The top 3 finishers in the 2023 Belgian GP Sprint Race met with the media to answer questions – Verstappen (Winner), Piastri and Gasly
1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing)
2 – Oscar PIASTRI (McLaren)
3 – Pierre GASLY (Alpine)
(Conducted by Naomi Schiff)
Q: Max, congratulations, you are today’s Sprint winner. Once again, unstoppable. But the start didn’t seem so simple. You chose to opt to stay out and only come in for Inters on the second lap. Was that the wrong call?
Max VERSTAPPEN: No, I think it was just a safer call. I mean, I could come in first, but I might be blocked by other cars, there might be a Safety Car and then you lose-out massively, so, I didn’t mind to stay out. I mean, we lost one position, but we know that we are quick and I think that you could see that when we put the Inter tires on. We were flying. So it was OK.
Q: We heard you mention on the radio that you were struggling to wake-up your brakes. However, you still had a lead of over six seconds at the end. So, how much of a struggle was that in the car for you?
MV. No, we were just trying to get an even split on the brakes. But it was all under control, the car was quick. Tires were holding on. Just tiny, little issues.
Q: Well, tomorrow you start down in sixth. Was there anything to learn following Oscar yesterday in these conditions from behind first place?
MV: I don’t know. I mean, I need to pass a few cars ,so I think the biggest risk is just lap one, Turn 1. All these kind of things. Everything is always very tricky there. As long as we stay out of trouble, I think we’ll have a quick car.
Q: Oscar, congratulations, you lead some Formula 1 laps for the first time in your career. First of all, tell us, how are you feeling?
Oscar PIASTRI: Very, very happy, we tried our best. We boxed when the Safety Car came in, led a few laps, tried my best but we were no match for Max. Nice to be up there in P2. I think, apart from Max, our pace was really strong, so full credit to the team again. The last three weekends we’ve had, it’s been pretty special, compared to where we have been. So, I can’t thank them enough for the car. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do – clearly – to get right to the top, but it’s a lot nicer to be up there. To lead my first laps was a day I won’t forget.
Q: Well, you’re 22 years young in your rookie season in Formula 1. You’ve led those laps, and then you have the pressure of two-time World Champion Max Verstappen behind you. What was that feeling? And, at that moment, did you feel the Safety Car was going to play in your favor, or against you?
OP: I thought the Safety Car was going to be in my favor – it meant less laps to try to hold him behind, but I looked out of Turn 1, I felt like I got a decent restart, I looked at the top of Eau Rouge and he was basically on top of me already. I couldn’t keep him behind on the straight. Clearly, we have a little more work to do, but I’m very happy to get the good points. First… I would say podium but I don’t really know what this is… so first top three in a sort-of race. I’ll enjoy it and hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow.
Q: Pierre, congratulations, you can hear the support of your team behind here. Just how are you feeling after a run of quite a few tough races for you and Alpine?
Pierre GASLY: Well, yeah, I must say, it feels amazing. I’m extremely happy to finish in the top three, especially here in Spa, which feels some kind of home race for us without the French Grand Prix. So, it was a very, very difficult conditions but no, I’m extremely happy. We pitted at the right time and managed to hold off Lewis until the end, so it does feel very special to do it here as well in Spa and obviously, I have a thought for Anthoine. I’m just extremely pleased for the whole team because it hasn’t been the smoothest start to the year and managed to put things together here today.
Q: Well, it was a 50/50 split between those who came in for Inters and those didn’t. For you it seemed to work in your favor – but towards the end of the race you had the pressure of Lewis Hamilton closing down on you. How hard was that to deal with in these tricky conditions?
PG: Yeah, I must say I gave it everything. I could see him coming back, getting closer and I was just trying to focus on my driving, making clean laps, one after the other. It wasn’t easy, the tires were degrading, and I just gave it all and it paid off. I’m just super-happy for all the guys and I will go for it again tomorrow.
Q: Max, very well done to you. Another Sprint race win in the bag. What were the biggest challenges for you out there this afternoon?
MV: I think just to make the call when to pit. I said already to the team, I know we can pit straight away. It’s very risky in case of having all the cars come in as well, who would pit behind me, and then of course you have to hold your car, or a Safety Car lap one, you never know, that can happen quite often in these kind of conditions. So, I think we just took the safer option to at least do one lap. Maybe there would be a Safety Car and you’re unlucky. There wasn’t a Safety Car so I knew I wouldn’t lose out, because the extreme tires are a lot slower around here than an Inter. So yeah, we did the pitstop. I had a little wait as well for the Ferrari, and I came out behind Oscar and then of course I knew I had to get by him at some point. I could see that within two laps, he was already struggling a lot more with the tires. Like they were just overheating more and then I guess with our top speed as well, I had a good run after the Safety Car.
Q: Max, how much fun is it to be racing someone new? Some fresh blood, if you like?
MV: Yeah… first time? It’s always good. I mean, I’ve been in that position as well, where the younger guy comes in. It’s nice, and it’s great also. I think Oscar is having a very strong season in general, but I think also this weekend he has been really on it. It’s always nice to, for the first time, basically, race.
Q: Max, you’ve won the race – but good was your car and how much confidence does it give you ahead of the grand prix itself tomorrow.
MV: yeah, car was quick. We knew already over one lap we were anyway not bad, but also in the race it seemed like we were quite good on keeping the tires alive. So hopefully, we can do the same tomorrow if it’s dry. But tomorrow, of course, I’m starting a bit further back. I need to be careful to not have any damage on the car. And as soon as I have a clean lap one, I think from there onwards, yeah, we can move forwards.
Q: One more question from me. Can we just get your thoughts on the Safety Car formation laps and the rolling start?
MV: I think the rolling start was a smart thing to do in these kinds of conditions because I think nobody could really see what was happening in front, and especially on the new tarmac around here, there’s a lot more standing water, so I think it would have been quite dangerous out of Turn One and through Eau Rouge, and I don’t think you want that when all the cars are super-close and there is a little moment. So, I think that was a good choice. I think we could have raced a little bit earlier – maybe two laps earlier – but again, I prefer to do it like this than go out there when it’s unsafe and they release us. So, it’s OK.
Q: Oscar, many congratulations, your first top three finish in Formula 1. What a moment for you.
OP: Yeah, it was a good Sprint. I think it was pretty obvious for us to box on the first lap. Obviously, we had the same risk as Max of potentially getting stuck with everyone coming it – but it worked out really well and managed to lead a few laps, which was cool. So really enjoyed it. Think we struggled a bit with keeping the tires alive. Yeah, that was pretty much all we could have achieved today, so I’m very happy.
Q: You’ve led many races in your career in the junior formulas. Did it feel any different out front in Formula 1?
OP: I mean you’re always focusing on trying to just do the best laps you can. I mean, when you’ve got Max and his car behind you, it doesn’t put your nerves at ease, put it that way. So I knew it was going to be difficult to hold him behind, of course. I probably wasn’t expecting him to catch me literally at the top of Eau Rouge after the Safety Car restart, but such is our straight line speed. So yeah, it was cool. I was just focusing on trying to do the best job I could, knowing that it was probably going to be a when Max came past, rather than an if. But yeah, I tried my best. And I think second was all we all had.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about that Safety Car restart. How much did you plan for that prior to the race?
OP: We didn’t. Yeah, I mean, I’ve done quite a few Safety Car restarts before, so it’s nothing new. But of course, you just try and do the best job you can in tricky conditions, with quite low tire temps at that point. So yeah, I tried the best that I could. I think I went a bit wide at Turn 1, which didn’t help things, but I don’t think it really made much difference. No, it was nice to be able to control a Safety Car restart again and hopefully there’s a few more opportunities in the future.
Q: From the outside, it looks like you’re getting stronger by the race in your rookie season. Is that how it feels for you?
OP: I feel like it’s going well. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly linear, in my development. I feel like Silverstone was the best weekend so far. I think in Budapest, there were still a few things that I needed to learn and work on. I think here’s been obviously quite strong today. Yesterday, maybe there was a bit left on the table. So, it’s not always linear. I think especially in the conditions we’ve had this weekend, it’s so easy to always want more and more and then you find yourself in the wall. So you know, I’ve got to keep my expectations in check. But I feel like in a general trend, it’s going in the right direction. I’m getting more and more comfortable with the car. Of course the car is much, much better now than it was at the start of the year, which of course helps, with just the feeling of the car, but also knowing that if you do a good job, you can fight for the top three. It helps so yeah, I feel like it’s in the right direction. There’ll be ups and downs I’m sure but hopefully it’s more ups.
Q: Alright, very well done to you. Pierre, great job by you as well. This is your best result since Baku, 2021. Now it hasn’t been an easy few weeks for the team – two double DNFs in a row. So what does this mean for you and for Alpine?
PG: Well, I think you summed it up pretty well. I think the last few races have been pretty unsuccessful and involved all sorts of incidents. So a bit of bad luck there. So yeah, it means quite a lot, actually, to be able to just put a strong Quali this morning and a strong race this afternoon. We know in terms of performance it hasn’t been as good as we would have liked since the start of the year. But in these conditions like today everything can happen and you need to play with the cards that you have. I think we definitely did the right choice in boxing on lap one and then from there it was a bit of survival mode, with first Sergio in the mirrors and then after Lewis for a couple of laps. But, yeah, we managed to hold him off until the end and really, really pleased to finish in the top three today.
Q: You described it as survival mode after you had the Intermediate tire, just how confident were you of holding on to P3 throughout the race?
PG: This weekend, we kind of set up the car for dry conditions and especially for the race, like trying to target straight line speed, so in these conditions there is a compromise and I knew we will not be the most competitive or the fastest out there, but I knew it would not be that easy for other guys to pass us. So it was about putting in clean laps, not doing any mistakes. And Lewis has been fast all weekend, so I knew he would be putting some pressure. He caught up pretty quickly. But then yeah, I just managed to hold him off until the end. So I’m really pleased for the whole team, because as you mentioned earlier, it hasn’t been an easy season. There’s quite a lot of changes going on inside the team. So I’m really pleased for the guys to put a positive note to the start of the season so far.
Q: And how much confidence does this result give you ahead of the Grand Prix itself tomorrow?
PG: Yeah, well see. I mean, it’s obviously a great result. We know the conditions probably played in our favor, we risked it and it paid off. I think on pure pace we know it’s extremely tough for us at the minute to be fighting for top three or top five. So I think we definitely need to take one race at a time and tomorrow we’ll start slightly further back. But yeah, we’ll give it a go and I really hope we can fight our way back to the top 10.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Fred Ferret – l’Equipe) Pierre, you’ve never been successful in the Sprint race. What does third place mean? Is it a real podium or is it only Sprint success? And what will it change in the team for the mood for tomorrow’s race?
PG: I think what’s most important for me is the impact that it has inside the team. More than the podium itself. It’s a Sprint race. It obviously sounds good and you get a little trophy, but you don’t really jump on the box and stand on the podium. So it’s a slightly different feeling. But nonetheless, you know, we take it. We finished that Sprint race in the top three. It was difficult conditions, and not easy to keep it to the end. I’m really, really pleased for the guys, for the mood inside the garage. And yeah, everyone who’s been working since the start of the year. I think personally, obviously to do this in Spa, it’s been a tough season, really unlucky so far and to kind of have these turning points here in Spa with obviously the history and the incidents that happened in the past year for me. It’s definitely meaningful. So really, really happy to get it here.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Oscar, can you just talk us through that first lap, when you’d taken the Intermediates? You knew Max hadn’t stopped ahead of you, so what were you thinking as you came out of the pits? And also, how were you managing that risk/reward balance when the conditions were still pretty wet?
OP: Yeah. I think for us, it was pretty clear we would box for Inters. And then, you know, there’s always the risk that maybe you hit some standing water or whatever, but I could see how quickly I was catching the guys ahead that stayed out on Wets and knew I’d be in a pretty decent spot. You know, I think with Zhou maybe I could have been a little bit more aggressive. But yeah, in the end, it was enough. I think we were quite fortunate that we managed to do a normal stop when we did, because otherwise, if you have a car that’s one second further ahead or closer to and then they have this five behind, you can easily lose five, six seconds. So that worked out very well in our favor. But yeah, I think for us, it was always quite clear it would be Inters and we made the most of it.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Pierre, obviously, this result comes at a time when Alpine is going through quite a lot of change with the exits of Otmar and Alan being announced. Could I get your reaction to that news? And how much has Bruno spoken to you about the changes that have been made and the steps forward for the future?
PG: Yeah, yeah, for sure it’s been quite a, let’s say, busy last few weeks for the team. It’s kind of tricky for me to really comment on anything . I obviously just joined at the start of the year and it’s quite a big step when you come inside a new team and need to work with new people. And I must say from Laurent to Otmar to Alan, even Pat that I could see at the factory, they work in the best way and the best way possible. I think it was quite unfortunate that this season, at the minute, doesn’t work out as well as we expected it and we’re not making the progress that we will like, but yeah, for sure, it’s been kind of join and with all these changes happening, it’s quite a lot at the minute. But yeah, as I said, at the moment I can only thank all these guys: Laurent, Otmar, Alan and Pat for what they’ve done in the first six months and I just wish (them) the best for the future.
Q: (Ivan Petrov – LAP) Oscar, if someone had told you before the start of the season that you’ll have a top three finish before the summer break what would you say at that time?
OP: I would have been very happy. I think before the season, maybe we thought that that could be possible, in the right circumstances with maybe a few cars not finishing. Of course once we got the season underway, it was a pretty distant dream that we’d be able to compete for the top three and to now be here, consistently for the last three weekends is yeah, pretty remarkable. No, it’s been amazing for me of course. It’s always a nice motivation when you know you can do a good job. The car is there to finish in the top three, but I don’t think it changes too much of what I’m trying to do myself. I’m always trying to get the most out of myself. I still have plenty to learn and just getting back up to speed with some things still. So from that aspect, it doesn’t change too much. But when you can walk away with a trophy or a sprint plaque thing it’s cool. So yeah, hopefully we can get some more and keep pushing forward.
Q: (Giuseppe Magni – RMCMotori.com) Do you think, Max, that four or five formation laps could become a good standard or a good rule for the next wet race or track?
MV: I think it really depends on the conditions we are facing: how wet it is, visibility-wise. Every track is a little bit different with that. I think here it was probably quite a safe view on things but I prefer that than risking it and going too early. But other tracks again, maybe it’s a bit different. I don’t think it needs to be clear four or five laps.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max and Pierre, please, on the same subject. Obviously, there’s been a lot of attention going on the decisions of Race Control with wet weather at this venue, given the awful events so recently and of course in years gone by. Would you say they made the right calls today?
PG: Yeah. I think I have a slightly different view than Max, based on the comments I think. Mostly you can only compare to your position at the time, and I was in sixth position and (I’m) pretty sure like when your first or second it’s slightly different and when you are at the back it’s probably worse. So I don’t think my opinion is really… you’ve got to ask all 20 drivers based on what they felt but I could not see a thing.
If Oscar or Max was in the middle of the straight, I would have been straight inside him. I just couldn’t even see 10, 20 meters ahead of me and even when we were all warming up the tires and stuff, it was just… you’re just hoping for the best, but I didn’t feel safe. When they restarted I was really hoping nothing… no guy gets off the track or collide and gets stopped in the middle of the straight because we know obviously what’s happened.
It’s not really a question of conditions because the conditions were probably practical, raceable since the first lap but the problem is the visibility in the spray. At the moment it’s so huge out of these cars, the water just stays in the air. I was in P6, I could not see anything, so I can only imagine how bad it was at the back of the pack. And I wanted to box already straightaway for Inters but this just added another incentive to box and just have visibility because down the straight (you) just don’t know what could happen. So yeah, it’s a tricky call.
You want to race but at the same time I’m glad everything went safely today. But all you need is just one guy to be stopped at the wrong place in the straight and it can go wrong very quickly. So it’s a tricky call, yeah.
MV: I fully get Pierre’s comments because I think it has become worse from when I started in F1. I think it’s just the wider tires we have and the ground effect cars. But I remember also in the junior categories, it was also quite tough, the visibility was very bad. Unfortunately, of course, we had these accidents happen over the years and probably… that’s always the unfortunate thing, I guess, with some things where we then try to improve stuff on it, something bad needs to happen before [it] really gets changed or gets looked at. But I remember races in F3 where I couldn’t see a thing when you’re in the pack or whatever.
And also today, for example, I couldn’t even see the Safety Car sometimes, and I’m the first guy. So that’s not even an F1 car, so if we really want to get rid of it, we can’t do a race at the moment in the wet if we want good visibility and this is also something we have to look at. But then also another thing is we really quickly, at the moment, want to go from an extreme to an Inter, even when there is a bit of standing water around so I think also the shift between the tires, the extreme needs to work at a better window as well so we don’t need to always go straight to an Inter, but that’s again a different problem because of course visibility is probably the most important because if you don’t see where you’re going that’s not what you want.
Q: (Connor Andrews – Talksport) Oscar, I spoke to Eddie Jordan this week and he singled you out as Max’s next teammate. Just wondering your thoughts on that, and also how it feels to be going from sitting out a year to being linked with the fastest team in F1?
OP: It’s flattering to have those comments. I’m very happy where I am. But yeah, it’s always nice to be talked about in those kinds of ways. I think my season’s been quite good for the most part, I think there’s definitely been some mistakes or moments I wish I could have had again, but with hindsight, it’s very easy to say those kinds of things. So yeah, I’m happy with where I’m at driving-wise, there’s still a lot to improve, a lot to learn. I’ve got a very strong teammate to learn from who just by being a benchmark is a big help for me getting back up to speed. So yeah, I’m happy where I am.