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LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - OCTOBER 07: Sprint winner Oscar Piastri of Australia and McLaren, 2nd placed Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and third placed Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren pose for a photo with their trophies and Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group, and Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President, in parc ferme after the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Lusail International Circuit on October 07, 2023 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202310070518 // Usage for editorial use only //

Qatar Sprint Race Top Three Press Conference

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - OCTOBER 07: Sprint winner Oscar Piastri of Australia and McLaren, 2nd placed Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and third placed Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren pose for a photo with their trophies and Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group, and Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President, in parc ferme after the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Lusail International Circuit on October 07, 2023 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202310070518 // Usage for editorial use only //

Full transcript from the FIA hosted press conference after the Qatar Grand Prix Sprint Race, Round 17 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship, at Lusail Circuit.

Featuring race winner Oscar Piastri (McLaren), second-placed Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and third-placed Lando Norris (McLaren).

Q: Max Verstappen, three-time World Champion, consecutively, how does that feel? 
Max Verstappen: Yeah, of course a fantastic feeling. It’s been an incredible year. A lot of great races and of course super-proud but also super-proud of the job of the team. It’s just been so enjoyable to be part of that group of people. To be a three-time World Champion is just incredible.

Q: Do you think you’re going to keep this going – or is it just so, so hard to keep this kind of level going for much longer in the future, do you think?
MV: We’ll keep on pushing. We’ll try to do the best we can. Also, today was, I think, quite an exciting race. I think it was a bit of a shame with the Safety Cars but overall, yeah, it was good, it was fun out there and of course, incredibly happy at the moment.

Q: Maybe a quick word also for Oscar? I mean, he got his first win…
MV: He drove a great race. It was not, I think, that easy, because we were on the Medium tyres and there was some Soft starters around us and they had a bit more grip in the beginning but he did very well, I tried everything I could to try to catch up but we came up short at the end. So, well done to him.

Q: Do you have a target in mind? Like, ‘hey, I want to win a fourth one in a row, or a fifth one. Is there anything there for you or you just enjoying the moment?
MV: We’ll just see what happens. I’m enjoying the moment and hopefully we can keep this momentum going for a while.

Q: Oscar, what a fantastic race, you just won that race out there, the first win. How does that feel?
Oscar Piastri: Thank You. Yeah, very happy. A very stressful race. When I saw all the Soft guys come through at the start, I thought we were in a bit of trouble and yeah, then their tyres fell off pretty quickly, so yeah, that was good. Safety Cars were my friend today, definitely once Max got behind me but the pace was reasonable and I think, in a race where you had to manage a lot the tyres, cars on other compounds, I think we did a really good job, so very happy.

Q: You said the pace was ‘reasonable’. Actually it was a pretty awesome pace because Max was giving it everything at the end there and he barely came closer to you – so that’s also important for you, isn’t it?
OP: Yeah, definitely. I think anything you can try to learn for tomorrow is going to be important as well. I thought once he got through into second, I was going to be in a bit of trouble – but the pace was good, managed the tyres well, and yeah, first Sprint win sounds pretty cool.

Q: Lando, you’ve been saying it’s been a little bit of a difficult weekend for you so far but can you still be happy with that comeback and that P3 there. 
Lando Norris: Yes. Of course. First of all, congrats to Oscar and congrats to Max. First win – earlier than mine – so a big well-done to him. Tough race for me, just a bad start made everything much trickier, but we fought back well. Some fun racing, good overtakes, all the way to the last lap on George, so, tough, but another podium for us and for our team it’s been a mega day.

Q: After that start, was it, like, mentally tough, or did you still keep the hope up and think ‘no-no, we can still make this work today’. 
LN: I think from the beginning we could, especially with them on the Softs. The Softs were obviously a lot better for lap one and the opening stages of the race, but I mean, they were lucky there were so many Safety Cars. If there weren’t so many Safety Cars I think easily the Medium would have been a better choice, so, it was a tough fight. Not the best of beginnings but a good ending.

Q: If Oscar can win a race in that car, then obviously you can too. Do you feel your win is coming very, very soon?
LN: I hope so! I mean, I’ve been trying a long time, but Oscar’s done a mega job this weekend. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and he hasn’t and he’s capitalised and he’s done a better job, so just hats-off to him.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Oscar, you were second in the Sprint in Belgium, you’re the winner here today in Qatar, how sweet is this moment for you?
OP: Yeah, very happy. I like Sprint Saturdays, apparently! It’s been a really good day, started off well, in the Sprint Shootout, and yeah, pretty crazy Sprint this evening and I’m happy to come out on top. Also, I think it was really exciting for everyone to watch as well, with the Soft guys at the start – I thought I was in a lot of trouble with how much pace they had but they dropped-off just as quickly. So, yeah, very, very happy.

Q: As you say, it was a very eventful race. You also described it as ‘stressful’ a little bit earlier. How confident were you that the race would come to you and your Medium tyres?
OP: I think at the start it was a bit difficult to judge with the Safety Cars. That wasn’t helping the Medium tyre at all, because it would cool-down way too much. I think it was when Carlos, or whoever was in the Ferrari, was behind me, tried to overtake and…yeah, after that, they dropped back very quickly. It was like from one lap to the next, George lost a lot of pace, so at that point I knew I was in a good rhythm. It was just how quickly Max was going to come through, how quickly Lando was going to come through as well. So, it was stressful at times, but glad we could see it out.

Q: At what point in the race did you become wary of Max rather than George Russell, for example, on the Soft tyre?
OP: It was just before the last Safety Car really? That last Safety Car was pretty nice for me, I’ll be honest. So yeah, I knew that I had to try and get as much of a gap whilst Max was behind George, as quickly as I could. Which… managed to get out enough and then the pace at the end was also pretty good too. So yeah, but once, I think was about 10 laps to go, or eight laps to go at that point, I thought it might be a tough ask to the end. So, I’m thanking the Safety Car drivers today.

Q: And Oscar what does this mean for the Grand Prix tomorrow, in terms of what did you learn about the car? What did you learn about the track?
OP: I think we learned a lot. I think the Soft at the start was obviously extremely strong and dropped off. Everyone’s tyres stayed together, so that was a bonus. I think it was more or less as we expected, the wind dropped a bit. And with so many Safety Cars, it gave you a lot of restarts and different tyres temperatures and stuff. So yeah, obviously, tomorrow’s going to be a very different kind of race. But yeah, a lot of interesting things to learn.

Q: Max, very well done to you. So much for you to celebrate this evening. Can we just start by talking about the race, because you had to fight today. How much did you enjoy it out there?
MV:  Yeah, I think Lando and myself, we got eaten up a bit in the start. And, yeah, we lost quite a few positions there because of the Soft runners coming through. And that made it, of course, a bit more difficult. Plus, I think in general, we’re always quite strong on tyre deg, but with two Safety Cars in the Sprint, it’s not ideal, let’s say, for us. So, that definitely worked against us. And also, I was about to pass George just before that Safety Car came out, so, yeah, I had one more lap behind him where I lost a lot of time, because in high speed, he had no front tyres left, or left front. So, it was a bit of a shame. But overall, I mean, it was all about just making sure that we would win it today. That would always be nice for tomorrow. And yeah, I think we had good pace but just a bit, let’s say, unlucky in the race with the Safety Cars.

Q: You say that your car is good on its tyres. Were you tempted to start on the Soft this evening?
MV: No, not at all. I was very surprised when I saw it. Of course, you know, the first few laps, they were flying, but I was like ‘okay, I’ll see you in a few laps.’

Q: And what about the performance of your car relative to the McLaren at the end?
MV: I think it was OK. Yeah, just needed a few more laps, I think, to really see where the deg would go.

Q: And Max, we will have a Champion’s press conference with you immediately after this one – but I did just want to ask, were you aware that Pérez had gone off and the significance of that moment? 
MV: Yeah, I mean, I saw that of course but I was focused on trying to win the race at that point.

Q: Lando, a hard race for you out there, down to sixth at the start, you fought your way through. How tough was it?
LN: It was very tough. Any chance to go backwards I pretty much took!  Just, from the right-side of the grid, which was a lot worse than the left, on the Medium, was just always going to be very, very tough. But yeah, I hung on, the first few laps and then just as soon as you got in the rhythm, had the Safety Cars and so on, the same as the others. As soon as I caught the Ferrari then he had DRS, so I couldn’t get him the first lap, so I was just a little bit like out of rhythm in a way, to get past and keep up with what Max was doing. And then I caught the wet patch in Turn 2, where the guys crashed, so I went backwards again! It’s just not been my weekend in a way, and just made some mistakes here and there, but still fought well and I didn’t think I would get George, to be honest, but the DRS was pretty significant. So I managed to get him into Turn 1 from a long way back and yeah, finish with another double podium from McLaren, which is great. But obviously a big congrats to Oscar and Max. I feel like Max has stolen Oscar’s limelight a little bit, but both deserve it today.

Q: As you say it’s a double podium for McLaren but are you feeling a little bit frustrated at the moment?
LN: It depends what with. With myself, I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated. But with the team, less than ever, you know. The team have done an amazing job. It’s always a ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ but I should have been on pole today. I should have at least had a good chance to go for it yesterday against Max, but I just made too many mistakes which have just cost me. Cost me positions today, cost me positions for tomorrow, I have to start P10 when we have a good enough car to finish in the top three easily. So I’ve just made my life tough, the team’s life tough, when it should be the complete opposite and we should be going from the front. But I guess everyone has those weekends.  This is the weekend for me. It’s just a shame I’m doing it when the car’s as quick as it is. So that’s what makes it more frustrating.

Q: What is it about the car that is proving so tricky for you?
LN: Nothing. Just a lack of talent.

Q: Alright, let’s throw it forward to tomorrow’s grand prix Lando. You’re starting, as you say, P10. What can you do from there? 
LN: I hope a lot! I just need to stay out of carnage. The first couple of corners are pretty sketchy. Depending on what tyres we start on, and so on, but the main thing is staying out of harm’s way the first few laps. We have the pace. I think we have reasonable degradation, maybe not the best, compared to the Red Bulls, but reasonable degradation. So yeah, we want to score good points. I think we have pace to be on the podium but whether we can do it or not from P10 is going to be the question. So, it’s a long race, we don’t know what rules and stuff Pirelli are going to make us do with the tyres and things like that yet, but we’ll find out soon.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Two questions to Oscar please. As Max said, he and Lando got rather eaten up at the start with the soft tyre runners coming through. How did you think you avoided that? And also at the very end when it was two or three laps and Max was bearing down? What were you thinking? Were you pushing flat out at that stage?
OP: Thanks. Yeah, I think I probably got a bit of a better launch than Lando and Max. And then there’s obviously the Safety Car, which spaced everyone out a bit more for me. Yeah, once George got past I thought I was in a lot of trouble, because I tried to stay on the outside of him and it was like he had the grip turned up double. So yeah, that was difficult. And I think staying in front of the Ferrari at Turn 1 was pretty important for me. I think if I had gone behind I would have been in a bit of trouble. So that was a pretty important moment in the race. And whenever you’ve got Max behind you, it’s not the most confidence-inspiring feeling, I’ll be honest. You know, I think the pace was actually probably better than I expected. But yeah, pushing flat out, you know. When there’s two or three laps to go at that point just trying to hang on as best as I could. And the pace was solid.

Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Oscar, congratulations. Can you tell us about the emotions? What was going through your head as you crossed the line? Was it relief, happiness, joy. What were you feeling at that point?
OP: I was obviously happy to win the Sprint. I have to say, it’s a bit of a weird feeling because it’s not a race win. It does feel a little bit strange. But no, very, very happy. I think, you know, it’s just been a really good day. And I felt like, as a race, more than the result, I was really happy with how I managed things. Obviously a difficult race with tyres as well. So, yeah, I think good learning for tomorrow and I guess happy that I executed well. Yeah, and the fact that it gives me a number one trophy at the end is a bonus.

Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Just picking up on the comments about the tyre situation, can I just get your thoughts on what we’re looking at going into tomorrow’s race – a potential mandatory three-stop race? I know the steps have to be taken, but is it a very good look for F1 that we’ve got these question marks? 
OP: I mean, I think today’s Sprint probably we didn’t get the best read on what the tyres are going to do, with so many laps behind the Safety Car. So, I think Pirelli, the FIA need to be sensible going into tomorrow. Obviously if a tyre lets go through the high-speed section… Yes, there’s quite a lot of run-off, but it’s not a very enticing prospect. So yeah, we’ll see what they do. Obviously, it’s not ideal for anybody to be in this position. But I think it’s been at least encouraging that they’ve been willing to try things to keep us safe. Yeah, obviously, it’d be preferable if that didn’t happen in the first place. But you know, there’s not much we can do about that now.
MV: Yeah, I think it’s never, of course, a good look for the sport. But let’s first wait and see what they come up with, with the analysis after the Sprint race, what the findings are. For sure, even in the Sprint race, you could see that there was a lot of deg and the front tyre, especially the front left was wearing a lot. So yeah, it’s very tough around here. Of course, they already changed two corners, in the high-speed corners, which I find quite interesting, like how quickly these things can be changed, when we speak about it, that we want to have track limits changed here and there with a white line or whatever, it’s all very hard. So I think, yeah, that’s also something for the future that we need to speak about, because I think we need to be heard a bit more. And in general, I think tomorrow it’s important, of course, that safety is foremost and that we don’t get any punctures or even worse accidents, so let’s see what happens tonight.