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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands, Lando Norris of McLaren and Great Britain and Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing walk up the track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images) (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Japanese Grand Prix Qualifying Top Three Press Conference

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands, Lando Norris of McLaren and Great Britain and Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing walk up the track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images) (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Full transcript from the FIA-hosted top three press conference after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, Round 4 of the 2024 FIA F1 World Championship, at Suzuka.

Featuring pole winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing); P2 Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) and P3 Lando Norris (McLaren) with trackside interviews conducted by Jean Alesi.

Q: Lando, how enjoyable it is to fight for the pole position for qualifying in Suzuka?
Lando Norris: Always exciting. You don’t get many chances, but we had a good car today. I could fight. I did some good laps, especially in Q3. So I’m very happy with today. It’s always enjoyable here in front of the fans and a good one for us as McLaren. You know, we had a good race her last year. We had a good race last weekend. So nice to still be here.

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Q: Historically, McLaren are always competitive in Suzuka. You are looking to be on the podium tomorrow?
LN: Of course. You know we’ve had a good weekend. We’ve made some good steps forward. We’re trying to catch up to these two Red Bulls but they’re doing a good job, the whole team’s doing a good job, so fair play to them. But we’re working hard and the hard work is paying off slowly, so we’ll keep pushing. But today’s a good start to the weekend. Tomorrow is the main job.

Q: We wish you good luck and I think all the fans are looking forward to the race tomorrow. Thank you. Checo, what do you have for breakfast? Did you eat a lion? 
Sergio Perez: Yeah, it was close today, really close with Max. It felt like a good lap. It was quite tricky out there, actually. Especially closing out the laps it was quite easy to lose a couple of tenths into the last section, into the chicane, So we hooked it in all together, but unfortunately it was just not enough.

Q: With the last run, you were very close to pole position. Did you believe it was possible for you?
SP: Yeah, I think we’ve been really close all weekend, all the way through qualifying as well. And when you are in that little margins, you know, anything can make a difference. I didn’t have a great exit opening up the lap, so probably that could have been the difference, you know, but I think we are in a good position for tomorrow. I think our long-run pace hasn’t been that strong this morning, but we worked quite a bit, so hopefully tomorrow we will be able to be strong.

Q: We have seen some Mexican flags in the middle of the Japanese fans, so we wish you the best for tomorrow. 
SP: Yes, thank you.

Q: Max, well done. It’s fantastic. I mean, to watch you all during the day, this morning, especially in Spoon, we were very shocked at the speed you carried into the corner. But today was tough you for the pole?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it was quite close at the end. I think overall, you know, this track is very sensitive with the tyres, you know, with the tarmac being really aggressive. And when you really want to go to the limit, it doesn’t always work out. But nevertheless, I think, you know, the most important thing is to be on pole. Of course you want every lap to be perfect but around a track like this that’s not always the case. But yeah overall very good day good starting position for tomorrow and of course tomorrow is what counts.

Q: To be with your team-mate next to you for the start, you feel maybe more relaxed for tomorrow? 
MV: Well, I mean it’s great as a team of course to be P1 and P2 and hopefully of course we can keep that going also for tomorrow.

JAPANESE GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing (C), Second placed qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing (L) and Third placed qualifier Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren (R) attend the press conference after qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Q: Fantastic pole, Max. Very well done. Can you start by describing how good those qualifying Q3 laps felt?
MV: I think around here in Suzuka it’s always very nice when the fuel comes out, the balance is more or less there and then you can push flat out. So it’s always very, very nice. And of course with the cars improving every single year, it makes it even better, especially the high speed. It feels really, really cool. So that made it really nice today.

Q: You went quicker on that final lap of Q3, but I did want to ask, did you lose any time coming through 130R when you came across George Russell?
MV: Well, I started to lose time from Turn 13 onwards, so it’s very sensitive around here with the tyres. As soon as you push maybe a bit too hard in Sector 1, you run out of tyres at the end, and that’s what happened to me in my final lap. So that’s why I didn’t really improve a lot. Also, my last chicane, because the front tyres were giving up, I didn’t hit the kerb how it should have been. Let’s say that wasn’t ideal, but it was still good enough. Of course, I always want it to be perfect, but that’s not possible. Luckily, it was still good enough today.

Q: Max, tell us about the conditions out there in qualifying, the wind, the track evolution during the session? 
MV: Yeah, I mean, it’s a lot of flat out around this track. So you gain, of course, a little bit in Sector 1, but it’s not like a second here and there. So the evolution is there, but I didn’t feel like it was massive throughout qualifying. It’s more, I think, just fine-tuning the car and then really risking it all in Q3.

Q: Final one from me. You said yesterday that the competition looked closer here, and that was certainly the case over one lap. Are you expecting it to be this close in the race?
MV: Yeah, I think so far I haven’t been happy with my long runs. I think the pace wasn’t what I would have liked. So it’s a bit of a question mark going into tomorrow because looking at the long runs, especially Ferrari, they look very comfortable. So maybe they were not so quick over one lap today, but they were definitely fast in the long run. So we’ll have to wait and see how that will evolve tomorrow in the race.

Q: McLaren?
LN: Also quite decent. So, yeah, I’m just not very happy with myself, you know, with how my long run was. So then, actually, of course, everyone else looks a bit better.

Q: Very well done today. Thank you, Max. Checo, coming to you now. Great job by you. Just one-tenth shy of Max. How pleased are you with your session?
SP: Yeah, it was, like Max said, everything was on the margin. It was so easy to lose a tenth or two just by over-pushing a little bit in some of the corners. The amount of energy that we put into the tyres around here, it’s quite high, so it was quite difficult just to get the perfect lap nailed. It was close. It was close today, but I think the whole weekend has been good. We’ve made some good progress. We managed to keep that consistency through the qualifying. And now, yeah, let’s see what we are able to do tomorrow. I don’t think we are looking great at the moment in our long-run pace, but we’ve done some changes and hopefully that will translate into a better race pace.

Q: Checo, you say the whole weekend has been good. You seem much more comfortable in the car here compared to last year where you were eight tenths off Max in qualifying. What do you put that down to?
SP: Like Carlos would say, we stopped inventing. We were playing around with the car far too much and just going through it and I think now we have a much better base. We are a lot happier, and the weekends just progress. And I think when we came here last year, we were at the stage of our season where anything was working. And when you are in that, you just go around circles and circles. And then we found out in the end, towards the end of the year, that it was better. just step back and don’t try to chase it too much with the set-up because then you start compromising other things. And I think that’s been the case for this year. So yeah, I’m a lot more comfortable, a lot more happier and the confidence is slowly coming back.

Q: Very well done. Thank you. Lando, coming to you now. Best of the rest today, just two tenths shy of pole. Did you expect to be that close coming into qualifying?
LN: Closer, but probably not as close as we were today. It was close between many people, you know, us, Mercedes, Aston, Ferrari. They didn’t seem to have quite the advantage as the last few weekends. So between eight cars, we knew it was going to be tricky. So to come out on top, behind the fastest two, I think is a good job by us. So I’m happy. It was tricky to put in the good laps, but my two Q3 laps I was the happiest with, which is always a good bonus. And two tenths is not far away. I think if we kind of look back to where we were last year we were even further away, I think five tenths off of pole. And this is the first track we’ve come back to, which is where we had our upgrades last season. So I think it’s our best comparison of how we’ve improved over the winter and we’re quite a bit closer. So I think that’s a very good sign.

Q: You’re quite a bit closer compared to the opening three races as well. Is that track specific or have you found something on the car this weekend?
LN: The car’s exactly the same.

Q: What about the race then? What can you do about the two guys sat next to you?
LN: I don’t know. There’s not a lot to do. You know, first lap, try and get a good start. Obviously last year I was side by side with Max into Turn 1. So hopefully trying to redo that. But it’s tricky. They’re quick. They complained about their race pace, but I don’t think they’ve had a bad race in the last, four or five years, so I think they’re going to be good tomorrow. Of course we’ve got a lot of pressure from behind so we have to keep an eye on the mirrors. But at the same time I want to go forward and I think we have pace to stay where we are, so that’s my goal.

Q: What about going forward though? Do you think this is your best chance in recent memory of at least beating one of them?
LN: I’ll say yes. It’s so tricky. Sergio’s doing a good job, so that’s one much harder car to kind of keep up with. But we proved last year when we were further away from them that we could keep in touch and not be miles behind. So that will be our target for tomorrow. But I think realistically, we’re still too far away to challenge them. They’re too quick for us. Yes, we are quicker in quali, but in the race, normally, they always pull away a bit more. So, I think we’ll be realistic. I’m always realistic when I say it. So I think our competition’s with the guys behind. And at the same time, I’ll do my best to push forward.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR 

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing (R), Second placed qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing (L), Third placed qualifier Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren (second from left) and Jean Alesi (second from right) pose for a photo in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Lando, please. You said that the two laps in Q3 were your happiest in qualifying, but could you just explain the difference between the two, between Run 1 and Run 2? Thanks.
LN: Kind of like they both said, Sergio and Max, as soon as you push that little bit more, you pay the price just that little bit. And it’s such a fine line between over-pushing and under-pushing. So I was very happy with my first lap that I did, so Q2, Run 1. So I was happy to try a few more things to try and unlock something more. It was still a good lap. It was, what, eight hundredths or something off my first. But just a couple little bits, mainly Sector 1, where I just try and push that little bit more. But as soon as I pushed that little bit more, I just lost the front tyres a bit. And so easy to go over the limit. So apart from that, I gained in some other corners. Clearly not enough to kind of make a two-tenth jump or something that I really needed. So, yeah, they’re just both good laps, both pretty similar. Just one was better than the other.

Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) A question to Max and then Checo can add if he wants to. Are you, first of all, surprised to see Ferrari not up here because normally they are quite quick over one lap? And secondly, if we look at the long run, do you have any idea, any clues why it’s been more difficult this weekend to find a balance as you wanted to? Is it related to finding your way with the new upgrades on the car or is it related to missing FP2 and missing some data to analyse overnight?
MV: Yeah, I mean, I cannot look inside the Ferrari garage to see why that is. But it’s quite obvious that then in the long run they seem quite competitive. So, yeah, I mean, we’ll see tomorrow, of course, why that is or if it actually is the case like that. From our side, yeah, I have some ideas of what we have to look into to make tomorrow better, and that’s also what we already changed after FP3. So hopefully that will be better for tomorrow. I mean, our race place is still not too bad, but it’s not how I have been feeling in some of the races this year, last year, as comfortable, let’s say, like that. But hopefully with the changes that we made, it will be better.

Q: Checo, anything you can add about qualifying? 
SP: Same.

Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) The slightly cooler conditions compared to when we normally come here in September of each year. How has that changed things for you guys? Is it more favorable? How does that change your approach in the car?
SP: It’s more fun because it gives a nicer time over one lap, I think, to the tyre. And also, you don’t have the sun on your face, which around here it’s a nightmare. Going into some of those high-speed corners with the sun on your face is really hard to really nail it. So, yeah, in that regard, it was good. Degradation-wise, I think this place is… You put so much energy into the tyres that it makes no difference.
MV: Yeah, I think it also looks nicer with the cherry blossoms and it’s nice for the pictures. It makes also more sense, I think, around this time of the year to be here when we anyway have Australia, then now here, Suzuka, and then China. The only thing maybe is that to put Suzuka and China back-to-back will be a good idea for the future. And then maybe also add in Singapore. But, yeah, it’s nicer. There’s always naturally a bit more grip when it’s colder. And I think that especially on a track like this where it’s very heavy on tyres, it’s always a bit nicer like that.
LN: I don’t have much to add. It looks nicer, yes. I think it helps us a bit more, honestly. Our performance is better, so I’ll take it. I wouldn’t mind a bit of sun on my face. Checo is nice and tanned, and I’ve lost mine a little bit! I think it’s helped us, so I would say it’s better this way.

Q: (Joost Smedema – NOS) In the beginning of the weekend, you told us that the team would change some of the procedures to prevent something that happened in Australia with the brakes. Could you give us some more insights in what has changed since last weekend compared to this weekend to prevent that?
MV: A bit more of a supervising role maybe to double check some things but of course also some things that you change on the car. You know here and there it’s a bit of a rush job sometimes when you want to change in between FP1 or 2 or overnight. Sometimes it can be some big things that you want to change and you run out of time because of a curfew or whatever. Yeah, so basically just make sure that you double-check stuff because everyone is always very pressured and you don’t put the blame on one single person. But it’s always nice that there is a guy that maybe just goes after a few things and then some more things are coming. But it’s just basically more to just double-check stuff in general.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) To the two Red Bull drivers. How does the car feel with the upgrades that have gone on this weekend compared to the first three races? Thank you.
SP: Yeah, I think it hasn’t changed much the characteristic. I think we just improved. We got a better car. I think for now it’s… Probably this track, it’s hard to see the upgrade, because it’s more biased to other circuits. So I think from that point of view, we got to wait a couple of races to really learn from it, from that package.
MV: Yeah, I mean, it’s always very difficult to say when you haven’t run the previous package here as well. But, I mean, naturally it should be a step forward, so we, of course, take it. And, yeah, we just work from there, you know, try to understand it more and try to optimise it even more. Thank you.

Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Another one to Max, but the other two can add if they want to. But you’ve said before that you prefer, just from a driving point of view, the old specifications of car, the 2021 car. But how is it around a lap of Suzuka? Because this is a lot of high speed and the ground effect cars are actually quite good in the high-speed corners. So how does it compare the 2021 car and the car you have now around Suzuka?
MV: Yeah, high speed is quite good with these cars, but in the low speed, it does feel like a boat. But yeah, luckily there are not too many low-speed corners around here. And actually, I think in a fun car anyway, like high-speed corners are more fun. Yeah, the old cars were a bit more agile, but this car definitely generates a lot of downforce in the high-speed corners.

Q: (Sándor Mészáros – AutoSport ES Formula) Max, your long-time chief mechanic, Lee Stevenson, has left the team. Chief mechanics are unsung heroes. So can you please elaborate a bit on the importance of a good working relationship with the chief mechanic?
MV: Yeah, I mean, I have a very good relationship with Leroy already from my start at Red Bull from 2016 onwards. And he was my number one, I think, until the end of 2020, if I’m not mistaken. Yeah, it’s been a while. We’ve had a few good years. And then he moved into a bit of a different role where I think initially was a bit more based at the factory. Then he came back to the track and a bit more like sharing duties as a chief mechanic. And then he got a great opportunity at Sauber, and I don’t blame him for trying something new. Yeah, I mean, we’re still good friends. We have shared a lot of great moments together. And yeah, sometimes in life, you get opportunities and you maybe go a bit out of your comfort zone. You try something new. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back, right? So, so good.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) There was a lot of chat on Thursday about Fernando’s tactics in Melbourne and what might have been over the line or acceptable for you guys. What was discussed in the driver’s briefing yesterday, can you tell us? And is there any clarification on what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable?
MV: We had a short briefing. It’s good. No, I think everyone’s a bit tired. Yeah, tired of it