FIA post-race press conference - Belgium 07 Sep 2008
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
1st Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), 1h22m44.933s; 2nd Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 1h22m59.394s; 3rd Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber), 1h23m08.777s.
Q: Lewis, a sensational victory for you. Talk us through those closing laps as the rain began to fall.
Lewis Hamilton: It was an experience and a half. I could see Kimi ahead and after the second stop he was so far ahead and I was thinking how did he make such a gap but I did get stuck in traffic. I was just pushing and pushing and pushing trying to close that gap. I might have been catching him one tenth per lap but then he would pull out a little bit of time and then I was relying on traffic. I was hoping that he would catch the traffic at the right time. Sometimes he caught it on the straight and he got a tow and then I caught them in mid sector and lost time. It was just mix and match. I was just praying, I was saying please just rain, rain, rain. I wanted the rain to come because I knew how to deal with it. The heavens opened a little bit and I saw Kimi begin to back off a little bit, a lot earlier than he did normally into turn eight and that was really where I knew it was on, the fight was on. When I went into turn 12 I was going reasonably wide but then it looked like, I think it was Rosberg, had done a spin and he was coming back onto the track and he was coming back on exactly where I was going off, so I nearly crashed into the side of him. Kimi nearly did the same. I went over the grass, Kimi spun on the exit of that corner, so I got it back and from then on it was pretty straightforward from there. But it was incredibly tough as I had lost all the temperature in the tyres but it was great.
Q: Talk us through that passing incident at the last chicane when you let Kimi past but then passed him again?
LH: Yeah, I mean to be honest he pushed me wide. I was a little bit ahead and I was on the outside of turn one. He could have been fair as I had no room. He pushed me to the point where I would either have been on the kerb and crashed into him or have to go on the escape route, so I went on the escape route. I understood I had to let him past, so I did. I got in his tow and he was ducking and diving left and right and I did the same and managed to get back to the inside of him. But then he hit me at the apex of the corner but I think I was pretty much gone from there which was good.
Q: You led the race from the start but you half spun at the start of the second lap.
LH: I got a good start. I got away and I was feeling comfortable. The difficulty was that bits of the track were still wet, at the last corner and turn one, so I was having to make sure I got the braking right. It was still a bit unknown and I went into turn one and I think on the last downshift it just locked the rears. It was a pretty pathetic spin but there was nothing I could do about it. Luckily they weren't so close to each other, so I just pulled the clutch, boom, and went as quick as possible. I did get ahead but Kimi slipstreamed me on the straight.
Q: Kimi opened up a gap of around five seconds but on the prime tyre you pulled the gap back at the beginning of the third stint.
LH: Yeah, that spin really did put us on the back foot. It was a relatively big mistake from me. If it had stayed dry, we probably could have won if I had stayed ahead. It could have been quite critical. I think he pulled quite a big gap and I got held in traffic, I think it was behind Kubica and my team-mate, and there was nothing I could do about it. When I came out for the last stint, I just pushed and pushed and pushed. It wasn't over until it's over. I could see the clouds coming, so I just had to make sure. I think three or four laps to the end I said I can't catch this guy, so do I save the engine or do I keep pushing. But then I thought what happens if he makes a mistake or goes off or something like that, so it is never over until the fat lady sings and you see the chequered flag.
Q: Felipe, you must be pleased to finish second. What was it like in those last few laps for you?
Felipe Massa: Well, to be honest, I was slower than I was supposed to be. I saw many people going off, especially Kimi, and then Lewis was a little bit in front, so I said I don't want to risk the right points. I was quite comfortable going very slow through the corners especially. It was really, really damp. Sometimes you think you would go off just like that. I made a mistake on the start as I thought Eau Rouge was wetter than it was, so I slowed down too much and then Kimi passed me. It was just a mistake. I was just comfortable in the third place during the whole race. It was difficult to catch those guys. We were all three doing very similar lap times. Sometimes I was losing a bit and then sometimes I was catching the pace. Then suddenly the second place came to me, so I am very pleased. The championship is still open and we are going to fight race by race to close the gap and maybe pass those guys.
Q: When Kimi passed you it did look very close from what we could see.
FM: Yeah, Kimi was so quick he was going to pass me easily for sure but then he started to close the line and we almost touched wheel to wheel. I found that a little bit strange as he was going to pass me as he was already much quicker. But anyway he passed me but then I got the second place which was pretty lucky given the circumstances. But these things you cannot say are lucky. I was just looking to finish the race and that was it, we finished second.
Q: Nick, a fantastic decision to switch to the wet Bridgestone tyres. You were very competitive in qualifying but that fell apart when you got hit by Kovalainen.
Nick Heidfeld: Yeah, exactly. I had a pretty good get away, at least better than the row in front of me. Alonso was even a bit better. I decided to go to the outside rather than to the inside as I had a feeling I could crash there. Unfortunately Kovalainen drove into me. I thought I would spin or the race would be over with the car damaged. I was just very happy afterwards to feel that the car was okay and the steering wheel felt straight. Of course I lost a lot of positions and had to overtake a lot of cars but I still made up some positions on the first stint.
Q: It must have been real fun on that last stint passing everybody?
NH: It was but it was pretty much a hero or zero decision. First of all I was stuck behind cars most of the race. I had to stop earlier than some of them, including Vettel and Robert for the second stop. But I had a pretty good out lap and managed to overtake Robert and then I was stuck behind Vettel and it is not easy to overtake here. But then when it started to drizzle, the first lap it was just a little bit but the second lap it became more and then I just thought I will take a gamble. I knew there were not many laps to go and took the decision to go on inters. The team asked me again what I wanted to do and I think it was the perfect call. When I went out I asked how many laps to go and they said this one and then another one and I couldn't see anybody in front of me and thought maybe it was the wrong decision. But they had to go so slow I managed to overtake a couple of cars on the last lap. I don't know who was the last car I overtook, whether it was Alonso or Toro Rosso. Going into turn 10 he blocked pretty hard and I nearly went into the grass and in wet conditions that could have been quite dangerous. I just managed to stay on track by going wheel to wheel and nearly touching his side pods which was not very clever. But I got by, so it was a fantastic result for me.
Q: Lewis, what a fantastic victory for you and McLaren's 11th victory here.
LH: A fantastic weekend and I am just stoked to have battled through the tough conditions. I think it was one of the most exciting races of my career. I love having battles with people like Kimi. It was just great fun and I think the team did an incredible job as always. The car was great, so I have to say a big thank you to them. There were a lot of British fans here as well, so a big thank you to all them for their support. We are going to keep on pushing. Keep our feet on the ground and keep pushing for the next few races.
Q: Lewis, how hard were you pushing in the dry? Was there anything more you could do?
LH: No, I was on every limit that I knew that was possible and even beyond the limit sometimes. I was pushing as hard as you could. But when you are behind someone that has relatively the same speed as you and you get a few seconds behind them you lose downforce, so I was having to make up for the loss of downforce and try and reduce the gap. The closer and closer I got, the harder it got, so the more I would have to push and find grip in certain areas. I was pushing but it was so close I probably would not have had the opportunity to overtake him if it hadn't started to rain, so I thank God for opening the heavens a little bit as that enabled me to get close to him and to have, I think, one of the most exciting fight for a long, long time.
Q: Were you expecting the rain?
LH: I wasn't expecting it but I was praying for it. I was hoping. I was going through Eau Rouge and saying 'please rain.' I wanted it to rain. I thought just a few droplets would make it harder for us, perhaps not as much as it did. It did make it that little bit harder for us to get on the edge, so we could have a good battle towards the end. I think that is what it did. I thought it was very exciting.
Q: What happened in the pit stops as you lost out in the first one and gained in the second?
LH: With the mistake I had which was quite costly after the first lap, at turn one when I had the spin and lost my position, that really put us on the back foot, so we went for a shorter middle stint on the softer tyre. Unfortunately I came out in a lot of traffic. I had great pace but I got stuck in a lot of traffic where I ended up using a lot of the life of my tyres early on just sticking with them. I think that is where I lost all the time to Kimi. The second stint I had a great out lap. The pit stop was great but I had a great out lap and really getting the heat back in my tyres and getting on it. I think I took quite a chunk out of Kimi for the first few laps and then it started to balance out. I kept on pushing as much as I could but it was level for a long time, so I was hoping some of the backmarkers would influence his pace but they were influencing both of ours, so I don't think I gained or lost any more than he did.
Q: With five races to go what are your thoughts on the championship now?
LH: Well, as you know it is still open. Felipe has had another impressive race and came away with eight points, so I have not really made a huge difference in the points system. I have a good lead, I must have an eight points now and we are going to continue with the reliability and the pace that we have. It is just going to be a very tough fight but I will do everything I can to make sure I come to the next race just as strong if not stronger. I know I can get stronger, so we the team is going to do that and we are going to keep on improving.
Q: Felipe, are you pleased with second?
FM: Yeah, I mean looking at the circumstances and how crazy the race was, especially the start. I lost second place at Eau Rouge because I thought there was more water than there was and I backed off too much and Kimi passed. I had reasonable pace but I was not 100 per cent happy with the car because we took away a little bit of downforce on Saturday morning, from Friday to Saturday, as normally that is the right direction to go. Then I think for the conditions we had today, the wind conditions especially which were very strong, I was not very happy with the balance and I lost a little bit of the stability. I was not very comfortable like I was yesterday. But anyway, I think it was a very safe third place and then the rain came. I saw these guys fighting like crazy and I was just thinking about the championship. I was just cruising and trying to bring the car home as I knew eight points can be very important. Two races ago we lost 10 like that, so I didn't want to lose anything, I just wanted to bring the car home. That's it, so I am quite happy with the second place and I am quite happy also with the job that we did inside the team and also the engine. This is the second race with the engine, so I think that is quite encouraging for the next races.
Q: What was the difference between the tyres?
FM: On the last stint I think we went much slower than the first and second stint, all three guys. I think the hard tyre was just too hard with no grip and the car was sliding around and was less quick. The car was more inconsistent in terms of balance but the soft was pretty consistent, pretty reasonable.
Q: Nick, four laps from the end you were seventh, so you must be pretty pleased to be on the podium.
NH: Yeah, you figured that out pretty well. It was fantastic for me. I lost some places at the first corner. The start was not too bad but Kovalainen drove into me and after that it was a pretty tough fight to overtake a couple of cars but then I was struggling to overtake some others like Robert. On the circuit it was impossible to overtake Vettel. I was clearly quicker but you just could not get a lot closer and as Lewis said at the same time you start to destroy your tyres. In the end I saw that drops were coming, up the hill, and the next lap it was small drizzle. I thought it would get worse from lap to lap. Obviously I knew it was not long to go and actually I was pretty sure that nobody would have the balls to change the tyres, so I thought I would try. I took a gamble and it paid out. After I came out I asked the team again and they said this one and another one and then I thought maybe it was not the right choice but on the last lap I overtook a lot of cars. I did bed in some tyres on purpose yesterday and they were just in the right conditions for a little bit of water.
Q: After your problems in the last few races what does this podium mean to you?
NH: It is a great result at a time when I struggled, or at least I struggled heavily in Valencia. But more importantly for me I have shown that my qualifying performance was good. That's where I have struggled before but I achieved the maximum there yesterday with fifth position. I think everybody knows that I can do good races and I showed that today and obviously it is always great to be on the podium.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Lewis, can you just talk us through the very last lap when you were absolutely tip-toeing around, what was going through your mind then? You could have gone off at any moment, couldn't you?
LH: I could have. It was very, very slippery. I had no temperature in my tyres, just because we had been driving around in the wet for a lap and a half. It's incredible you know. You brake very, very early thinking 'I've braked 400 meters earlier than I should' and you still arrive at the corner and you're not really sure what's going to happen, the car will step out There's just nothing you can do about it, you are just guessing where the grip is and making sure your senses become a lot more you turn them on full power basically and just wait, making sure that you can react to every oversteer moment you have. I was looking in my mirrors, I was looking at the gap between me and Felipe and I realised that it went from five to ten (seconds), so I realised that he was going even slower, so I went even slower. I just went as slow as I could. There was no need to push, just make sure you bring it home, there's one lap to go. The thought of Kimi coming off on the second to last lap it's a long, long way to go and to then just throw it away and so I just brought it home.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Lewis, are you aware that the stewards have announced they are investigating an incident between yourself and Kimi? We're not sure exactly which one it was. Are you aware of that and what could your thoughts be? Is there any part where you felt that you'd contravened the rules?
LH: Absolutely not. I will explain what happened. It began to rain. I caught Kimi and I got a good tow from him down the back straight and I was in a good position to dive down the inside at turn 18. He covered his spot, which was fair, but he braked very, very early, so I was able to outbrake him and go round the outside which I did. I left him enough room, I didn't close the gap so much that he had to go on a kerb, I left him enough room, yet he accelerated or picked up more pace going into the corner, and drove me as wide as he possibly could. I had no road left. There was a question I had to ask: if I stay where I am, I'm going to go over the Astroturf there's some green bit behind the big kerb, the last kerb and go over it and hit him. Or I go left. That was the option I had to do, I did it. I knew that I had to let him past and also the team came over the radio and said 'you have to let him past' which I did. I was accelerating so that I didn't lose too much ground because I thought that would be unfair. Fortunately I got back in his slipstream and again, he moved to the inside and back to the outside and again, I dodged him and went up the inside and at the apex to the corner he hit me at the back, and that nearly caused me to spin, but fortunately I kept hold of it and went on from there. That was a great fight and I don't think there was anything wrong there. The rules say you should let him back past which I did.
Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association) Lewis, given the explanation that you've just given us, would you be surprised now if the stewards did decide to punish you in any kind of way?
LH: Absolutely, absolutely. This is motor racing and if there's a penalty, then there's something wrong because I was ahead going into that corner, so I didn't gain an advantage from it. We were still able to race at the next corner and I gave him his spot back, and I think it was fair and square, so I think it would be absolutely wrong. But you know what they're like, so we will see.
Q: (Mark Danby - Auto Magazine) Lewis, later around that lap, just talk us through what it was like going through Pouhon when you both went wide and then going into Fagnes when you got onto the grass. Did you think you'd lost the race at that point?
LH: Going across the grass? I did. Well, we went into turn ten and I think we both had an oversteer moment going in, very, very fortunate to catch it. Then I think Kimi took a much wider line than me and we went into turn 12 and I braked very early. I could see that Rosberg ahead had obviously had a spin, and instead of driving around that way, he drove round more towards me and was coming back onto the track, and at that point I was going relatively wide towards him. I had to turn left to avoid him, but then Kimi was with me as well, he nearly hit him, so we both nearly hit him but I think Kimi managed to keep it on the track somehow. I went across the grass, I thought that I had lost it then but then I saw Kimi spin it. It was just chopping and changing, it was just so much fun and my heart was racing, probably more than it ever has before. What an exciting race and what a great feeling it is to bring it back in those conditions. It's beyond anything you can imagine, so the ones who did bring it home on slicks have done a great job.
Q: (James Allen - ITV) I've got two questions for Lewis. When you came across the line after the incident you've just described, he was definitely in front of you. It said Räikkönen - Hamilton, first and second. That was on the timing screens and it will on the charts, but maybe at issue is the fact that you hadn't lost enough momentum or something. You said you were still accelerating, so could you just explain exactly what you did to let him past? And then the second thing is there was an incident before that where I think you both had a bit of a moment with a Williams and you both nearly hit each other and the Williams was coming back on the track. There were some yellow flags waving there. Was the Williams actually off the track and came back on? It was very hard to tell on the television.
LH: Firstly, what I did, I'd basically taken a short-cut, so I couldn't just accelerate straight from there and keep going, I had to wait - he was in my blind spot - I had to wait until I could see him. I didn't want to wait until he'd flown past because we were still racing. Eventually I could see him accelerating and I knew, OK, this is alright, so I began to accelerate but slowly. I don't believe I was full throttle, I was waiting for him to accelerate past which he did. What more could I do, I don't know what more I could have done?
And the second question: there were yellow flags, I was looking in the mirror, hoping that Kimi wouldn't crash into me. Rosberg was off the circuit and I was running wide but I wasn't going off, I was just running wide towards the white line, but then Rosberg was coming back on, exactly at the point in which I was heading, so I had to turn left to avoid him and take the exit road and go across the grass, otherwise I would have crashed with him.
Q: (James Allen - ITV) Sorry, could we just be clear: so you were in front of Räikkönen at that point, because he came out of that incident in front of you?
LH: He was behind me. I turned left to dodge the Williams. I don't know what happened to Kimi. I thought he was right with me at the time on my inside. I thought he was going to crash with him (Rosberg) as well, so I just tried to avoid it, over the grass, and Kimi overtook, I believe, both of us. I think he took both of us, and I went over the grass, they both went round the corner and then at the exit he spun.
Q: (Flavio Vanetti - Corriere dello Sport) Felipe, do you expect that Ferrari will now make a choice between you and Kimi and put all the effort for the title towards you?
FM: I don't know. You are asking the question to the wrong guy. I'm just doing my job and I'm sure the team will make all the effort to help me to win the championship, but this question is difficult for me to answer.
Q: (Michael Schmidt - Auto Motor und Sport) Lewis, knowing how tricky the circuit was when it was wet, did you ever consider doing the same as Nick Heidfeld and change tyres on the very last lap?
NH: The thought didn't cross my mind once. I didn't think about anyone else changing tyres, I didn't really take that into consideration. I was just trying to pass Kimi and that's all that mattered. I knew that I would be able to keep the car on the track if it did rain, and I knew there were only two laps left so, in my position, I didn't think it would be a risk that I would have benefitted from. So I didn't think about it.
Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association) Felipe and Lewis: do you think that now, given the position Kimi is in - I think he's 23 points behind you Lewis, and 15 behind you Felipe - that he's almost out of the title race now with five races to go. I know that mathematically it's still possible but theoretically and realistically, do you think it's too much of a gap now at this stage of the season?
FM: Well, for sure it's difficult but if you look at last year, he was 17 points behind with two or three races (to go) and he won the championship, so for sure it's not easy, but it's not impossible.
LH: I think the same. As Felipe said, anything can happen and I think the gap is bigger than normal. He's got a lot of work to do, the pressure's on him to try and catch us up. I think Felipe's doing a better job than him in his team, and we've just got to continue to try and do a better job, and continue to be consistent.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Felipe, in the unilaterals you said you felt strange when Kimi passed you after Eau Rouge. Didn't you expect something like this?
FM: No, because he was so quick he was passing me and then suddenly he was closing the line a little bit, it just felt a little bit strange, but anyway nothing happened, he just passed me anyway and that's it. I think it was more my mistake in which I backed off too much in Eau Rouge and I gave him the possibility to pass me.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Lewis, I'm intrigued by one thing: at Valencia we seemed to get the message that you were going to go for the championship at all costs and you would drive sensibly and you wouldn't be drawn into anything mad if you could get eight points safely. And here today you just produced one of the most amazing pieces of driving we've ever seen you produce. Did that theory just go right out of the window at the end?
LH: It's always on my mind that I want to get the points. The championship is definitely always on your mind. I never focus on one race, that this is the most important thing, winning this race. I had eight points. There was a point while it was dry that I was behind and catching Kimi - a little bit ragged - and I was thinking well, again, it would be pretty bad if I did come off now and lost these points. But then again, I'm a racing driver, this is what I do best. I won't come off. You can't come off, you've got to keep going. You race down to the last minute, you don't turn the engine down and back off and just take the points. In that situation, I was comfortable pushing and trying to close the gap and therefore I did. Towards the end, the conditions made it look a lot more spectacular than it was, for sure, but I don't believe I took too many risks. I wanted to get past, I wanted to win. I was in the position, it was now or never, and when you get into that position, you have to take the decision 'do I overtake or do I stay behind?' I'm going past. But I'm still focused on the championship.
Q: (Marco Degl'Innocenti - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis, do you now expect Kimi to help Felipe for the next races?
LH: I don't believe that that will be the case. I'm pretty sure that, as a team, they will work together and that's the team's job. I don't know whether it's in the rules, you're now not allowed to have any team orders. I believe that Kimi's going to keep on pushing to try and close the gap and come back as he did last year. I think they're both just out there to race as far as I see it, but for sure they are in the fortunate position where they could use one another to help each other go further in the championship, but we will have to wait and see.