FIA post-qualifying press conference - Abu Dhabi
1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), 2 – Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), 3 – Oscar PIASTRI (McLaren)
(Conducted by Jolyon Palmer)
Q: Oscar, in the top three again at the end of the season. How was the lap?
Oscar PIASTRI: Difficult session, you know? It’s extremely tight this weekend. It’s been a bit of a messy one. Pace has been there, just a lot of mistakes and last-up I made a little bit of a mistake as well, but it would have been quite a last corner to get to the front. So, happy with that. The car is very quick this weekend. Nice turnaround from Vegas for us, but happy to be back in the top three.
Q: It looked like a little bit of an Oscar special where you sort of build your way through. You’re quite quiet through practice and then, get to Q3, absolutely deliver the pace.
OP: I think practice, the pace was there – just there were a couple of big mistakes in every lap. I think I went into qualifying and I hadn’t done a clean lap all weekend. So, yeah, made life a little bit more difficult for myself. Q1, messy, Q2, got it together, finally and yeah, it was pretty good in Q3. So, happy with that. Close but not quite close enough.
Q: Any idea about the race pace? We’ve had quite disrupted practice sessions. Where do you think you stand?
OP: Not a clue. I don’t know. For everyone, I think it’s going to be the same story. I think the most anyone’s done is probably five laps in a row this weekend. Going to be interested to see how everyone pans out tomorrow. Yeah, we’ll see.
Q: Charles, back up into the top two in qualifying again. Quite close, in the end, to Max. Really good final sector brought you there, but just one-tenth away.
Charles LECLERC: Yeah, but honestly, considering the weekend we’ve had until now, I did not expect it at all. The last lap, I knew I had to put absolutely everything together, and I did. The last corner was a bit too much sliding, but I think everybody had that. So, really, really happy with the second place. I mean, in Q1 and Q2 I was worried to go through, and at the end a front row. So, it’s amazing.
Q: Where do you think it came from then? It didn't look easy, your team-mate is out in Q1. Looked really difficult to make it through like you did, and then suddenly, you’re nearly on pole. Make any changes?
CL: Yeah, for some reason, our car is very peaky. So, whenever we’re on scrubbed tyres, like the first run in Q3 was a very good lap – but we were last and I didn’t have much hope. But then, when we put the new tyres, everything comes alive and it felt great and, again, I did a great lap, so really happy to be on the front row – but it’s a big surprise.
Q: And the race tomorrow. Eyes on Mercedes, I guess, for you, trying to get ahead of them. George Russell starting just behind you. How do you think it’s going to go?
CL: Well, I hope it’s going to go well. That’s the target, to beat them in the Constructors’ Championship, so I really hope Carlos can have a great start and then join me in the fight. And let’s try and put both of our cars in front of both Mercedes and come back home with a second place in the Constructors’ that is all that matters to me this weekend.
Q: Max, pole position once again. You’re back to the front. Looked like that one was in the bag from quite early on. You seemed really comfortable in that session.
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah. Really weird. The whole weekend so far has been a bit of a struggle. So, we definitely improved the car for qualifying and, from lap 1, it all seemed a bit more together. And we could definitely push more. Of course, very happy to be on pole.
Q: Could you feel it from the first lap of Q1? That the car suddenly came alive and you were in a much better place then?
MV: Yeah, for sure. I mean, around here, already with the tyres, if you have little slides and whatever, it can cost you a lot of lap time. And that was what was happening for us in practice. But then, in qualifying, it all was a bit more connected.
Q: And tomorrow, the final race of the season, the final race in your RB19. You’ve done so much damage with it, broken so many records. Is it going to be an emotional one. Are you still going to go out there and kill it?
MV: Yeah, well, let’s see. I have no clue how good we’re going to be in the race. Normally, we’re always quite decent but yeah, it’s been a very special season, and we’ve been enjoying it a lot, and, of course, we’re very proud of what we have achieved so far this year.
Q: Many congratulations Max, fastest in all three sectors of qualifying. What a way to complete the final qualifying session of the year.
MV: Yeah. What a turnaround! Because in practice it was not looking that good. I was struggling a lot with the balance, so luckily I think we made the right changes on the car for Qualifying – because I think from lap 1 it all just felt a lot more connected and, around here, where it’s a lot about tyres, and how they behave, if you have tiny slides here and there, they overheat, so in Qualifying it definitely felt all-in a bit better.
Q: How much of that was down to track evolution as well?
MV: Yesterday, FP2, today, FP3 in the morning was all bad, so I don’t really think it had anything to do with that. You know, of course the track grips up a bit, but I think the issues I had were more severe than a little bit more rubber here and there.
Q: Max, let’s just celebrate the RB19 for a second. How much have you enjoyed driving this car in qualifying this season?
MV: More in the race, to be honest. But sometimes, of course, in qualifying, we had some really good laps as well – but it definitely shows that it’s details that can make a massive difference, because today, I was not so happy up until qualifying and then in qualifying it turns into normal behaviour.
Q: Let’s talk about the race then. In your mind, how do 58 laps around Yas Marina look to you?
MV: Nice! I have no clue how the car will behave in the race. I have not really done any long running, so I guess we’ll find out throughout the race. But, I mean, so far, most of the races we have been quite strong. Tomorrow, I just have to ease myself into it, I guess. A little bit.
Q: How much are you going to rely on past data going into the race?
MV: It will help a little bit. But, of course, every year, your balance, or issues that you have to go faster, are a little bit different, so you can’t always relate fully to what you have done in the past. But it does help you understand a few things.
Q: Great job today. Thank you very much and good luck in the race to you. Charles, let's come to you now. What a final lap by you in Q3. Given your pace in the session up to Q3, would you say this is one of your best quali laps of the season?
CL: I said that last weekend, so last weekend felt like a really, really good lap, this quali felt like a really good lap as well. So yeah, it was a bit of a surprise this one, because Q1 and Q2 I was on the limit of making it through. I mean, not on the limit, but it was quite tight and I was actually worried to go through this Q1 and Q2 but then in Q3 I managed to put a good lap together and everything felt good, so I'm really happy with that, because I definitely did not expect to be on the front row this weekend. Considering how much we struggled, I mean FP2 was really good. But then FP1 and FP3… I didn't do FP1, but as a team, I think we struggled massively, so it's a good surprise.
Q: What have been the issues for Ferrari, with your team mate starting down in P16 tomorrow? What have been the issues coming in to qualifying?
CL: It's very, very strange. In FP3 everything felt really good but we were just super slow and it's a bit difficult as a driver to then pinpoint something, because you just have not enough grip to go faster and I think it confirms a little bit our whole season, where we have a very peaky car. Whenever we are in the right window, that's great. Whenever we fall out of that window a little bit then it has huge consequences. And today and this weekend overall has been like that.
Q: Let's look ahead to the race then. What does this mean over 58 laps? Can you challenge Max?
CL: I don't know. But I mean the only thing that matters to me is that we challenge the Mercedes and that we take the second place in the Constructors’ because in the Drivers’, honestly finishing fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh in the Drivers’, I don't care. But second in the Constructors’ would be nice. So we just need to beat the Mercedes, but of course if there's an opportunity to beat Max tomorrow, I'll take it. However, on a track like this, with hot conditions like this, I expect us to struggle a bit more than Las Vegas, than what we've seen in Vegas on race pace. So, but let's see. We've been good with the tyre management in Vegas in very different conditions. In FP3, I had quite a good feeling during the race simulations, so I hope we can reproduce that tomorrow.
Q: From a strategic point of view tomorrow, will you be looking at what the Mercedes are doing rather than what Max is doing?
CL: Well, I don't know what the Mercedes is going to do. So I'll just focus on myself. And then we'll try to do the best race we can. And we'll see who gets a second place at the end of the of the weekend.
Q: Alright. Good luck with that. Well done today. Oscar, let's come to you now. Well, what a difference a week makes in Formula 1. The car looked much better here than in Vegas last time.
OP: Yeah, definitely. I think we knew Vegas was going to be a bit of a struggle for us going into the weekend. I think we got a few things wrong in qualifying that made it seem worse than it actually was. But we knew here would be a lot better. You know, the pace has been good the whole weekend, I would say. It was a bit of a surprise for me just how tight everything was at the start of qualifying. I think it was like four tenths from first to 15th in Q1, so you couldn't afford to make a mistake but no, at the pointy end and nice to back in the top three.
Q: If we break down your lap in Q3, where was the car strongest today?
OP: I don't know. We've been quick in sector one all weekend. That seems to just be our happy place around here. But yeah, everything else is a bit up and down. You know, Russell's been looking extremely quick in all of the practices and, you know, Max said he was struggling a bit. So it's been a bit hard to get a read on where everyone actually sits. But the normal stuff that we like, the medium-speed corners, the high-speed corners, that's where I think we're strongest. And the slow stuff is where we struggle a bit more.
Q: You mentioned the phrase happy place. Is Yas Marina your happy place? Because this is the first time Lando Norris has been out qualified by a team-mate at this race track.
OP: I mean, I like this place. I've got good memories around here. But yeah, I don't know what happened to Lando on the last lap. You know, I was struggling a little bit in the first two parts of quali, or certainly the first part, and yeah, I don't know. I do have good memories around here. I've just been struggling to get it together this weekend. I think before qualifying I hadn't done a lap without quite a major mistake this weekend. So I was struggling to get everything together. I think I did a much better job on that in qualifying, but I do like coming back here.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Can you just talk us through your second lap in Q3? I don't think you were quicker than the first one. Was it all to do with the middle sector? What was the difference?
MV: Yeah, I just run out of front tyre. It was improving after the first sector and halfway through the second sector and then I don't know, it just went away from me a little bit. A bit more front locking, and then immediately the grip is gone. This track, well this track/tyre combination is extremely sensitive to that. And that's also what was happening to us in practice. And when you have these kind of like mini-lockups or slides, understeer, it can go away from you. I mean, it was still a good lap. I think it was still within a couple hundredths, but it was just going away from me in the middle of the lap to the end.
Q: (Ronald Vording - Motorsport.com) A question to all three, starting with Max, please. This morning we've seen another change in the event notes for the pit exit rules after you passed a couple of cars yesterday – what you were supposed to do in Brazil. What do you guys think of the rule the way it is now and are there any ideas to make it more consistent for 2024, also for the fans, and not change it every race weekend?
MV: Us drivers agreed to that in the briefing, to have that. Otherwise I think you would have seen again what happened yesterday. At the moment nothing is perfect yet, so we have to come up with a better solution but we'll keep on thinking about what that is.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Max and Charles, I know this is a track that’s held its fair share of big F1 moments over the years, Max, for you in particular in 2021. But is this a good track for F1 racing? Do you enjoy racing here? I know they made the changes a couple of years back to try and encourage overtaking but do you feel that's been enough of a step forward?
MV: I, of course, always have my favourite tracks but I don't mind coming here, it's always very chilled. I guess that also has to do with the end of the year. Good temperatures, nice people. And then the track itself? I think the only thing I would like to change is just the off-camber corners. I think that doesn't really help the racing. Bit more banked corners would help, so around the hotel they need to bank that instead of off-camber. And was it turn seven at that little crest? It always throws you off a little bit and especially when you're behind, you just lose a lot of traction so that corner also just bank it a bit. That would help.
CL: Yeah, I like this track actually, especially the last sector is very technical. It's also very, very difficult to get it right in qualifying because it's such fine margins and as Max mentioned, it's very difficult to follow in those off-camber corners but at the same time, during qualifying, as soon as you get it wrong but even by five or 10 centimetres that has huge consequences, which I like it in qualifying but I agree with Max that for the race I don't think that's great because you struggle a lot to follow in those corners.
Q: Charles, would you like to see those corners banked, like Max?
CL: Yeah, I think it would be nice, it will definitely help racing. It's a track where there's already quite a lot of overtaking opportunities, but definitely that will make it even better.
Q: (Mat Coch – speedcafe) Oscar, you mentioned that you've had a few mistakes throughout the weekend and building into qualifying. Has there been any consistency with those and is it you finding the limit or car set-up? Is there any trend to them?
OP: I would say yesterday I was struggling a lot with six and seven, just pulling the car up well enough was a big challenge. I think today I got on top of that. I think also some of the changes we made with the car made it a bit more difficult in some places so today there's been a bit more random and mainly just from trying too hard. The pace in all the corners without mistakes has been good all weekend. Just when I've made a mistake it's not been a small one, it's been nearly a lap ending mistake. So nice to tidy that up into qualifying, still a couple of moments that I wish I could have done a better job but no, all OK.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge Autosport) Max, I think over FP2 and FP3 we heard you calling your car kangarooing, bouncing, sliding. You mentioned that practice wasn't going so well. Would you mind going into those changes, what you asked for overnight and then after FP3 as well?
MV: Yeah, I'll give you the percentages. Just one second, I'm going to get my set-up sheet. No, it was just a bit more balance, it was just really unpredictable: oversteer, understeer. Then we tried to help the understeer, that became oversteer then we had oversteer, understeer and It just kept on changing a lot and around here you cannot have that, you can't have any sliding. So yeah, it was just not good to drive. It's just a difficult balance and luckily for qualifying it was pretty much gone. It was still a bit there, but we could drive around it a little bit.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Charles, can you talk us through your final lap in Q3? I think you went from the used soft to the new soft. How much was that a challenge and you were over a second behind Max and you've ended up just over a 10th behind so how did you get in all that time?
CL: Yeah, that's what I meant before when I was saying our car is very picky because on the scrubbed tyres it was as scrub as the other drivers and I was behind everybody basically and then you put new tyres on the car, suddenly it becomes great and I was feeling much more at ease with the car and the lap came together nicely apart from the last corner where I have overpushed but I think this is a tendency for everybody on this track. You arrive with very overheated tyres so I don't think there was much to gain anyway on that lap. But yeah, we've gained like crazy from scrubbed to new and much more than everybody else. I hope this is not a negative sign for tomorrow when we have to do long runs but I'm sure we will do a good job.
Q: (Ronald Vording – motorsport.com) Max, we heard on the radio that Helmut Marko went against you with a bet and he lost 500 euros as a result of it. But how much of a gamble was it for you, not with money but with set-up going into qualifying, given what you just told us? And do you feel that missing FP1 was related to that in any way?
MV: Well, first of all, I think Helmut learned his lesson: never bet against me. Of course it's always a bit of a gamble because you don't know. We already tried a lot of things on the car which didn't really seem to solve the problem. But I think GP stayed calm and he definitely went through a lot of options. And then with my feedback, he came up with a very good set-up for qualifying. So yeah, of course very, very happy with that but of course it's always a bit of a gamble. You're never 100% sure, and missing a FP1, I don’t know, probably would have still been tough to get it right for FP2/FP3.
Q: (Luke Smith - The Athletic) Charles, a question about the peakiness of the car this year. How tricky has that made it for you in terms of knowing you've got a consistent base going from session to session, even run to run and how much of a thing is this you're pushing with the team to dial out for next year and get a nice consistent base?
CL: Well, it's not been easy. I think we've had two parts of the season: we've had pre-Japan and post-Japan at least on my side. I feel much more at ease with the car since Japan. We've worked on the consistency of the car in different conditions which helped a lot my driving style which… I like quite a lot to have an oversteery car and a strong front which in the first part of the season I couldn't quite do that. But yeah, there's still a lot of work to do obviously because especially into the race, with the tyres, everything depends on details that we need to get everything right and at the moment our car is not good enough and not consistent enough, especially on long runs so we are working on that.