Full transcript from the FIA hosted press conference after qualifying for the United States Grand Prix, at COTA, Round 18 of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship.
Featuring top three: pole winner Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), second-placed Lando Norris (McLaren) and third-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes). Parc Ferme interviews conducted by James Hinchcliffe.
Q: Charles Leclerc, 21st pole position here in Formula 1. You seem to really excel on these Sprint weekends. What is it about this format that you love so much? Charles Leclerc: I don’t know. I think as a team we did a great job. I mean, we know that in the Sprint weekend it’s more important than ever to have a clean FP1. We did. We had a good FP1. We started with a strong basis thanks to the work the guys have done to prepare this weekend, with the car straightaway feeling good. And yeah, then I was feeling good and the lap, I was happy throughout qualifying. The last lap in Q3, there was a bit of mistakes here and there. But I think it wasn’t easy for everybody. So yeah, really happy. We’re starting on pole for Sunday.
Q: Obviously, pole, best seat in the house for the start on Sunday. But at the same time we’ve seen even pole position is not immune to the chaos here at this very inviting Turn 1. Are you thinking about that at all going into the start after what happened to Carlos last year? CL: I mean, of course, into Turn 1 it’s always tricky here. But at the same time, it’s always better to be starting in the front rather than being in the back. So I’m really happy and I love this track. I love the vibe that is around the track in the city and in the country. So it’s great to be here.
Q: America loves Ferrari. Charles, congratulations. Lando, so that turnaround in form for McLaren continues. You said before the weekend that this track might not suit you guys the same way that we saw in Japan or we saw in Qatar but it doesn’t seem to have slowed you down at all – P2. Lando Norris: Yeah, I’m happy it’s been a good day. Like you said, probably not expected from the end result, so a good bonus for the whole team. I didn’t make as many mistakes as I made last week, which is a good thing. I think we had it today. I think there was enough in it to get pole. I know Charles said he made a few mistakes, but so did I, so it’s a bit of a shame. That one opportunity maybe we missed again but I’m still happy nevertheless.
Q: You’re starting maybe not on the clean side of the race track but Turn 1 here is very wide. We’ve seen a lot of action in Turn 1. In fact, I think P2 leads out of Turn 1 and over that first lap more often than not, so are you going for it in Turn 1 trying to take the lead? LN: I mean, it’s different every year. But like you said, you never know. That’s always the thing here in COTA , you never know what can happen. But we’re in a good position. Charles is normally a good starter, to be honest, so it’s going to be difficult to get him off the line. But we’re in almost the best position you could ask for Sunday, so I’m happy with that.
Q: Still got to get through the Sprint, but going for four podiums in a row on Sunday. Congratulations. Lewis, you seem to just love racing in the States. You’ve only been off the podium once here in Austin. What is it about this place that you love so much? Lewis Hamilton: I love being in the States. Look at this weather we’ve got. It’s such a beautiful country and this circuit is just incredible. It’s one of the drivers’ favourites, definitely one of my favourites. This is right up there with Silverstone. It really is a legendary layout that I think every driver finds really tricky. It’s bumpy, incredibly challenging, each section. So yeah, these guys, I have to say a big thank you to everyone back to the factory, they’ve been pushing so hard to you know, improve our car and we have taken a bit of a step closer to these guys this weekend. Which I know everyone’s working so hard for. So I really do appreciate all their efforts and unfortunately they are still a little bit ahead, but we’ll give it another shot tomorrow.
Q: These updates really seem to be working, so huge credit to the team for all the progress that they’ve made. Now, this race has never been one in 10 years from off the front row but with those upgrades, with the pace that you’ve shown in practice, do you guys think you can be the first ones to take home that trophy from row two? LH: I’ll give it my best shot for sure. And with this crowd I think anything is possible, so we’ll give it a go.
Q: Charles, what a qualifying session for you, you improved on every lap, how good was the car. CL: So from the first lap, we built up the confidence. I built up the confidence with the car and I felt good straightaway. So then in qualifying, I tried to put everything together. The first lap in Q3 felt quite a bit better than the second lap. But I think there was a bit of track improvement. And the second lap was good enough for pole, even though we are on track we got beaten by Max, but his lap time was deleted later on. But very happy anyway to be on pole. It’s a surprise for us, we definitely did not expect to be fighting for pole position here.
Q: Well, how confident were you coming into the session? What did you think was possible after practice? CL: I don’t think anymore. I stopped thinking a long time ago, because this year, I cannot quite understand where we are. Yeah, it’s very difficult to anticipate where you’re going to be during the weekend. So for now, we are just focused on ourselves. The car felt good. So yeah, and then I was positively surprised anyway, because even if everything felt really good, I did not expect to be fighting for pole.
Q: You and the car were point six off pole last time out in Qatar, so what is it about this Circuit of the Americas race track that suits the car so well? CL: It’s very bumpy here. And the car definitely felt good on bumps today, which gives you quite a bit of confidence to push in all the high speed, which normally is our weakness, but maybe because our car was good on those bumps, we could at least match the others. And then our car was strong in the medium and low speeds. So again, it’s very difficult to understand where you’re going to be coming into a weekend. But for some reason, this weekend, we are the strongest until now, which is good.
Q: Bumpy track, just like Singapore? CL: Yeah, but very different characteristics. But it’s a good sign. I think we’ve learned a massive amount since the start of the second part of the season. We haven’t brought massive upgrades since then but we learned how to maximise our car. And that helped us to be a bit more regularly at our 100%. And today is once again the proof. So it’s a good time for the future.
Q: Lando, let’s come to you next. Now, you’ve been talking down your chances coming into this weekend. So is this result, P2 in qualifying, unexpected? LN: No, I think when you realise where Max probably should have been in terms of overall pace, I still think the Red Bulls probably close to being the quickest. And I didn’t expect to beat Ferrari, so I think we’re in probably the position we expected to be. Probably closer to pole than I was expecting. I think there was still that little chance to potentially get it today. So probably similar to Charles, you know, pleasantly surprised to be sitting here in the top three, first of all, but then especially in P2. So a good day for us. A little bit surprising, you know, because we know mainly the slow speed is a normally a big weakness for us, and there’s less high speed here comparing to Qatar and things like that. So I’m happy with today.
Q: Only that one set of new tyres in Q3. Had you had two sets of new, do you think pole position was possible? LN: Silly question. You don’t know that. If I just did a good lap, maybe then that could have been pole. I just made a few mistakes. I’m sure a lot of people made mistakes today. It’s not an easy track to put it all together just bad tarmac in areas and slippery and wind in certain corners, bumps. So I think just a lot of things going on, so still to be sitting here, I’m happy with that.
Q: Well, looking on the bright side, the car starting second has led the opening lap here in four of the last five runnings of this Grand Prix. LN: Cool.
Q: A little bit more confident going into the race? LN: No, it doesn’t change anything. I don’t like these stats, they don’t mean anything.
Q: Alright, well, have a good 100th race. Lewis , let’s come to you. Great session for you as well. You were up there throughout. Just how do you reflect on qualifying? LH: Yeah, good session for us. Really grateful for the improvements that the team have made with the car. Everyone’s worked so hard to bring some upgrades and for us to be this close to McLaren and Ferrari and even the Red Bulls. I think it’s a showing of just how hard everyone’s worked.
Q: Where does the car feel different with these upgrades? LH: The car it feels almost the same. It’s just levelled up in pretty much everywhere.
Q: And you have a fantastic record here. You’ve only been off the podium once. How do you rate your chances of winning this Grand Prix on Sunday? LH: Too early to say. None of us have done any long running. So I have no idea. Maybe with the Red Bull not in the top three, maybe that makes it a better, closer battle maybe, because they’re often quite a bit ahead and just disappear into the distance. So hopefully the three of us can have a tight battle.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Charles, you said the first run in Q3 felt quite a bit better, but you still managed to go faster on the second run. So I just wondered, could you talk us through it? And how did it feel behind the wheel? CL: I mean, the first one was much cleaner. I put more or less everything together. The second lap was a bit more let’s go for it and see what happens. And when you have this kind of mentality, then you have a bit more mistakes. But all in all, I gained more by taking risks than what I’ve lost with a small mistake. So it was just a bit more difficult to put everything together once I started really pushing in that last lap, but it paid off. So I’m happy.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Charles, it looks like from the outside, you’ve been more comfortable or at least more able to exploit the car since the upgrade in Japan. Is that right? And if so can you explain in what way that is? CL: Well, all in all, it’s exactly what I’ve been complaining about since the beginning of the season, where we have a car that is very inconsistent, once we get oversteer, we lose a lot of overall grip and this upgrade was exactly for that. And that helped us or that helped me to gain a bit more confidence and to set up the car in a way that I prefer. And to have a bit of a stronger front, which normally is something that I enjoy. So yeah, I just feel more at ease with the car since then. But there’s still quite a few races left. And there’s still quite a lot of work to do. So we need to keep pushing, but we did some steps forward for sure.
Q: (Sahil Kapur – NBC News) A question for Lewis. You’re only 30 points behind Checo for second in the championship. You’ve just out-qualified him again. Given the full context of the season and the difference between your cars, how much if anything would second place in the championship mean to you this year? LH: I mean, all of us are pushing to finish first. So I think it will be just a showing of really, you know, resilience and strength and depth from our team. I think we had a difficult year last year. And even with the start to this year, we didn’t expect to be where we are. So to be fighting for second in the Constructors and obviously trying to hold that position to these two guys. And, yeah, I mean, I don’t know whether or not we’ll catch Sergio but given the difference of our cars throughout the season, I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done. We’ve just got to keep our heads down, keep fighting, keep pushing. There’s a lot of, like Charles said, they’ve have a lot of work to do, as we do. So it’s a race for development and it’s who can get the top of the mountain first for next year, I guess.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Charles can you explain what happened on the radio when you were informed about Max’s time being deleted? Did you think that it was your lap that got scrubbed? And how much of a threat do you think Max is still going to be from sixth on the grid? CL: I just had a heart attack, because my engineer told me track limits and then… for Verstappen. And when I heard track limits, yeah, I punched my steering wheel and my helmet, and then I heard for Verstappen and then I was ‘OK, that’s a better news for us’. So no, that’s why I, in the moment, I just said to Xavi, ‘please tell me the name before the track limits, just so I don’t get too excited’. And that’s it.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) And Max in the race? CL: Oh, for sure. As always, but Red Bull is always very strong. And obviously Max this year is always on it. So yeah, for sure he will be a threat and up there tomorrow (sic).
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Lewis, this is for you, James Allison was talking about this upgrade that you’ve got this weekend as being a kind of signifier for next year. Can you tell us whether it’s given you sort of positive vibes? And if so, in what way? In that context? LH: I don’t know really if it’s a signifier of anything for next year. As we continue to experiment, we get more and more knowledge of where we are going, where we are routing the flow of the car. The floor is not a huge amount different, so it’s… There’s always hype with someone’s upgrade, but the rest of the car is exactly the same and there’s lots of areas in which we can improve. But this is an improvement. This is one of the first upgrades that I’ve actually felt over the last two years. So that’s, that’s a positive and we just need two or three times this step to put us in, you know, super competitive mode, which I believe the guys can do.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lando, you said earlier you had the chance to take pole today. I just wondered, was there any particular moment that you felt cost you and what happened? LN: Yeah, Turn 11, that’s where it all went wrong, I think the rest… maybe a little bit the last corner. Turn 11, we’ve been struggling a little bit with just consistency of car and braking performance. And the car just turned a bit better than I was expecting. And I mean, I braked later, but then the car also rotated better. So I was expecting to almost miss the apex a bit more. And I ended up just clipping the kerb. And when you clip the kerb in 11 it’s the run the whole way down the straight that you lose. So it’s just a half a tenth mistake initially, because you get on power a bit later. But then because you get on power later, you lose easily another half a tenth or sometimes more all the way down to Turn 12. The rest of the lap, apart from maybe the last corner was, I think, very strong. I was very happy with Turn 1 and Sector 1. Just two places I feel like I probably lost it today.
Q: (Sahil Kapur – NBC News) I just wanted to ask all of you, if you can reflect on coming to race in the US over the last four or five years, how this fan base has grown so much. How your experience has changed? CL: It changed a lot. I mean, especially for me, but it’s not really fair to do a compare. I mean, five years ago, it was my second year in Formula 1 maybe, but also Formula 1 was not as known as what it is today in the US. So the change is massive. In Austin, we could go around and nobody would recognise us. Now it’s a bit more difficult to go around. But it’s a good thing. Formula 1 is growing everywhere. And I think where we felt the most difference is definitely here in the US. LN: Not much more to add. I guess I’ve been here since 2018, since I made coffee for Fernando – 2017 or 2018. So it’s changed a lot, just the atmosphere. I mean, the people are great, the fans and you know, the energy that everyone brings is always very good. I enjoy coming here. I enjoy the week here, there’s plenty of things to do, plenty of nice golf courses and things, you know. So it’s good fun, good food. But it’s grown massively. And a lot of it’s down to, of course, Netflix and things like that. So for that to be happening and even like the Netflix event we got in Vegas is going to be cool. So plenty of things have come from just F1 getting closer and I know it doesn’t look it always when Max has dominated like he has, but I think for the rest of it, you take the Red Bulls out of it, the battle you would have between Mercedes., Ferrari, now us, Aston at the beginning of the year, I think it would be a very, very exciting season. And I think that’s exactly what the fans want. So I’m sure it’s only going to continue to be like that the more we as teams improve. LH: Yes, it’s an incredible community that we have here, I think. I mean, I’ve been here since the beginning in 2012. Already back then we had an amazing crowd. But there’s a different… I think the people that were coming were more so new to it, maybe. But there’s just a different energy, a different excitement, even bigger than before, and it’s growing every year and it’s something that you can really feel and it’s great to share that love and that passion for a sport that you’ve grown up with for so long with this great country.