Japanese Grand Prix Top Three Press Conference

Japanese Grand Prix Top Three Press Conference

Japanese Grand Prix Top Three Press Conference

Full transcript from the FIA-hosted press conference after the Japanese Grand Prix, Round 4 of the 2024 Formula 1 World Championship at Suzuka.

Features 2024 Japanese Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing ), second-placed Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) and third-placed Carlos Sainz (Ferrari).

Track Interviews (Conducted by Mark Webber)

Q: Carlos, this champagne feeling is on a bit of a roll, mate. After the tricky weekend, obviously, in Saudi Arabia with the health issue, you’re bouncing back, mate. You’re absolutely on fire. You must be happy with that today?


Carlos SAINZ: Yeah, I had a good race, to be honest. Very happy, because it was quite tough out there with the degradation, but then suddenly the clouds came, the degradation went a lot lower, and suddenly I thought that, yeah, maybe one stop was quicker and we were on the two. I had to overtake a lot of cars out there today and, yeah, overtaking was tricky. Like always at Suzuka, you really need to nail the last chicane to get a good run into Turn 1. I could finish my moves, but it was tough out there.

Q: Yeah, good job, mate. So, running through the compound of tyres, like, how did the race, in terms of… Like you said, the track condition was moving around, but when you came back out after your last stop, did you think you could get all those moves done? You were still a bit nervous until you arrived on them?

CS: Honestly, I thought it was on, but I thought it was going to be very difficult to get back into the fourth or P3. How tricky it was to overtake the Mercedes on the second stint and how difficult it was to follow? I knew I needed a very big delta to approach Lando and Charles, and in the end, we managed. I was quick on that Hard tyre. I really liked how the Hard gave me a good feeling to push. And I could, yeah, get the moves done and get that podium.

Q: Just quickly, Sprint race around the corner in China. Different issues at that track in terms of how the car should perform. But Ferrari looks strong.

CS: I think it’s going to be a tough weekend for everyone. I think going into a Sprint to a track that we haven’t been in four or five years, only one hour of practice, is going to be a challenge. Might be resurfaced also, so it’s going to be a good one. Yeah, let’s get a couple good weeks to keep training and keep recovering, and I’ll get back in China flat out.

Q: Congratulations. Good job, Carlos. Sergio, congratulations. A very, very strong afternoon. It was a tricky weekend to put together, with the qualifying and then the front row, the restart. But it looked like a pretty smooth afternoon for you. Probably not quite enough for Max today, but a brilliant podium.

Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah, it was a good weekend for the team. First of all, I think obviously with the start, doing that restart again is always quite hard to keep the focus for such a long period of time. It worked alright. My second start was a little bit better, but just not enough to get Max. I think we paid the price a little bit because we were a little bit off balance on that first stint, which meant we couldn’t keep it alive. We had to box and we were undercut by Lando. And then I had to push too much on that Medium stint. But then on the Hard stint, I was a lot more comfortable. The pace came back. But yeah, I think I suffered a bit from that first stint, a bit unbalanced.

Q: But you must be very encouraged, mate? The start of the season has gone very well for you. Lots of big points. Second in the championship now, so positive, looking forward to China.

SP: Yeah, definitely. I think we are in a good momentum. I think if you remember here last year, it was probably my worst weekend. So I think if we are strong in places like this with a lot of high-speed content, medium-speed, I think we can be strong anywhere else. And yeah, it’s been a good weekend.

Q: Sergio, congratulations. Max Verstappen, here we are again after a DNF last weekend in Melbourne, but bang, straight back with a pole position and a very, very dominant victory. Congratulations. How was it out there?

Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, it was very, very nice. I think the critical bit was, of course, the start, to stay ahead. And after that, actually, the car just got better and better for me throughout the race. I don’t know if it had to do, maybe, with the clouds coming in. But yeah, very nice. Everything just went really well. Pit stops went well. Strategy, I think, worked out well. Couldn’t have been any better!

Q: Yeah, brilliant reply, mate. You must be just stoked with the team again, coming out of the blocks in a new year, in terms of it being pretty much unbeatable, obviously apart from that reliability in Melbourne, in front of the Honda fans here, as well the Japanese support for you locally is tremendous. So that must be a big feather in your cap this weekend.

MV: Yeah, no, absolutely. You know it was a little hiccup of course the last race but very happy that we are here back on top. Great fans, in front of Honda as well, I mean, it’s fantastic of course to win here.

Q: Just a quick one: returning to China, haven’t been there for a long time. Everyone’s very excited to go back there. Sprint weekend. What are your expectations there in terms of the first Sprint of the year?

MV: Yeah, it’s going to be quite hectic anyway with the Sprint weekend. But then, of course, we haven’t been there for a while. So, yeah, only one practice session to really get into it again. So I think it will be quite interesting.


Q: Many congratulations, Max. Can we start by getting your reaction to the win and the way the race panned out for you?

MV: Yeah, I think it was a very, very good win. It took a few laps to settle in a bit with the car, but I think we made some good changes to the car before going into qualifying, which then helped, you know, today. So, yeah, basically after the first stint, some tiny adjustments were made to the car and that helped me then to feel even more comfortable and whenever I needed to go faster, I could. Whenever I needed to look after my tyres, I could. That’s always a very nice feeling to have once you’re driving. Medium tyres, Hard tyres… Possibly the Hard tyres felt a bit better, but overall, on both sides, I think we were very competitive.

Q: Can we talk about some of the set-up choices you made? Because at one point, your engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, came on the radio and said, ‘I don’t want to say I told you so’. What was that all about?

MV: (Laughing) We had, well, not an argument, but he was like, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ I’m like, ‘yeah, I’m pretty sure’. Turned out to be wrong. So he was right. But in a way, it also fires me up, because I’m like, OK, well, even I’m not entirely happy with the balance now, I’ll still try to be as consistent as I can be without shouting back at him. But we have a great relationship. And yeah, it works well like that.

Q: Max, it was a very dominant win. Were you surprised by the pace of the car? Because you said yesterday that you are unsure about your long run pace.

MV: Yeah, I was not happy up until basically qualifying, but then we did make some changes. And yeah, of course, I cannot go into detail what we did, but it did help today. And yeah, it made it a lot nicer to drive and a bit more under control.

Q: OK, final one for me. Just after the disappointment of Melbourne, is there a sense of relief to get back to winning ways here in Japan at Honda’s home race?

MV: I mean, not a relief, it’s just nice to win, and it’s nice, of course, to win here in Japan. It’s always an important race for us. You know, the fans, of course, we have a lot of support here, and it’s great, you know, to win here in front of Honda, and basically have three cars in the points as well. So, yeah, of course, Melbourne felt like a bit of a hiccup but what we did today, that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we aim to do every single weekend.

Q: Alright, very well done to you. Max, thank you very much. Checo, let’s come to you now. Your third second place in four races. Just how satisfying is it for you to have such a clean weekend here at Suzuka?

SP: Yeah, it started really well yesterday and today we had a good start. Unfortunately, I think we got caught out with the increase of temperature and I think with the balance, we just couldn’t get on top of that in the first stint, which meant that the degradation was a little bit higher and with Lando having two sets of Hards it just compromised a little bit our race more than I wanted to. but I think already on the second stint things were a lot back under control, We were able to get a better read to the balance. And I think by the time we got to the third stint, things were a lot better.

Q: You looked very fired up in the cockpit. And what is it about you and 130R? You passed both Mercedes at the apex of the fastest corner on the lap.

SP: Yeah, it just turned out to happen both at the same time. Spending time around one of the slowest cars, given the degradation they were having, it was quite penalising. So I was just going for it. And it happened at 130R both times.

Q: Nerve-wracking?

SP: No, it’s good fun. It’s good fun to go around there with two cars.

Q: Checo, can we throw it forward quickly? Given the pace you and the car have had here, do you think Shanghai in a couple of weeks’ time will be a similar story for Red Bull?

SP: It’s a bit of a similar track, I’ll say, with a lot of high-speed, medium-speed content. I think if we are able to be fast around this place, we can be fast in many other races, so it should be a good track for us as well.

Q: Very well done to you, thank you. Carlos, if we could come to you now. Very well done to you as well. Max spoke yesterday about Ferrari’s long run pace looking very good. Just how confident were you coming into the race?

CS: We kind of knew our race pace was better than our qualifying pace. Still probably not enough to go for a win because obviously starting P4 and given how good the race pace of the Red Bull is, it’s almost impossible to think about a win, but I was hopeful of achieving a podium that in the end we managed to achieve, even if it was a very tough race, very strategic. The track condition changed a lot through the race. We went from a very sunny track that we hadn’t had all weekend to a very cloudy track. The degradation went down a lot and you could push a lot more on the tyres halfway through the race. And yeah, this changed the whole situation quite a lot. At one point, I thought the podium wasn’t possible, but then with a new Hard, the pace was mega and I could get back onto the podium.

Q: Carlos, can we talk about the progress that Ferrari’s made since we were last at Suzuka six months ago? Strategically, both cars very strong. You’ve halved the deficit to Red Bull over the race distance. Just how satisfying are those two facts?

CS: Yeah, very satisfying. We exactly improved the car in the places that we wanted to improve it, and Suzuka proves it. Still, places like Suzuka, we are not as quick as the Red Bull, which is the target, but as soon as we bring a good upgrade to the car that goes in the right direction, hopefully it can get us closer. But yeah, we’ve improved everywhere, and especially in the race pace. It also allows us to have more strategic flexibility, that last year we didn’t have. It allows me to go forward in the races and instead of looking in my mirrors all the time to offset myself with strategy and then overtake people, which is something that last year wasn’t on the cards at any point. So, happy and makes me enjoy more racing.


Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Max, please. Just going back to how you felt that the race pace might be a bit weaker yesterday, but clearly wasn’t today. Did you reflect on how it was you were driving the tyres or approach that you could make behind the wheel or was it purely down to those set-up changes that you mentioned? Thanks.

MV: I mean, you always look at things that you can do better, but I think overall the biggest change is that we did change the car around and that then just gave me more grip.

Q: (Laurence Edmondson – ESPN) Question for Max. We’ve just been down talking to Toto, and he said that no one’s going to catch you this season. I’m sure Checo probably has a different opinion to that, and maybe Carlos as well. But does it feel that way to you, that this championship’s almost in the bag already?

MV: Lately, Toto has been really nice, saying a lot of nice things about me! No, I don’t know. It’s still a very long season. I don’t want to think about the rest of the season too much. I really want to approach it race by race. I know there will be tracks coming up that might not be so favourable for us, but then, of course, when we do get to tracks where we know that we can be quick, we have to really take advantage of it and score the maximum amount of points as a team, and that’s what we’ll continue to try and do. And then, of course, I think we know that we get to tracks where maybe it’s a bit more difficult we have to try and maximise that as well, where maybe other teams can win as well.

Q: Carlos, can we bring you in on this one?

CS: I think they are definitely going to have an advantage in the first third of the season until we bring one or two upgrades that makes us fight them more consistently, but by that time maybe it’s a bit too late with the advantage that they might have on the championship. In the meantime, we need more Australias! Which I don’t see Red Bull, as a team, making these mistakes very often, no. A shame, because also I missed a race, which for both the team and me, it could be costly in the championship. We’re competing in one race less, but at the same time, We’re going to give it our best shot. It’s my last year in Ferrari also, so yeah, nothing to lose and we will try everything to make it back.

Q: (Ronald Vording – A question to all three, starting with Max, please. I know you’re not a fan of Sprint races in general, but what do you make of the decision, China being a Sprint weekend this year, especially as Formula 1 has been away for a couple of years, so there are a lot of unknowns for all teams, and only one practice session to get it right, basically?

MV: Yeah, it’s very smart to do that. I think it’s not great, let’s say like that, to do that. Because when you have been away from a track for quite a while, I think you never know what you’re going to experience, right? So it would have been better to have a normal race weekend there. But on the other hand, it probably spices things up a bit more, and that’s maybe what they would like to see. But yeah, purely from a driving perspective, performance perspective of the sport, I think it’s not the smartest thing to do. But yeah, we’ll see what we get there. I mean, I always loved driving there. So yeah, hopefully we can hit the ground running as well as we can, and hopefully we don’t need to fine-tune too many things on the car.
SP: Yeah, I just hope that there are no issues with the track, with any drain holes, any issues like that. That will just put us out of sync. But I think for the show, probably it’s good. It’s a good thing. But I think from the preparation side, it’s going to be definitely one that is going to be really hard because, I mean, I’ve never raced there, for example, with Red Bull so it’s going to be quite a lot to do in a single practice.

CS: Yeah, I think there’s two different topics. I think China as a race circuit is a great one. I think it’s one of our favourite ones for everyone. It’s just a great racing track and a track that offers a good possibility to overtake, so a Sprint makes sense to have it there. At the same time, it’s what we said in the drivers’ briefing, we say to FIA and Formula 1, with these kind of cars to go to a track with one hour of practice and straight into qualifying, with the regulations that they put us, with the plank wear and things like this, and how tricky one bump could make the car, I think it’s not a good choice to choose to put the Sprint after four or five years absence. We also heard there’s been resurfacing going on, so Istanbul 2.0 maybe on the cards! Yeah, I hope not. So yeah, it just shows the uncertainty. Maybe for you guys at home it’s exciting, but for engineers and drivers, it’s something that for me, in my opinion, we shouldn’t take the risk and have a normal weekend.

Q: (Jukic Velimir Veljko – Autofocus) It’s about 10 years from the deadly accident of Jules Bianchi. And you are already blessed. You are a very lucky persons. And do you have time to think how indeed your sport is extremely dangerous and how lucky you are that there is no such an accident here and there. Do you have time to think about that and the danger and all this stuff that are on the negative side, but you are avoiding them? We are all lucky. That is so. Thank you.

MV: To be honest of course I prefer not to think about those things. I know of course that the sport can be dangerous but I can also take a shower and slip and break my neck you know. So you have to put it into context. But yeah, I mean F1, you know you achieve high top speeds and anything can happen, you know, a part can break on the car, brakes can fail, a crash, you can roll, you know, you can think about it a lot, but I think it’s better not to think about it too much. But I think we’re all experienced enough and aware that once we go for a move or when we go on the limit of a lap time, you know, that, yeah, a mistake or a crash is, of course, easily done. And of course, you try to avoid these kind of things.

SP: Yeah, I think we are all aware of the risk. But at the end of the day, it’s our passion. We’re here because it’s our passion, our dreams. And yeah, we just don’t think about it. We obviously have a lot of respect for each other on track. We know that we are travelling at extremely high top speeds. And yeah, when you see a shunt like it happened today with Daniel and Alex, the first thing as a driver, as a colleague, is that you want to make sure that they’re fine and then the show can continue. But yeah, it was a very sad day when that happened to Jules, obviously.

CS: Yeah, not a lot to add. Danger is not a thing that goes through my head during my life. I only think about danger when I see a bad accident or, for example, the other day when I did my bike ride and I was going around the corner where Jules had the accident, you always stop for three or five minutes to think about such an unfortunate accident and the bad situation that occurred that day. But we all love what we do. We all have a smile on our face when we put on a helmet and drive to the limit like yesterday. And today at the start, we’re going to Turn 1 at 300, three side by side. Anything could happen, but we’re all enjoying it. And I’m sure Jules until the accident, he was enjoying himself. You know, so that’s life, we’ve elected, this is our choice. What we need to keep doing as a sport is to make sure that everything becomes safer and safer. And for that, we need to thank the FIA. They’ve done an incredible job with the Halo and other things with these modern cars that allow us to think less and less about that danger and risk. And we just need to keep pushing in that direction to be able to take even more risks. That is what we like doing.

Q: (Michael Butterworth – Xinhua) Max, you mentioned just now there’d be some circuits where you’d find things a bit trickier than you did today. Where do you expect those circuits to be?

MV: I think looking at the history so far, street circuits are in general a little bit more difficult for us. I do think that our car has improved a bit, you know, in the low speed. But of course, on a street circuit, it’s not only low speed, it’s drivability, it’s kerb riding, riding over the bumps. So general ride of a car. So these things are still a little bit unknown at the moment of how well we have improved on that. So we have to wait and see.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Sergio, please. There was a moment where you went a little bit wide out. I think it was Degner 2 where you were chasing Max early on. And your whole tyre seemed to go a little bit green as you ran over the kerbs. Just wondered, could you explain what happened there? And how much did that contribute to sort of losing touch?

SP: Yeah, it was quite a tricky corner. A lot of people went out there today. And yeah, I just went in over the kerb and I was just hoping to don’t pick up a damage because it’s so easy with these floors to go off and have a damage. As far as I know, we don’t have any. I just understeered wide and went over the kerb. Once you are at the top of the kerb, it’s game over. You just have to let the car roll, go over it, because it’s better to be over than on top of it. But, yeah, I obviously picked up a lot of dirt on my tyres, which took a lap or two to really clean up, and I lost a couple of seconds with that.

Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Carlos, six months ago, you were sixth here. So what has changed on the car side, but also on the driver’s side, for you to six months later have this strong start of the season?

CS: We just simply improved the car. And yeah, people also might think, you know, I’m in a better moment driving and everything, but the reality is just in Formula 1, a car is very important. also, you know, having a good car. And also this year, I’m in a very good moment. I’m driving at a high level, but at the same time, having a car that just allows you to go a bit longer, allows you to be a bit closer in dirty air and play around a bit more with strategy, just allows you to shine a bit more, you know, and that’s why it’s important in the career of a driver also to be in a car, because last year in the races we looked like we were always going backwards, always defending. We were terrible with tyre management and that was difficult to do good races. This year, suddenly three races, two podiums, a lot of overtaking, a win. It’s a completely different picture. It shows that in this sport that is very important too.

Q: (Nicholas Takahashi– Bloomberg) Last week in Tokyo, we had the Formula E race, and I was wondering if I could ask each driver what you think of FE so far and what that might mean for Formula 1 in the future.

MV: What I like about Formula E is that there are quite a lot of good drivers in there. You might have raced them in the past or you’ve seen them around, so the competition is very high. Of course, a couple of my friends are driving in there as well, so I always keep an eye on it. It’s not a category I would like to drive in myself in the future. It was very cool to see the track in the city but then at the same time there was a proper jump in the track, so i don’t even know who signed that off, he must have been drunk. But yeah it’s a bit odd but I think from the driving and like the racing, they have… I always enjoy it because the talent in the series is very high and that’s of course what I think also makes it more exciting to watch.
SP: I fully agree with Max. I think it’s great to have a series that gives an opportunity to drivers that cannot be in Formula 1 or other series, just to have another series where they can earn their money, live from the passion. I think it’s great to have that. I think as a category itself, we have to respect what they’re focusing into. And I think they’re doing a very good job with the series. So, yeah, well done.

CS: Yeah, I’m just happy that this category exists because there’s so much talent that for one reason or another couldn’t make it to Formula 1 that had the talent to be at a very similar level to the 20 drivers that you see today in Formula 1 that having that category just gives an opportunity to those other 20 drivers to live from their passion, their driving, to battle between themselves. And I have a lot of good friends there that I fought against in different categories. And it’s just great to see that they have this opportunity. And it’s also good racing, as they say. So happy that it exists.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport). A question to Max, please. Checo touched on it earlier, but how did you feel the car was feeling in the much hotter temperature that we saw today?

MV: Thanks. Yeah, I think in general, of course, everything is a little bit more difficult. When it gets warmer, you have a bit less grip. So I think the first few laps you’re really trying to adapt to that. So, yeah, I think overall it worked out, of course, well for us. But, yeah, it’s always a bit more tricky when suddenly the whole weekend you’ve done a certain temperature and then suddenly it goes up a bit.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Carlos, Ferrari seemed strategically pretty sharp in the race. It’s something the team has been criticised on in the past I just wondered could you expand on any work the team has been particularly been doing on that?

CS: think we’ve made progress on strategy over the last three years, progressively, but if you see a jump this year on strategy, it’s purely down to the car. I think just having a car that allows you to have flexibility on strategy is something that last year we couldn’t have. So, we were boxed in to stop at certain laps. We couldn’t extend. We had so much deg that it looked always like people could extend and then come back on us on a harder tyre. Last year, we were just zero flexible and we couldn’t do anything without racing. So it looked like we were not getting the strategy right a lot of times. But when you have a car that is better on tyres, two drivers that can push on the car more often and you have that extra flexibility, your strategy also looks better. And with this, I’m not underestimating the progress we’ve done. It’s just I really think this helps a lot.

Q: (Jukic Velimir Veljko – Autofocus) We just spoke about the dangerous life. And you both, too, have fast fathers and also fathers who live dangerously. Who do you think is more in danger, you when you’re driving or your father? We remember his accident in old times in Hockenheim, the fire and so on. And your father who had also still some accidents in rally. And he’s pushing to the now. Thank you.

CS: Yeah. I personally feel the danger more for my dad than I feel it for me. Also, because he’s 62 and he’s taken so many risks in his life already that I keep telling him, why do you keep going and going and going when you could be at home playing golf with me or spending time with my mum? And he just keeps wanting to do this Dakar and these two or three rallies per year and there’s no chance we’re convincing him of otherwise.

MV: Maybe your mom is happy that he does. She has a bit of free time!

SP: Your mom is like, ‘Yeah, keep racing. Don’t stop. You can’t stop!’

CS: To be able to tame my dad, I think it’s good for him to go and do his thing for three, four weeks per year, especially the Dakar. You know, it’s two weeks per year, and he obviously has to do the preparation. But honestly, I still wonder sometimes, especially the Dakar, you know, they take risks and these rallies, you see some of the accidents, they are impressive, but good safety also, which is positive, but yeah, it’ll always feels like more risk for him than for myself.

MV: Yeah, I mean, my dad started rallying two, three years ago now, so when I see his onboards, I definitely think he is in more danger than me.

CS: You know, last week they were… Two weeks ago, I think it was the Bahrain test, your dad was showing my dad his accident or his moment! So now they’re sharing their accidents and their moments, ‘Look, look! What do you think?’

MV: Yeah, my dad normally likes to blame it on the pace notes. But yeah, I mean, rallying, I have a lot of respect for the people that do the rallying. I mean, it’s really impressive. I think that is, for me personally, because of the trees and stuff… Here we are on a track normally with walls and stuff designed to withstand an impact and stuff. A tree normally doesn’t really move. So, yeah, I think rallying is a bit more dangerous.

SP: Don’t worry. My dad is into politics, so I think he’s more in danger. Don’t be concerned, guys.