.
Q: (Frédéric Ferret – L’Equipe) Question for the three of you. How did you discover that Max was not in Q3, and how did your mind change when you discovered that? CS: My engineer told me the two Red Bulls were out and obviously it was not bad news to have. Also, more looking into tomorrow than today, as Qualifying any way it was always going to be a battle, yes with Max, but also with Lando, George and Charles. I think we were all very tight since practice. And it was really tight again in Quali. I thought the battle for pole position was not going to be affected too much but the battle for the win probably. And yeah, it was decent news to receive for sure. GR: Nobody told me so it didn’t really changed my = approach heading into Q3 Just focusing on ourselves and maximising the result. But it’s definitely strange that they’ve been off the pace this weekend. Unusual. But as Carlos said, can’t discount them ahead of tomorrow, even though it will be tough.
Q: George, so when did you find out. GR: I guess … I think probably after the first run in Q3, but it was… you always tend to look at yourself and the guys you’re fighting, and this weekend has been the Ferraris, it’s been Lando and Fernando. So, it’s not that you discount them ever, but you’re just looking at because you’re fighting it and just for whatever reason they have been off the pace all weekend. CL: For me, my engineer didn’t tell me either. So, just when I was in the box with the screens, I could see that they didn’t make it through. That’s it.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Carlos, you mentioned that this is the best you’ve been driving at Ferrari and you feel you’re finally fulfilling the potential. Can you break down the various factors that are contributing to that because certainly since the August break it seems to have been globally very, very strong in terms of your personal performance? So what’s led to that, just working so well, every weekend now? CS: Yeah, my thing is always very small, incremental gains that you do during the season. It is true that in the summer break you always have a bit more time to relax, to meet with engineers conclude on the things that have worked, the things that are not working, where you need to put a bit more focus, where you need to keep working well and maybe just having the time to switch off but at the same time to analyse and to put together everything into second half of the season that’s helping. And that’s why probably these last few races have been a step forward and now the target is to keep it going until the end of the season and hopefully into next year with a more competitive car.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) George, you spoke about your race pace being very, very strong. I got a chance to have a look at that on Friday. So if Ferrari’s maybe a couple of tenths a lap behind you, where do you expect the main challenge to come from if you’re in a position to win tomorrow? GR: Yeah, I think the fight will be with Ferrari. We can’t discount Lando either, he’s got good race pace. Their race pace probably looked a little bit ahead of Ferrari’s. But it’s just going to be around that tyre degradation, around the pitstops. In all honesty, we’re sitting here now, we don’t know exactly how the tyre deg’s going to pan out but on a circuit that is difficult to overtake, you’re going to have to bide your time and maximise it around those pitstops.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) Question for both Ferrari drivers: you spoke about your high downforce package being inconsistent after Monza in particular. After this performance, can you finally say your car’s coming together and is it enough of confidence to give you with your high downforce package going into tracks ahead? Or is will it still be a concern? CL: Well, again, this weekend, it feels particularly good and much better than the high downforce tracks in the past. As I’ve said before, I think we found something in Monza that should go a step forward but definitely not as much as what we’ve seen this weekend. So I think our car is fitting these track characteristics in particular. And, yeah, we shouldn’t get carried away and I am not enough confident now to say that it will be the case for the rest of the season. Have we done a step forward? Yes. Will it be like that until the end of the season? It’s too early to say. CS: I can copy paste what he said.
Q: (Muhammad Pratama Supriyadillah – Motorsport Indonesia) Charles and Carlos, a couple of seasons ago Ferrari started from the front, Kimi and Seb, but at turn one there’s a big incident involving three cars, which is both Ferraris and Max. So how do you approach this race? Are you just go with it, or you just approach it defensively? CL: I’m pretty sure that if we look in the past there’s always been one race where teammates collides at one point. So we are not looking too much into that. We are, as always, aware that we are teammates and Ferrari comes first and this will be the goal: to try and put Ferrari as much further possible tomorrow. So yes, we know we have a responsibility, but it’s not like we are looking always what happens in the past. CS: Yeah, it’s also three different drivers, different conditions. And trust me, I will not be thinking about that when the lights go out.
Q: (Mat Coch – Speedcafe.com) If I can pull this one sideways a little bit, Liam Lawson was the only Red Bull driver in the top 10. Have you guys been impressed with him in the three, two and a half races that he’s had thus far? What are your impressions of him? GR: Yeah, I think he’s been doing a really great job to be honest. I followed him a little bit through his F3, F2 career. Saw he was doing a great job in Super Formula and it’s never easy to be thrown into Formula 1 as a rookie mid-season, no experience. The tracks that we’ve been racing at haven’t exactly been the easiest. I saw he did a good overtake last week in Monza which was pretty impressive. So yeah, he’s doing a good job so not a lot more to say than that really. CS: Honestly, I don’t have a lot of time to follow what other people are doing because we’re so focused on our own car understanding and putting laps together that it is difficult to see and understand what what’s going on in the other teams but by the looks of it and by the sounds of it, it looks like he’s doing a very, very good job. And from here, obviously congratulate him because to be Q3 in Singapore is not easy, especially jumping in the car halfway through season. CL: Yeah, he’s doing an impressive job. Already after Zandvoort we spoke a little bit and I was telling him how impressed I was because to do your first race in those conditions is probably a nightmare for anybody. So yeah, he’s doing a great job and again, confirming it weekend after weekend, so yeah, congratulations to him.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Quick question to all three please: is this your best shot at making sure Red Bull don’t win every race of this season? CL: Until now, for sure, because they’ve never been as far as where they are starting now – on a street track also. But as George and Carlos said, we cannot discard them. So let’s see but it’s the best opportunity since the beginning of the season for sure. CS: Yeah, up until now it is for sure. GR: Yeah. Same.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) To the two Ferrari gentlemen: obviously, in Monza, you two had a fantastic battle over P3. It was really, really great to see that and Ferrari let you guys race. But if there’s a win on the table, are you going to be allowed to be in the same position again or is one of you going to have to play wing man and if so, would you be content with that? CS: Well, first of all, I’m sure that the characteristics of the track is not like it allows (us) to have the nice battles and great wheel-to-wheel that we had in Monza, which again, was a lot of fun and a great battle. But I think this track is very, very different. And, of course, we will be looking into tomorrow to see everything that we can do to beat the Merc and to get the cars into one-two and I’m sure the team will, again, prioritise the overall team result and try to get the win. CL: Yeah, I agree. I think in Monza the track is helping also those fights. But again, I believe the philosophy will be the same. If we are under pressure of Merc then I’m pretty sure that the positions will be fixed if we have all the other cars quite far behind, which I hope will be the case, then let’s see, let’s see what the team chooses. But at the end, we’ll follow whatever we have been told.