FIA post-qualifying press conference - Japan
1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), 2 – Oscar PIASTRI (McLaren), 3 – Lando NORRIS (McLaren)
(Conducted by Jean Alesi)
Q: Max, what can you say when you see so many fans cheering behind your lap-time, which is unbelievable.
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, I mean first I want to say a big thank you to all the fans, supporting us already the whole weekend, everyone being so passionate about Formula 1. So thank you very much for coming. From our side, an incredible weekend so far, and especially in qualifying, where you can really push it to the limit, it felt really, really nice.
Q: After Singapore, you arrive here and the car, from day one, you were driving like a top hero from Suzuka. You feel so good on this track?
MV: Yeah, we had, of course, a bad weekend in Singapore but I already felt from the progression we had that this was going to be a good track. But, of course, you never really know how good it’s going to be but from lap one it’s been really, really nice. Of course, you try to find little improvements here and there, and I think we did that. To be on pole here is fantastic.
Q: Have you seen the gap in between you and the second?
MV: I still need to double-check. I walked here…
It’s quite a lot.
MV: Alright. Thanks!
Q: Oscar, congratulations Oscar, I mean you are here on the front row in front of these amazing spectators and the lap you made beat your team-mate. Tell us about that?
Oscar PIASTRI: Yeah, the first lap was pretty solid. I was quite happy with it. The last chicane I could have done a better job but yeah, it was a good lap. On the second lap, my first sector was good and the next two sectors not so good, so no, happy to end it in P2. It’s been a really good weekend for the team so far, got upgrades on the car, and yeah, here they’re quick and we thought we might have decent chance around here but no, still got to make it happen. So, happy to be second, for the team to be second and third. Very, very happy.
Q: And the situation for the turn in on the start – but on your position, you know how much you can gain at the start. Are you ready for that?
OP: Yeah. It’s the first time I’ve started on the front row for a while. So, it’ll be cool. There’s only one car ahead to overtake, so I’ll try and make that happen.
Q: Lando, well, you know, as a fan, part of our excitement is to watch the competition for the top three positions, today it was just amazing. Can you tell us about that?
Lando NORRIS: Sure, first of all, a quick hello to everyone watching. Yeah, it’s been a very good day for us. As a team, a P2 and a P3, a great job by Oscar today and, as usual, by Max, but a good day for us. To be P2 and P3, I was pretty happy with my laps. Tricky, it’s not an easy circuit to put everything together always, but it’s so quick around here, the smallest mistake can make a bit amount of lap time, you know? I’m happy. It’s been a good day, good positions for tomorrow.
Q: You are part of the comeback of McLaren. McLaren is very famous here in Japan, and we are really pleased to see again McLaren fighting for the top position.
LN: Yes! Some of the most amazing McLaren stories come from here in Japan. We are of course hoping for a good result tomorrow. We want to continue that tradition but it’s going to be difficult. Max is doing a very good job, Red Bull are always doing a very good job, so we’ll do our best to make their life difficult and have a good race tomorrow.
Q: What a session Max. In fact, what a weekend it's been for you so far. Just how sweet were those laps in Q3?
MV: Yeah, to be honest, the whole weekend has been really good. As soon as we put the car on the track, it's been very enjoyable to drive, very predictable, which I think is the most important. And, yeah, lap after lap in Qualifying as well, it was getting better. I mean, I only had three new sets of tyres, so I had to be a bit careful with using them, basically. So, in Q2 I had to run the scrubbed. But then, once I put on a new set again, in the first run in Q3, it was just super nice. I mean, these high-speed corners, if the car is very well balanced and you can really push it to the limit, it’s just really enjoyable to do to drive.
Q: Max, the pole gap is point six of a second. Have you even surprised yourself today?
MV: It's always difficult to judge but after FP3 I was like, ‘they’re quite close’. But then luckily, I think yeah, we made some tiny adjustments and I think it helped the car a little bit. And then probably Sector 1, once you feel very confident with the car, you can push it a little bit more and that's what happened in qualifying.
Q: Had you set yourself the goal of getting into the 1m28s? Because there was that radio message, radio conversation with your engineer afterwards?
MV: Yeah, he told me a ’28 would be nice. I said, “don't worry, I'm going send it,” and then he was like, “yeah, but don’t shunt the car, right?” I was like: “yeah, well, obviously, that's not what I want to do.” I knew that there was still a little bit left in a few places, and that's what I tried to tidy up, which worked out quite well.
Q: Max, the lap times would suggest not, but have you suffered any recurrence of the problems you had last weekend in Singapore?
Q: At no point in the…
MV: Singapore didn't happen for us?
Q: Let's look ahead to the race tomorrow. Just how confident are you?
MV: Yeah, I mean, the car is quick, over one lap, I think also on the long run it’s quick. It's still a decent amount of laps and quite a bit of deg on the tyres. So just need to look after them during the race. But yeah, the car normally should be quick.
Q: And how happy would you be to win the Constructors' Championship here in Honda's backyard?
MV: That was the aim, especially coming from Singapore. I wanted to have a really strong weekend. And of course, we know that this is the first proper opportunity to win it. So we also want to do that.
Q: Alright, very well done. Thank you, Max. Oscar coming to you. Now you've put together some sensational laps today to take your first front row in Formula 1, at Suzuka of all places. What does this mean to you?
OP: Yeah, very, very happy. You know, I think yesterday, we thought we could be in for a solid weekend. And then I think this morning we made some good changes. And the car looked quick in FP3. And I was getting more used to the track too. So yeah, very, very happy to be on the front row. Of course, the gap is a little bit or a lot bigger than I would prefer. But yeah, I'm happy to be in second.
Q: How much more time was there, because you say you messed up that final lap in Q3 in particular.
OP: Yeah, there was a bit, I think I was about two tenths up after the first sector, but I wasn't going to find six. So yeah, in the end, it didn't make much of a difference. But of course, you know, when you're up on your lap before, of course you want to keep going that way and yeah, just a little bit frustrated that I didn't manage to improve on the second lap. But in the end it didn't matter.
Q: Oscar, how good does the MCL60 feel around Suzuka? You've got the new parts on it this weekend. Just where are its strengths?
OP: I think the strengths are still the same as it's always been, the fast corners, the high-speed corners where we can really just commit to the grip really. We still struggle in the same places I think. The upgrades, of course, are in the right direction and have made the car quicker but we still need some more steps evidently to be the quickest. So yeah, it honestly doesn't feel that much different to Singapore. I think the circuit is so different as well that it's hard to tell but clearly it's not too bad.
Q: Alright, and tomorrow in the race, can you and Lando work together to do anything about Max?
OP: We’ll try. I mean, we tried our best and Silverstone, so we'll try and do the same thing. But obviously it's going to be difficult. I think it's going to be a very difficult race tomorrow as well. Very different to Silverstone in that regard. So yeah, it could be a lot more open, I think.
Q: Very well done to you, Oscar, thank you. And Lando, coming to you, what a session it's been for McLaren, two and three on the grid. Just tell us about your Q3 in particular?
LN: I mean, not a lot to talk about. I think we're very happy as a team. Also, for myself, I'm pretty happy with the improvements we made. But I think all weekend we've been strong, from FP1 onwards, the car has been feeling good. We've made some good steps forward throughout the weekend as well. And I think that's proved, to be ahead of Ferrari. I think we thought it'd be close with Ferrari, so to be ahead, and have two cars ahead was an even bigger bonus. But like Oscar said, I think we would have loved to have been a bit closer to Max. But it proved not to be the case. So yeah, a good day. Not bad. I wouldn’t say they were not my best laps. I think there were some very good laps but just a couple of things may be holding us back a little bit. But otherwise, we're happy.
Q: Well, what about tomorrow? I'm going to ask you the same question. Can you work with Oscar and do anything about the man in the middle?
LN: We're going to try. I mean, if he's leading by Turn 2 there's not a lot you can really do. If you want to emulate Prost, Oscar, into Turn 1… I mean Ayrton Senna into Turn 1 you can do that happily! It would be lovely for me! So yeah, I think we'll try. I think our race pace is decent. It’s definitely not going to be as good as the Red Bull here but we’ll do our best.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Oscar, you're only the fifth Australian to ever start a Grand Prix from the front row, a World Championship Grand Prix, from the front row. Do those records mean anything to you? And what does a first front row in Formula 1 mean to you?
OP: I mean, it's nice to have that, obviously. There's not been that many Australians in F1, full stop. But yeah, it's of course not a record I'm trying to chase, being the fifth front row from Australia. But yeah, it’s nice just to have that success, I think. And I think, in particular, so early on in my F1 career. Some people don't get this opportunity in their whole career. So for me to have it in my first six or seven months is a privilege. But yeah, of course, I want to try and be the next Australian to break some other records or be added to those lists. So yeah, a nice start, but of course, I want to be able to do more.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Max, I know you said Singapore didn't happen but can we very briefly pretend it did. Obviously, there was a lot of discussion about technical directives and that kind of thing and if it had hurt the team. Coming from that weekend to this one, does this pole feel like a massive statement of intent from you and to right the wrongs of last weekend?
MV: Honestly, yeah, we had a bad weekend; of course then people start talking about… ah, it's all because of the technical directives. I think they can go suck on an egg. But for my side, yeah, I was just very fired up to have a good weekend here and make sure that yeah, we were strong.
Q: (Lawrence Edmondson – ESPN) Max, you mentioned on the radio that Sector 1 was pretty special. Can you talk us through how on the limit you were there and is there any other section of track in Formula 1 that compares to that?
MV: Yeah, of course it was on the limit but it felt in control and that, I think, is very nice when the car just does exactly what you want it to do. So yeah, just really, really enjoyable. There are a few sectors where… like Austin, you know, is also very quick, but here, I think what makes it very special is that there is no runoff, so if you have a moment you're going off. In Austin, you have the runoff and tarmac and normally it's a bit more forgiving. So that's why I think this track is really beautiful to drive once the car is planted
Q: Oscar on the subject of Suzuka, how long has it taken you to get up to speed?
OP: Even through qualifying I was still trying to work on things. I think it's just natural for everyone… the grip comes up but I think overnight I was more happy this morning in FP3, a little bit closer and just feeling a bit more comfortable. I think if I came back next year I'd probably be more comfortable again so it takes a while, especially around here. I had quite a big moment through the first Degner yesterday and it took me a few laps to get back up to the same speed. So it definitely bites but yeah, I feel it's taken all of Friday and most of today.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Max, on Thursday Sebastian Vettel was here and he mentioned that your dominance of this season, he mentioned it in the same breath as other great Formula 1 champions: Michael Schumacher being one of them. Growing up watching Formula 1, were you a big Michael Schumacher fan? And do you take many cues and that sort of thing from the dominance that he showed in the early 2000s?
MV: I was never really a fan of anyone. I appreciated everyone's success and yeah, from my side, I was like… I want to be there one day, I want to stand on the podium or win races. But I think everyone's different, everyone has a different way how you get to Formula 1 anyway, a different upbringing. So there are a lot of factors that come into play and that's, I think, the beautiful thing about Formula 1, everyone is different because if everyone would be exactly the same I think it’s quite boring. But yeah, of course the success of some of the greats… I mean that's amazing. You might get a little bit of inspiration from it but I wouldn't necessarily want to try and do it the same way if you know what I mean. But anyway, the world is changing every time right? Every different era so you also have to take that into account.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) To both McLaren drivers, Oscar mentioned that it's going to be a difficult race and more open, I guess. Can you elaborate on what you're expecting tomorrow in the race? Are we mentioning Ferraris, Mercedes, those sorts of things?
OP: Yeah, I think yesterday and the whole weekend, just the degradation has been a lot higher than say Silverstone. Yeah, just looking at the tyre choices from everybody, clearly I would say most people are expecting more than one pit stop just from the number of… Max saved three sets of softs and the rest. Yeah, so he's doing a four-stop tomorrow! So yeah, it's just going to be a very different race to Silverstone from that aspect, and I think whenever you've got more deg, more pit stops it just increases the margin for error. It tests how well you can manage the tyres as well so it's not as simple as just going flat out or as quick as the car will let you so yeah, that was all.
LN: Yeah, not much more from that. I think just the knowledge of our general pace and competitive pace… Mercedes are always very strong on a Sunday. But I think we've been strong all weekend from qualifying runs but also high fuel runs. So I think we're hoping for probably an easy race but it's never going to be an easy race around here so like Oscar said, just with undercut powers and things like that, I'm sure there's going be a lot going on.