1 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
2 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing)
3 – Fernando ALONSO (Alpine)
(Conducted by Jenson Button)
Q: Lewis, after a faultless qualifying effort yesterday, a great race. It looked really straightforward from the outside, but I’m sure it wasn’t.
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, well, I always like to give a thanks to all the people that came out today, because it’s the first time we’ve seen a crowd here in Qatar, so thank you all for coming. Yeah, it was pretty straightforward. It was pretty lonely at the front. Of course I enjoy those races where you are battling through, but we needed those points today, so a real solid job from the team, just with pit stops, with the car and yeah, I can’t wait to watch the replay of the race to see what happened behind me. I’m not really sure why people’s tires were going, I’m sure it was the curbs. But yeah, I’m really, really grateful for these points. It’s been a hell of a year, so to be at this point of the year and to get back-to-back wins is a great, great feeling and it puts us in good stead for the next two.
Q: I think we all agree that this year is probably going to go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, title fight, between Max and yourself. You’ve got it down to eight points with two races to go, what’s the feeling going into those two races?
LH: The feeling feels good. I’m really, really happy with the car. I feel fit. Fitter than I’ve ever felt, so that’s a positive. A big, big thanks to Ange, who is helping me to train, keeping me on my toes. Recovery has been great, so yeah, bring on the next two.
Q: Max, obviously you always come away with a victory and your main championship rival won the race today, but damage limitation. You also got the fastest lap of the race. It wasn’t too bad a race was it?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, our starting position was a bit compromised but luckily we had a really good start and from there onwards I was quite quickly back into second, so at the end of the day to get that fastest lap was very nice. Of course I know it’s going to be difficult to the end but I think that’s nice, it keeps it exciting.
Q: It’s been quite a controversial weekend for Mercedes and Red Bull, but I’m sure it was nice to get out on track and actually have a proper race out there?
MV: Yeah, it was good. This track is a lot of fun to drive as well. It’s really, really quick. Also degradation-wise the tires were holding on quite well. Yeah, it was cool.
Q: Only two races to go, championship fight, eight points between you, how are you feeling going into the last two?
MV: I feel good, like, it’s going to be a tight battle to the end.
Q: Congratulations Fernando. I think there’s a lot of excitement here from your team Alpine and I think everyone around the world is excited to see you back on the podium. It’s the first time since 2014, Budapest.
Fernando ALONSO: Yeah, unbelievable. Seven years, but finally we got it. We were close a couple of races but not enough. Sochi was the last possibility and yeah, today, honestly I thought to be leading after lap one. I thought with the red tire I thought I could have a go and risk. But yeah, I couldn’t and then with Checo it was very close at the end. But so happy for the team. Also, Esteban P5. A good Sunday.
Q: For us watching it looked like you were really looking after your tires during the race and then pushing on the last four or five or six laps on the tires. It was a real thinkers race today.
FA: Yeah, we planned one stop from the beginning but we never knew how bad was the wear and the degradation. It’s a new race for everybody. But I think it was quite well executed, the race. The pit stop was fantastic. The team was great. The reliability of the car was superb and they deserve it.
Q: Enjoying Formula 1.
FA: I am enjoying and (laughs) F**k, I was waiting so long for this! I am happy.
Q: Tremendous race Lewis, well done. You looked to have it under control from the outset. Is that how it was in the cockpit?
LH: Thank you, thank you. Well, it was just an amazing… these past three weeks have been so difficult for everyone with such big distances between all the races and the team did such an amazing job – particularly these past two races, and today, of course, the race was made a lot easier with the penalties that the guys obviously got for the mistake they made yesterday. That made it a lot more straightforward and yeah, I was just managing the gap at the front and just keeping the car safe and trying to maximize and bring the car home.
Q: Talk us through the start. Was your life made difficult with you being on the Medium tire and the cars around you being on the Soft?
LH: Yes, a little bit. There was a little bit to gain from being on the Soft tire but I generally felt I wasn’t massively under threat. I managed to cover the ground just off the start and after that it was just head down and focused on trying to bridge the gap. I already saw that when I got to Turn 6, Max was already in fourth place, so I knew he was already past my team-mate, and at the time I obviously didn’t know that Valtteri had had such a bad getaway but after that I was just focused on trying to maximize the points for the team. So, I was feeling strong. I think they had relatively decent pace, but I was able to manage the pace, so it was no problem.
Q: And Lewis, any nervous moments for you when your team-mate had the puncture?
LH: No. I mean, I wasn’t… I was managing quite well, I wasn’t on any of the curbs, so it wasn’t a concern for me. I assumed they were coming from people running on the curbs but I was never near any of them, that wasn’t the issue. I’m really, really grateful, as I said, to my team. Big thank you to all the guys, the men and women back at the factories who have been pushing so much over this… particularly this second half of the season, to really try to bridge the gap, to really try and bridge the gap to our competitors. It’s a great feeling but there’s no time to celebrate, there’s no time to rest. We keep our head down and we keep chasing.
Q: You talk about bridging the gap to Max. It’s now down to eight points, having been nineteen after the Mexican Grand Prix just two races ago. How confident are you feeling?
LH: As I said, I feel great. I feel in the best shape physically that I’ve been in all year. So just feel… obviously at the beginning, not particularly that well, so yeah, I feel great, the car is feeling better than ever, and I feel positive going into these next couple of races. I think they should be quite good for our car, so I’m looking forward to that battle.
Q: Max, coming to you, great race by you as well. Given where you started back in P7, how important was this P2?
MV: It was of course very important to try to clear them as quickly as possible. I had a really good getaway and I was already fourth out of Turn 1. Then I think within five laps I was second and yeah, just tried to keep the gap close with Lewis as much as I could, and I think that worked out well. We just didn’t have the pace this weekend to match them. I just tried to follow and yeah, it was alright at the end. I did the fastest lap, which I was pretty happy about. At the end of the day it’s one extra point. Everything counts at the moment but yeah, overall I would say this weekend wasn’t the best for us, but there’s still two races to go and a lot of things can happen still, so we’ll see.
Q: You said you didn’t have the pace of Mercedes today, but when you’d made it into second place, as you say, after five laps, did you at that time think you could challenge for the win?
MV: You obviously have to wait and see a little bit. Quite early on in the race, I saw that was not really on, so I just tried to do the best I could by managing that gap.
Q: And talking of gaps, can we just get your thoughts on the World Championship fight now. Eight points, two to go.
MV: Yeah, it’s exciting. I would of course have liked to make it a bigger gap, but when you don’t have the pace, it’s impossible to do that, so we’ll just try to be better, and come back strong, especially in Saudi on the street track, and then yeah, we’ll see in Abu Dhabi.
Q: Fernando, coming to you, welcome back to the podium. It’s been seven years – just how sweet is this moment for you?
FA: It feels good. Obviously, a long wait from the last podium. 2014, and yeah, happy for this one. I think we executed a good race, one-stop strategy, and yeah, the car was great all weekend long and yesterday in qualifying the pace obviously helped to start at the front. Also, with the penalties of this morning. We overtook Gasly in Turn 2, that also helped our race, to have a little bit cleaner air and yeah, obviously a long wait. Your career sometimes goes up and down. I had wonderful moments two, three years ago winning Le Mans, winning the World Championship in Endurance etc, but obviously coming back now in preparation for 2022, and the new rules and have this podium now, at the end of the year, it feels really nice, and I think we are more ready than what we were 10 months ago.
Q: And how marginal was the one-stop strategy?
FA: I don’t know. I don’t think it was too bad for us. It seems that our car is kind on tires. We did one-stop also in Brazil last week and today I think we had some margin to keep pushing a little bit more, but you never know, and Checo was coming quite fast at the end.
Q: And it’s a great result for the team in the Constructors’ Championship. You’re now 25 points ahead of AlphaTauri.
FA: Yeah. We didn’t expect this. We honestly were thinking of very little points between us here, Saudi and Abu Dhabi but obviously this 25 points and margin makes things a little bit easier for us. But we cannot relax. Anything can happen on the next two events, and we need to keep the focus high and hopefully deliver more points for the Championship.
Q: Do you think you can continue this level of form at the final two races?
FA: I think it’s going to depend on the track layout and the characteristics of the track. Saudi, what we see on the videos, it could match our package; Abu Dhabi maybe a little bit less, even though the new corners may change a little bit what we feel there. I don’t know, I feel positive. I feel that what I saw this weekend on the car made me quite optimistic for the next two.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, we heard you reporting early in the race about some suspected front wing damage. I just wondered, where do you think that occurred and do you think it compromised your pace from there?
MV: Yeah, I think it happened lap one and lap three or something in turns 14 and 15. By trying to follow I just understeered a bit wide and this extra row of curbs, they’re quite aggressive and I saw a few sparks flying, so I think it did damage the front wing a little bit but yeah, it just gives you a tiny bit more understeer but it was not enough damage to really impact the pace difference between the two of us.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Max, you made very quick work of moving up to second place from seventh, made a move inside straight away and then you got round on the outside. Was that one of your best starts, would you say, in Formula 1?
MV: Yeah, it was a very good start, actually. I didn’t expect… I mean, it’s difficult to expect because there were people of course, around me with Softs, but then the two guys ahead of me had Medium tires and it’s a new track, so you arrive at Turn 1 not really having had a lot of experience as well, of what is possible or what can happen, but I chose the right line into Turn 1 and then yeah, the other cars went a bit wider so that was very nice, yeah, it was enjoyable and hectic as well of course, because you have to be a little bit careful not to pick up damage or whatever on that first lap.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Fernando, is this the best performance of your comeback so far or is there another race that you’re equally proud of but just didn’t quite get the result?
FA: I don’t know. Difficult to know. Probably as a weekend in general, this one was the best because Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it was very consistent. Sochi, I think was quite well executed as well. Only the rain at the end stopped us from the podium there. Yeah, I think the last part of this 2021 for sure… it’s another level compared to the first part, so I’m happy with this year of comeback and the preparation into next year is definitely another level now.
Q: (Khodr Rawi – motorsport.com Middle East) Max, you knew today that you were losing your position on the grid one hour and a half before the start of the race. Does such late timing and decision affect your preparation, your own preparation, the preparation of your team or is it OK for you?
MV: No, for my feeling I knew I was going to get a penalty already yesterday evening, so I was prepared for that, so when I saw the result I was not shocked or surprised. Yeah, you just focus, you have to pass a few more cars than you normally would like but luckily it worked out really well on lap one already.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, I wanted to ask you about the pace of your Mercedes package this weekend, it seems to have quite the edge over Red Bull. You mentioned the work the team has done to close the gap. Has it made the difference, that work, in terms of overcoming Red Bull’s previous superiority in higher speed corners?
LH: Yeah, I think we just, as the year’s gone on, we’ve understood the car more, we’ve definitely been able to squeeze more performance out of the package without bringing any upgrades. We’ve not had an upgrade since Silverstone, so it’s quite phenomenal to see the small bits… the increments that we’ve been improving. I think it’s very close between the two cars, clearly, so I think that lines us up for a great battle but yeah, in these last two, I think we’ve just been able to do a better job overall. I hope that we can take this form into those next two.
Q: (Sándor Mészáros – AutoSport ES Formula) Fernando, having a look at 2022 or the years after, if you want to fight for your third world title, it’s highly likely that you have to do a crusade against these two guys. I’m just wondering, based on how they performed this year, what kind of a title fight can you imagine?
FA: Well, it’s difficult to predict what is going to happen in the next few years but yeah, I would love to be in the fight with them and whoever makes a good car next year I think it’s a reset for everybody and it’s up to us to produce a fast car. It’s not like this year, which was a continuation of the last campaign but in 2022 everyone has the same cards so we need to play smarter and hopefully produce a fast car and if we are in that position I feel strong, I feel ready to take the battle and let’s see.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, were you and Red Bull concerned about any punctures late in the race? We heard you on the radio saying pushing, we’re going to get second in any case. And also, just what do you think was the difference between you and Mercedes this weekend?
MV: No, I wasn’t worried about punctures. Everything felt quite alright. Of course the wear around here is quite high with these…. higher with the high-speed corners but I was never worried about it. Yeah, where the pace comes from, if we knew then of course we would change things but just not been our track somehow. You know also these tires, sometimes you nail them, and you get quite a bit of grip; if you’re not on top of it, sometimes you can make bit of a difference as well but clearly the last few races, even races I’ve won, I had a feeling that they were really strong, so yeah, from my feeling, quite a few events where we actually gained points I thought maybe we could have lost points as well. Yeah, we just have to keep on pushing. I think so far we’ve done an amazing job as a team compared to the previous year when they were so dominant and so fast, so for us to even be in this fight I think is very impressive and of course we’re not going to give up but yeah, clearly this weekend we lacked a bit of pace, but every race weekend is different and also not even the right pace, anything can happen during a race weekend as you could see, you know. In qualifying, I get a five-place grid penalty with this yellow flags situation but these kinds of things can happen really quickly and to anybody.