FIA post-qualifying press conference - Mexico City
1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing) 2 – George RUSSELL (Mercedes) 3 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
PARC FERMÉ INTERVIEWS
(Conducted by David Coulthard)
Q: Max, pole position. You'd been there before, but then there was the yellow flag infringement. This time nothing's getting in the way of you starting right at the very front.
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, it was. It was a good qualifying, I think. It was a close one but I think after FP3 we made a few adjustments and the car got into a better rhythm, and yeah, to be on pole here is amazing. I know, of course, it's a very long run to Turn 1, so we do need a good start. But anyway, I think we have a quick car and that's, of course, what's most important.
Q: Yeah, the first corner is somewhere way, way down there in the distance. So, that's going to make it interesting at the start. Before we get to the race tomorrow, though, you really seemed like you came a little bit from the backfoot to then find your form right when it counted. Amazing atmosphere here. How is it when you come through the stadium?
MV: Yeah, it's amazing. It's incredible the passion of all the fans over here, also in the stadium. I mean, it's amazing to drive here.
Q: You've got a very famous team-mate, Checo, who has been getting all the love. He's not there with you in the top three but he's going to be playing a part tomorrow I guess.
MV: Yeah, Checo will be there tomorrow I'm sure. We have a quick race car. So yeah, I hope it will be quite a fun race with a lot of action.
Q: Well, just quickly put us in that then. What are you expecting tomorrow in terms of potential strategy? And then also keeping these very fast Mercedes cars behind you?
MV: Yeah, I think it will be close in the race. I mean, normally, they have very good race pace as well. So yeah, it depends on what you can do with this strategy. But we'll look into that tonight.
Q: OK, Max, enjoy the pole position. So, George Russell, welcome back to the front row. It looked for a moment, through free practice, through the sessions like you were building your weekend. We heard you on the radio there, a bit frustrated that you felt that you could have done more. Put us in the cockpit.
George RUSSELL: Yeah, I mean, the team does have more today. They've produced a really great car this weekend and I think it's, you know, a testament to them for the hard work they've been putting in for so long and we saw last week with Lewis what the car was capable of and this weekend, I feel like it was our pole to have and it was just a terrible lap from my side. So sort of kicking myself but at the end of the day, no points for qualifying and excited to be back in the front row.
Q: Yeah, well, it was a great qualifying session to watch. Great to see that you were battling hard though with Max. Just explain to the viewers at home. Why is this circuit suiting your car better? You were on the front row of Budapest, but that was some time ago. What is it about the altitude here in Mexico?
GR: Well, we brought an update to Austin and I think it didn't really give it the opportunity to show what it was truly capable of, but with this high altitude for drag is less of a factor and that's where we get outscored by Red Bull, let's say. They are always taking about three tenths out of us on the straight and here it's less of a factor, so that's probably why we're a little bit more competitive.
Q: OK. Throw it forward to race day tomorrow, that's where the points are. Being second maybe isn't such a disadvantage when you go off the line. It's a long run.
GR: I'll be going for it for sure. So let's see what is possible.
Q: OK, George, enjoy the front row in qualifying. And we're going to hear from your team-mate. Lewis, not the position you would have wanted. Of course, you had your first attempt deleted for track limits. Does that unsettle you on that run? How good was that final lap?
Lewis HAMILTON: First of all, hola! Yeah, unfortunately, the first one, which I think was quick enough for a second, I think, maybe, I don't know. But yeah, it wasn't quite good enough. And the Red Bulls naturally are so fast. But I think this is such an amazing showing and I'm really proud of my team. This is the best qualifying we've had all year. So just shows that perseverance and never giving up is the way forward. So big thanks to everybody here and back at the factory.
Q: Great to see George as well back on form. Maybe not quite as strong as you in Austin. But here, he's really been laying down the lap times. So anything that you can learn from his laps?
LH: I think generally my laps have been pretty good. So I think the last lap wasn't good enough. There's still more performance in it and yeah, I’ll just keep pushing. I'm pretty happy with that position to start to be honest, it’s a long way down to Turn 1.
Q: Well, that's just what we talked about there with George. Maybe second, maybe third isn't the worst place to be, so that plays a part in your strategy for the run down to the first corner
LH: Let’s hope so.
Q: Max, many congratulations, as you said a moment ago, very lovely to take your first pole here in Mexico. Just talk us through those runs in Q3, both very fast laps.
MV: Yeah, it was, I think a bit of a tricky start to qualifying, because the track was a bit warmer than FP3. So I think everyone was sliding around a bit more and it was a bit more difficult to find your rhythm. So it was really like Q1 to Q2 to Q3 trying to… Well, trying to find a balance in the car again. And I think yeah, every session it got a little bit better. And I think in Q3, we finally could push a little bit more with the car and yeah, two decent laps, I think. So of course, very happy with that, because around here, it's very hard to… For me at least, it is very hard to nail a lap, just you know, it's very low grip and there are a few kerbs that you have to, like, perfectly hit to actually gain time. So it's definitely not the easiest of qualifyings always. And the same with the tyre warm-up around here. But it seemed like in Q3 we had it under control.
Q: How much did you change the car during the session?
MV: I mean, of course, during the session, you can't really change, but it's just fine tuning a few things on the wheel, what is allowed. And yeah, I think at one point, we found a good balance.
Q: OK, now looking ahead to tomorrow, historically pole isn't always the best place to start this Grand Prix because of the long run to Turn 1. Just how do you view the challenge ahead in the race?
MV: Yeah, I mean, I've started, I guess, everywhere except pole here, and we won the races, so … It is always important to have a good start around here. I think our top speed is not too bad to defend, at least, when people are in the draft. So yeah, we just need to focus on that and honestly, I think if we have good race pace, then it will be a good fight anyway, but yeah, of course, we'll try to stay ahead into Turn 1.
Q: How was the race pace yesterday in practice?
MV: We don’t know because we've been driving on these development tyres so it's a bit difficult to tell. But I think the car we had today, I'm expecting it to be alright tomorrow.
Q: George, we’ll come to you now. A great job by you, your third front-row start the year. First up, how good was that first run in Q3?
GR: It was a very difficult session for us. The car’s been feeling great every single lap I've driven this whole weekend in FP2, in FP3, obviously quickest in both sessions. And then my very first lap in Q1, it was just awful! When I was really struggling, I was driving terribly and I just had no rhythm whatsoever. So, that first lap in Q3 was kind of, I wouldn't say necessarily a banker, but it was a good lap, it was a clean lap. And I knew there was a lot more on the table. And when I tried pushing further, I just got bitten by the car and couldn't complete the lap. It started at Turn 5, I had a big, big oversteer moment. And then obviously I locked up just trying too hard in Sector 3 to make up. So, you know, I am disappointed because I feel like the team deserved the pole position today. The car’s been performing great but ultimately the points are scored tomorrow, and we'll be going for that race win.
Q: What happened to the car between final practice and the start of qualifying?
GR: Nothing, to be honest. We changed nothing. So, the conditions changed, the wind changed slightly, the grip was a lot lower, temperature had increased. And I think that's always the difficulty with Mexico. It can easily be a front limitation, it can easily be a rear limitation, just depending on the track temperature. And with this really dark colour of tarmac, it can fluctuate very, very quickly. So yeah, it was a bit of a shame, but nevertheless, you know, we're starting P2, second best quali of the year and we've got both of us inside the top three. So, there's a lot of positives to take away.
Q: What about the long run pace?
GR: Yeah, I think we were looking competitive. Similar to what Max said: we don't really know. But we think we've got a reasonable shot. And I think obviously, having Lewis and I there at the front gives us an opportunity to maybe do something different with the strategy. And I don't think anybody really knows if it's going to be a one- or two-stop. So, let's see what we can do.
Q: Lewis, your second top three start of the season. However, Q3 wasn't the cleanest session for you. Just talk us through it.
LH: It was generally a really good qualifying session. No real, major issues. I mean, we had some problems with the engine towards the end in Q3. So, I think there was definitely a bit of performance left on the table with that, unfortunately. But I did the best I could. I think losing that first lap definitely made the last one very, very difficult. I had to be very reserved on that last lap, just to make sure that it was clean, because I was tenth up until that point. So unfortunately, not able to push as hard as I would have liked. But nonetheless, I think this is a great result to be second and third. It's not a bad position to start for tomorrow. And I hope that we can fix the engine problem for tomorrow.
Q: Lewis the car seems to have come alive here. How do you explain that?
LH: I can’t. Simple as that.
Q: The race has been won from P3 on the grid for the last two years. How do you view the race tomorrow?
LH: I think it's going to be… Naturally, it's always a tough race around here, with the track temperatures and tyres. These guys have been rapid all year long. Even at our best this weekend, still losing out to them through straight-line speed. So, it'd be definitely difficult to get by them tomorrow, but we'll give it our best shot. And Turn 1 is an opportunity. So, we'll go for it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, you gained time in your second run in Q3. What was the difference to the first run? And I see you mentioned a couple of kerbs that are important to hit perfectly to gain time; could you explain that as well?
MV: Honestly, I think everywhere just gained a little bit. It was not like I made a mistake on my first lap, it was just a couple of corners were tiny track evolutions as well. You just try to get a little bit more time. You could see a lot of people – in Turn 2, Turn 3 – riding quite aggressively over the kerbs so that is definitely already one bit but also in other parts of the track, you’re constantly riding over them and in this low grip condition, because of the altitude, it makes it all a little bit more difficult. Even in the last sector, you’re riding kerbs so it makes it a bit more fun because you can make a difference the way you hit kerbs.
Q: (Laurence Edmonson – ESPN) Lewis, can you give us any more details on that engine issue, how it hampered you and was it on both Q3 laps or just the second one?
LH: Yeah, it started to appear in Q2 and then it was just every run in Q3. It was basically dropping out of power on exits of corners so I definitely think we were losing quite a bit of time, I think, out of the last corner and basically out of most of the corners. Not really sure what was happening, it felt like an ignition issue but I will find out from the team.
Q: (Marijin Abbenhuijs – AD Sportwereld) To the Mercedes drivers. Last week, Lewis was responding quite modestly to questions about closing the gap towards Red Bull, towards next year. How do you look at that now, since the performance today was quite promising and given the fact that you have more time in the wind tunnel to spend this winter?
GR: I think it’s really exciting to see the progress we’re making as a team but we’ve seen our car performance fluctuate pretty substantially across the course of this season and this is certainly a circuit that probably suits our car characteristics, and because of the altitude, the drag is less penalising. Obviously Red Bull have a really efficient car and have being taking a huge amount of lap time – over half a second – at many tracks out of us just in a straight whereas here that was less noticeable so that was probably the gap… probably why this weekend we probably the fastest car so far but definitely making a lot of progress.
LH: I mean George answered it. Yeah, I mean, this is just one race so of course, we've definitely made progress but you'll see potentially at the next races, the gap can easily open again. I think the Red Bull generally seems to work everywhere and ours works in only a couple places at the moment. So we do have time to try and fix it and all is not lost. Yeah. I'm hoping that the team manages to fix it for next year.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, you mentioned losing that first run in Q3, I think it was Turn 3, the track limits there. Could you just explain what happened there? And how close were you to staying within the confines of the track?
LH: I don't really know. I think it was… I was told it was turn two so just apex kerb. I think we need to look deep into it, because I don't believe it's the case but we'll see.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – Associated Press) Off topic for Lewis; you are a role model for Bubba Wallace, the NASCAR driver and he returned today from a one race suspension that he took very hard. And he was suspended for things that in NASCAR are typically celebrated, but because it's Bubba, people called for lifetime bans and things like that. How would you suggest he move forward and handle that?
LH: Well, Bubba, I think, probably doesn't need any advice. I think what he's done and what he stands for is amazing. And he's been so brave and been outspoken. I saw his documentary. I’m just generally really proud of him. I think the best thing you can do is not let anything pull you down. Just keep on pushing, keep your head up, do not give up, do not listen to the things that have been saying, do not read what's on social media. And just keep believing. I think if you let those things get to you, it can hold you back. And so I just ask him to head high and don't give up. I think he's going to do amazing when he comes back.
Q: (Lewis Dekker – NOS) Lewis and George, we’ve made a lot of stories about porpoising this year, has it nearly disappeared?
GR: I think it almost has disappeared. I think the couple of small rule changes that were implemented by the FIA definitely helped and the changes into next year by raising the floor edge, we're almost 100% sure that will take porpoising out of the equation totally. It's funny, there was once a time that I forgot what a race car felt like not to have porpoising and now to be honest, I forgot what it does feel like to have porpoising. So I think that also goes to show the progress we as a team have made not only to cure those issues that once seemed very difficult, but also to bring a lot more performance onto the car thereafter.
LH: I still feel bouncing and the car is still bouncing down the straights. It's not as hardcore as it was at the beginning of the year. I think we've done an amazing job to fix it. I'm not convinced the changes for next year will change it but I've not driven the new updated floor for it. But yeah, we'll see, I guess in the following races.