1. Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
2. Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes)
3. Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull)
TRACK INTERVIEWS (Conducted by David Coulthard)
Q: Valtteri, I feel for you. You look like you owned the track this weekend. You were setting the lap times for Hamilton to chase. We had the unusual change of you going to the medium tire at the end and again Lewis was just able to pip you?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, obviously at the end we decided to go for the medium, based on just a feeling. Previously in the qualifying the medium actually felt a tiny bit quicker than the soft and that was the reason and then it was choosing if we do two timed laps with a cool-down in between or just one timed lap. With one timed lap you can have less fuel in the car but you might struggle with the tire warm-up. I went with that. It was my decision to go for one timed because it worked in Q2 but apparently it seems like doing two timed laps for Lewis was better.
Q: With the benefit of hindsight, did you feel that on that one timed lap that there was still a little bit more you could have done or was that all you could get out of the car?
VB: It was a decent lap; not perfect. It’s been tricky here to get really clean laps this weekend, as that’s just the way the track is. The lap was good. I think ultimately I should have gone for two timed as well.
Q: Throwing it forward to tomorrow, dirty side of the track for the start, does that mean you’ll be in a slightly more defensive position than attacking?
VB: For sure, it would have been nice to be on the clean side in P1, but I will do whatever I can from P2.
Q: Max, well done. You’re getting attacked by a wasp there but you were trying to attack the Mercedes. It was pretty close, so are you reasonably happy on this circuit how close you get the lap times in quali?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, I think the whole weekend already… This track with the new tarmac at the moment it’s quite difficult to bring the tires in, so it’s a bit hit and miss. I’m happy with Q3, the lap itself was pretty decent – just very difficult to get the front tires and the rear tires to match. Again P3, not too far behind and still a lot to play for tomorrow, so hopefully we can stay close.
Q: Clean side of the grid and we know that is going to compromise Valtteri a little bit off the start. A reasonable run down into Turn 1 but it’s not really a big overtaking corner?
MV: Yeah, exactly, I think Turn 1 is not really a place to dive or whatever…
Q: You tried that already in free practice!
MV: Ha, ha! It was not the intention of course. The start is going to be important but even then we don’t have a lot of information about how the tires are going to hold up, so we’ll just feel our way into the race and see what’s going to happen.
Q: Lewis, nice to have a crowd here for you to wave at for some of these races. A few British flags up there. Your 97th pole position?
LH: Ah, it’s amazing. You’ve got the British flag here, the African flag, the South African flag. I can’t tell you how hard that was today. Yes, we’ve got a great car but you’ve got to drive the nuts off it to pull out a lap and Valtteri has been so quick this weekend. As you’ve seen, he’s topped every session. So I’ve just been digging and digging and digging to find that extra time. At the end there I chose to do three laps, to give me a chance to have a stab at beating his time. I think he decided to do one, so I was like ‘OK, this could provide me an opportunity’ and it worked. That last lap it got better and better as I went through it.
Q: It’s nice of you to recognise what a strong job Valtteri’s been doing, all year in qualifying actually, and he’s rueing the fact that he decided to do one timed lap. Who drives that decision? Was that something that you pushed with your engineer to say ‘look, guys, I need those three laps’?
LH: Yeah, the team were communicating really well with us and they gave us the option basically, to both of us. We had the choice of going on to the soft or the medium and we both chose to go to the medium. He chose to do one lap and I chose to do three, as we had the time, and I got out there nice and early. The tires are very hard here this weekend, we’ve got the hardest of the compounds and getting them to work here, believe it or not, it’s very, very difficult. So that’s why I wanted to have an extra run, just in case the first one wasn’t that great and it worked perfectly.
Q: Just a word on this circuit: of all the pole positions you’ve had, how good was this to drive?
LH: Oh God, it’s hardcore. It’s a really, really hardcore circuit. I’m sure you’ve been around it maybe, but there are places where you can’t see where you are going. You’re looking at the sky for periods of time. Understanding your braking points, there are no references when you’re looking at the sky. It really is one of the most challenging circuits I’ve been too. The surface is strange. I don’t know if the fans know but each surface naturally is different that we go to. This is a very closed, very smooth surface and it doesn’t work the tires the same as Barcelona for example. So, that’s made it incredibly challenging to get not only the front tires in but the rears in. We’ve had times in free practice where the front tires are working but the rears weren’t and we’ve had times where none of the tires are working, so today has been better but the team has just continued to keep their heads down and do a fantastic job so a big, big thank you to them.
Q: Lewis, you had to fight for that one but in the end a tremendous final lap in Q3.
LH: Well, it’s always a fight but I would say this track combined with… the smoothness of the track, the difficulty that we have with these tires and the battle that I’m having with Valtteri is making it harder and harder for me each weekend. He’s been quickest all weekend this weekend, all through practice and even into some of this session. I didn’t know whether or not I was going to get a lap that would be able to compete with his – I was always off a tenth or half a tenth or whatever it is – but the decision I took at the end was what created the opportunity. We were both given the opportunity to choose between the soft and the medium tire, which is kind of counter-intuitive, in terms of going to the medium, because usually we just stay on the soft throughout Q3. But the idea of having an extra lap, an extra chance, an extra stab at getting pole looked good to me so I chose to go that extra lap and I think Valtteri chose the one, but he still did a great job and it was very, very tough and I had to dig very deep. Luckily I think I got the last sector just about right but still it was so close.
Q: Was the track improving throughout qualifying? Was that one of the reasons why you chose to do two laps?
LH: No, it doesn’t feel like there is any track ramp on this track. I don’t know if the rubber is going down at all. It’s pretty much felt the same throughout the weekend, which in terms of grip is not good! But the track is great to drive. It’s just incredibly slippery, even though we have all this downforce. These tires don’t like it here that’s for sure. The medium looked strong. Valtteri did a great job in Q2 with his medium. He looked very quick, particularly in the middle sector. The first lap wasn’t that good on that tire. Luckily the temperatures were just right for the second lap and that was where I was able to make the difference.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you. Yet again, so close to pole position. Talk us through once more, if you would, just the decision to do the one timed lap at the end of Q3.
VB: Yeah, the first decision was obviously which tire we go, but based on what I felt before in Q2, I felt like the Medium was actually a tiny bit better than the Soft tire over the whole timed lap, so went for the Medium and then it was about doing one or two timed. Obviously the benefit going of going for one, you can fuel for just one timed; if you do two laps you have to fuel for two laps, which is more weight, so based on what I felt in Q2 – and it was a good feeling with the tires on a single lap – I went for it again in Q3. Ultimately it was the wrong decision but I think maybe the track temp – I don’t know – dropped slightly or I just couldn’t get the tires to feel quite the same as they felt in Q2. At the end of that lap I was just hoping I could have one more lap but obviously didn’t have the fuel. Wrong call from my side and it is annoying for sure but Lewis did a good job at the end.
Q: You’ve been quick all weekend, fastest in the all the practice sessions. Just give us your thoughts on the track and perhaps just tell us how quickly you got up to speed, and why you feel quite so at home here?
VB: It’s a really nice track. It’s a bit different to many other places, just for the elevation and the blindness of some corners. It’s just consistently up and down really, and some pretty cool corners. It’s nothing new really to have a track that no-one really has any experience of. We’ve had that this year and will have that again next weekend. It’s just really the usual process of looking at the details and going step-by-step. So far it was a good weekend until the qualifying but obviously tomorrow is the day that counts.
Q: Coming to you now Max, can you just sum-up quali for us, and your tire decisions, the conundrum you had at the end of Q3: Soft versus Medium?
MV: For us it was very straightforward. We just committed to Softs for the whole of qualifying. But I think already the whole weekend has been really tricky with getting the tires to work and besides that I think it’s not only tires but also the tarmac is also very slippery. Just one line you can take but overall still good, of course, to be third but confusing throughout qualifying. Did my fastest lap time in Q1 and after that I couldn’t replicate it just because I didn’t have the same grip. Of course, you know the time runs down in Q2 and Q3, you have even less time to do your laps and it just seemed like it was a bit more difficult for us to get the tires in, let’s say, a better window, even though I think in Q3, compared to Q2, it felt a bit better, let’s say, on one timed lap. So, on the very first timed lap. So, it was better but not… for me not personally enjoyable to drive at the moment, with the tires and grip on the track, because, I mean, I was here in January and I thought it was going to be amazing to drive a Formula 1 car. I mean, the scenery, everything is perfect but the grip we have… For me personally, you can’t really push, you’re just driving on ice. It’s a bit of a shame.
Q: What about the pace of the RB16 relative to the two Mercedes. Do you feel you were as close here as you were at the Nürburgring two weeks ago?
MV: Well, I think yeah, we were very close, just a bit difficult to really judge, again, the performance because of tires and grip. I think we have to go to a track again where we have been driving before, y’know, like the last few years, and see where we are – because we have a bit more knowledge there. These kind of events are sometimes hit and miss: sometimes you can do them a bit better than others but still, to be P3 and quite close to them is a good achievement, I think.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question for the two Mercedes drivers. What sort of race are you expecting tomorrow with this low grip surface – and how pleased are you that you’ll be starting on that Medium tire you preferred at the end of Q3?
LH: I don’t really know. I’ve not really spoken to the team about it. I think it’s going to be a very tricky race, particularly when you’ve got the harder tire. It doesn’t really work for several laps. It’s going to be interesting at the beginning. Obviously we lose a little bit of performance to Max and the guys behind on the Softs. Really don’t know what to expect tomorrow. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. That means it’s going to be the hardest day for us all, if it does. Windy and wet, that would really be ice tomorrow if we have that. I just think we have to prepare for all scenarios. If it is dry, restarts will be really difficult with the tires, with the speed that the Safety Car goes, which I won’t comment too much on. Yeah, it’s going to be a tough race, that’s for sure, since we’ve never been here as well.
VB: There’s of course a reason why we qualified today with the Mediums so yeah, for sure happy to be on that tire instead of the Soft. Like Lewis said, we can’t really know how conditions are going to be tomorrow and we haven’t really done massively long runs with much data from all tire compounds, so many unknowns. Hope it’s going to be eventful.
Q: Max, assuming it’s going to be a dry race tomorrow, how much of an advantage do you think you’ll get at the start and on the opening lap, being on the Soft tire?
MV: To be honest, I have no clue at the moment. I hope it does! I think all tires of course will be quite tricky in the first lap, for sure the Medium a bit more. It’s normal, it’s a harder tire, harder to warm-up. I guess we just have to find out tomorrow. That’s nice right? Just build up the pressure to tomorrow.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Lewis, you’ve got an incredible record this season if, even if you trail Valtteri in practice or the start of qualifying, it’s come good when it matters. Is this just a natural evolution for you, through the weekend and through qualifying, or do you hold a bit back until it matters in Q3?
LH: It’s a good question. I don’t lie, I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t hold anything back. I’m constantly… I’ve never personally felt that that’s worked. I remember when I was younger and in lower categories some people tried doing that stuff but I remember trying it when I was in Formula 3 or something like that and it never ended well so that’s never been something that was part of my philosophy. It’s like building a wall; you put one brick, the next, the next and you just continue to improve throughout and there’s a lot of work that goes in the background, trying to fine-tune, get the right perfect setting for the brake bias and the diff and how you attack each corner. It just doesn’t come easy, so I’ve been pushing all weekend. I generally think I’ve been driving really well all weekend. I’ve been really happy with my performances through practice but he’s always been at the top and so I really really had to just continue to dig and continue to believe that I could eventually get there. Yeah, coming across the line and getting the poles, it was a great feeling naturally because I really had to work my socks off for it.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsportmagazin.com) Max and if the Mercedes drivers want to come in as well… It was, for ages, like an unwritten law, that the Red Bull is faster in race pace than in qualifying pace and much closer to the Mercedes cars. Do you think, after the changes in the regulations that we’ve had a few weeks ago, that it’s still the same and you’re closer in race pace than in qualifying pace?
MV: I guess we’ll only find out if we swap cars once, both drivers, and then we can compare but I don’t know. I don’t think a lot has changed to be honest before the rule change and now, so no, that’s just a bit of a guess but I think you can clearly see that it hasn’t brought us a lot closer or further away. Before the rule change…
LH: What do we need to swap for?
MV: We swap cars. You go into mine, I go into yours then we know the comparison.
LH: Of what?
MV: Of the difference between the cars if they actually have become faster in the race compared to qualifying. I don’t know. Maybe we can do like a private test day or something.
Q: Lewis, do you feel that Red Bull are a little bit closer since the rule change about engine modes?
LH: I don’t think so, from my understanding. It’s not changed anything in that respect but in qualifying they had a good upgrade in the last race or the one before that and they have been getting closer and closer throughout the weekend, so this is the closest that we’ve been. We’ve not developed our car or brought any upgrades to our car for a bit of time now so… but yeah, hopefully it continues on this trend and we get closer as the races go and then when we get to the race they are a lot closer in the last race so I was having to seriously push to keep Max at a distance not get into my DRS zone so we should have a good race, particularly in the next six.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Valtteri, I think you posted fastest sector times in all three sectors which gives the best time of a 1m 16.4s which makes it two and a half tenths clear of Lewis. Why do you think you didn’t manage to put it into a lap and can you just clarify if you would have had enough fuel in the car for a second fast lap towards the end?
VB: It’s a difficult track to put everything together because of how slippery it is and just the way the track it. It’s so tricky to nail every single corner on one lap. I felt the lap at the end with medium was OK, it was not perfect. I was hoping for a better lap from my side but also I felt the grip level wasn’t quite as a good as what I had in Q2 with the medium tire. Yeah, at the end of the lap, I was really hoping I would have had more fuel for one more because I knew there could possibly be more to come. Yeah, you know the pace has been there all weekend so for sure it’s annoying but that’s how it is.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Valtteri, just to follow on from that question. You were obviously quickest in every session apart from Q3. How gutting is it, or how does it feel when you are the quickest and then your teammate comes and pips you at the last minute when it really matters to get that pole position?
VB: It is annoying, it’s very annoying after work, but practice sessions being at the top, it doesn’t matter, anything, you know and always I try to re-set the session for me, just focus on the coming one and especially after practice three, we always need to re-set and obviously take all the learnings you can from practice and try to do things even better so it’s annoying that you have the pace… it’s annoying, that’s how it is but quickly I forget that, it’s only qualifying, the race is tomorrow and I know I will have the speed.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) If I could just get some reaction on the drainage cover situation, the delay to qualifying. Are you surprised, all of you, that this situation arose, that they hadn’t all been checked beforehand?
LH: No, not at all. I don’t think it’s an issue and I think naturally they’ve not had a Grand Prix here before. Our cars are the most physically demanding on any track. There’s no car that can replicate what a Formula 1 can do, not even close, I would say, probably, and we didn’t put anyone in harm’s way and they’ve done such a fantastic job, all round, I think, the people who are running the circuit with the FIA and this is just a small bit that was a surprise. No one expected… I don’t think many drivers were in that… went on that part, only Seb was on there. I don’t think I went on that section so yeah, nothing major.
VB: No, probably say that same.
MV: Yeah, it’s just unlucky. It can happen, you know. I think they still did a good job to repair this as quickly as possible and of course it’s about safety so they made sure that it was safe and we continue.