FIA post-qualifying press conference – Sakhir
1. Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes), 2. George RUSSELL (Mercedes), 3. Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull)
Q: Valtteri, P1 today and a great strategy by Mercedes as well to do three sets of tyres in Q3. A lot of pressure of you this weekend with a new team-mate, but you got the job?
Valtteri BOTTAS: For sure, it’s a different situation to have a new team-mate but fundamentally I wanted to focus on my own doing, not to waste any energy anywhere else and I think I managed to do that. I think strategy-wise we are in a great place as a team and good to see George locking the front row as well. It’s good to be on pole, I’m happy with that, but not my best qualifying, but I’m happy it was enough.
Q: That’s the main thing. Tell me about this new circuit layout and what are your expectations with strategy and how the race is going to pan out?
VB: It’s bit of an unknown really how the racing is going to be. It didn’t feel that easy to follow or pass so I’m really glad to be on the pole side and go from there. But hopefully we will see a fun race. It feels like a bit of a Mickey Mouse circuit, it’s quite bumpy and twisty. Let’s see tomorrow.
Q: George, first Q3 appearance, P2 missed out by two hundredths of a second, three cars within half a tenth. Tell me how the last few days have been and is there a sense of relief now you have got on the front row, because that was an epic performance?
George RUSSELL: Thank you, yeah. It’s been incredibly intense, so much to learn, the car, the seat – everything. It’s just so different. It felt really alien to begin with and it’s just a really different way of driving to be honest. You’re trying to unlearn what I learned at Williams and re-learn how to drive this car fast. I tried a lot of things in FP3 and it didn’t go well at all. To be honest I would have been happy just to get through to Q3 after final practice. Really pleased and we got it all pretty much all together on the final lap. Gutted to miss out on pole by 20 milliseconds. But if you had told me last week I’d be qualifying P2 on the grid next week, I would not have believed you.
Q: It’s the first time you’ve been beaten by a team-mate in Formula 1, which is important, but since you got that call from Toto you’ve got to be delighted where you’ve ended up and the progression you’ve had?
GR: Massively. You know Valtteri has pushed Lewis a huge amount in qualifying over the year and statistically I think there’s only a tenth between them and we all know how great Lewis is. Just to be behind Valtteri, coming in last minute, two days of prep, I’m pleased. So let’s see what we can do tomorrow.
Q: And a whole new experience tomorrow racing Max, racing Valtteri?
GR: Absolutely. Obviously I’ve got nobody in front of me, which I’ve not experienced for a long, long time. It’s going to be tricky. It’s going to be really tricky. Qualifying is what I feel most comfortable with, it’s balls out, everything you’ve got, and tomorrow you need a bit more control, a bit more finesse, and I just haven’t had the experience yet. I’ll give it my all and I’ll see what I can do.
Q: Max, I don’t know if Mercedes just tricked you into something there doing the three sets but you narrowly missed out but well within this race and after yesterday you looked quite strong.
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, they did their three sets or whatever, but from our side we had a good qualifying. It’s a very short lap, not many corners. Pleased to be a bit nearer in P3. I tried to be as close as I can today. It is a bit closer than normal but I think the layout explains that as well. But of course tomorrow we are also as well starting on different tyres so this will be quite interesting to see how it’s going to play our for us. Like I’ve said before we have nothing to lose so it’s better to have a bit of fun tomorrow and see what we can do.
Q: You are on that clean side of the grid and you have got the benefit of the tyres, probably three or four metres at the start. George is obviously not used to racing at the front and you have to take advantage of that haven’t you, if you want to take the fight to Valtteri?
MV: Yeah, wherever possible of course. We’ll find out tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it. All the lap times are so close to each other it’s all going to depend also on the start but even then with so many laps, management, it’s not going to be easy.
Q: Valtteri, many congratulations on what is the 16th pole of your career and your fourth of 2020. That was a very intense session to watch and lap times were very close but ultimately you came through. You must feel very satisfied?
VB: Yeah, yesterday was quite a tricky day for me personally. But today was a lot better. The car felt more complete and more driveable and I could really build lap by lap in practice three and then with a good feeling in the qualifying. Just slightly disappointed in myself at the end with the lap, that I didn’t improve at the end. But I was the only car without a tow. The lap was not that great so I couldn’t improve on the last run. I’m really happy to be on pole. In the end that’s how it is. On a track like this you can’t really make a difference, so the gaps are really small as you can see. I have to say George did a really good job. He was really building up to it and you could see the progress in qualifying. Really happy for us as a team that we can be one-two on the grid and it’s another big achievement for us.
Q: There was a lot of talk before the session about traffic management. In reality how tricky was it?
VB: For me in general it was quite OK. I think in Q2 there was one run that was a bit compromised because we were on the medium tyres and we had to do faster out laps than the other so it was a bit messy. But apart from that not too bad. Obviously this weekend it was my call to choose whether I go first or second. I was first and I was still expecting to have one car ahead of me in Q3, but I didn’t but I’m glad still you know that I could get a good enough lap.
Q: George, you missed out on P1 by just two one hundredths of a second. How satisfied are you with your first qualifying session in Mercedes?
GR: Yeah, incredible. I guess, you know, yesterday was a good day. Got into the car, working really well with the team and then just building on it lap after lap. And then into P3 it was a really, really woeful session – just pushing too hard, trying this, trying that, and it just didn’t come together, so to be honest after P3 I would have been satisfied just getting into Q3 almost, but no, really happy. I think Valtteri has been on it all weekend, even if the lap times yesterday didn’t quite show it, the true pace was always there. It’s been really tough for me to jump in last minute, learn a new car, working with new engineers, understanding the set-up, how to make this car go fast, because it’s a completely different ball game really. I am really pleased. In some ways being so close makes it slightly frustrating but if you told me four days ago that I would be qualifying P2 this weekend, I would have thought you’d have been having my pants down.
Q: How clean was your final lap of Q3?
GR: It was alright. I’ve been really struggling at Turn 1 all weekend. Oddly last week, that was my strongest corners and we were really strong there. This weekend I’ve been really weak compared to Valtteri, he’s been taking loads of lap time out of me. That was my weak point. I don’t know what it was I just couldn’t get on the throttle. After that every single time from Turn 4 onwards it felt great. The car was absolutely on rails and it was a real joy to drive. Just that Turn 1 and 2 were really letting me down. I’m sure I’m going to look on the data and Valtteri is going to be much quicker than me through there again and it’s going to frustrate me but nevertheless, like I said, first qualifying with Mercedes, 20 milliseconds behind pole, got to be pretty pleased.
Q: Max, coming to you, you’re starting P3 tomorrow, but you must have thought pole was on as well – just half a tenth behind Valtteri.
MV: Pole was on. After that first run I was two-tenths behind so I knew it was going to be difficult but you always try to be as close as you can. At the end, to be within a tenth wasn’t bad – but of course Valtteri didn’t have a tow and didn’t improve on his final lap. To be P3 is good for us I think on a track like this. I’m used to sitting in this chair. It might actually have my prints! I think at the end of this season, I’m going to take this seat home. It’s very comfortable.
Q: Now Max, what about the race tomorrow? Do you feel you can really take the fight to these guys? You seemed pleased after practice with your long run pace.
MV: Let’s see. I’m starting on a different tyre already, so that’s going to be interesting and from there onwards, last week our long runs, they looked quite good – but then again in the race we just came a bit short, so that was, yeah, a bit of a shame but let’s see if it’s going to be any better this week on, of course, the outer layout. Hopefully it is but we’ll find out tomorrow.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for Max, last week you complained about not taking the risk when you have nothing to lose. I guess on paper starting on the Medium is the fastest strategy – so is this the risk you wanted to take? Starting on the Soft to have a chance?
MV: It’s a different context. I had to take the Soft because my Medium lap wasn’t good enough. It was a bit too tight for us, so we’ll see tomorrow. It’s not always being aggressive but y’know, sometimes… I think last week still from my side I think we could have done a better job and a little bit of a different strategy – but I think we all learn so that was again a moment where you learn from and we’ll see what we have to do tomorrow.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to the two Mercedes drivers please. It’s fairly unusual to see the Mercedes cars having three runs in Q3. Could you just explain what that was all about? Going out on used tyres at the start, and what the plan was there.
VB: It’s the shortest lap of the year and I think the only track that allows to have three runs, timing-wise, otherwise in a normal track, which is longer, you just don’t have enough time to do three runs. That’s the simply answer. We actually wanted to do three runs with new tyres but we had to use the Soft in Q1 – although I disagreed a bit on that but we still did, the plan was to do three new tyres
GR: Nothing more to add, same boat.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question for George, two part question. First of all, how would you describe your mindset approach going into this weekend, and given all the various lessons and modification and tweaks here and there in the car and in your driving, how comfortable were you by the time you went out for that final run in Q3?
GR: Very relaxed, to be honest. When I was waiting for confirmation if I’d got this drive, it was incredibly anxious but as soon as I got the confirmation I just saw it as a great opportunity so I was pretty chilled. Everyone at Mercedes, Toto and James, they just said, ‘go out and enjoy it’. There’s zero expectation from you. If Lewis were to jump in a Williams, let’s say, it would be difficult, so we’re not expecting anything from you, and if you qualify first two rows, top five, top six, fine. You can still get a podium from there. Very relaxed, very relaxed – but obviously I always want to do well, I always want to be happy with my own performance and then comfort-wise it’s still not perfect. I’m very bruised and sore and it’s going to be quite a fatiguing race tomorrow if you’re not comfortable in the car. I had ice on my shoulders last night to reduce some swelling and what have you and knees… toes!
MV: You’ve got your girlfriend to help you out?
GR: She’s not here this weekend!
MV: Oh – that’s a shame!
GR: Unfortunately it was my trainer, which is… he had to release the muscles. But when the car is so fast, you forget about all the pain.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) George, before your last lap in Q3 you left quite a gap to Valtteri. Do you think you could have been closer and that would probably have given you a bit more of a tow? And Valtteri, you said that your last lap wasn’t ideal. Can you explain exactly where mistakes were or where you lost time?
GR: Yes, definitely. I probably did leave too much to be honest. I was actually looking into my mirrors, I thought Max was going to dive down the inside of me into the last corner to try to sneak ahead of me – so that’s for tomorrow is it? – I was I think 40ms down into Turn One. I think the wind must have changed, so obviously it would have affected Valtteri as well. So arguably if I was maybe two seconds closer I could have got free lap time. Ifs and buts, carrots and nuts eh?
VB: I think the main thing was that there was no cars ahead of me, so no tow at all. I could see and feel that I was not so fast on the straights, corners were quite OK. I would say I didn’t quite nail Turns Seven-Eight and maybe Turn 10 exit. To be honest, it’s a tricky circuit to get everything right with the twisty sections and everything. Like I said before, just happy it was enough for pole.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Question for George please, you mentioned your struggles in Turn 1. Can you go into that in a bit more detail? What’s the problem? It seems to be in terms of getting the car rotated properly. If memory serves, last week you were able to be quite positive on entry in the Williams. So is there some sort of difference in the way the Mercedes responds that you’re struggling to adapt to? Where’s the secret to unlocking that performance if you can get on top of it?
GR: The main thing, I was just struggling with a lot of understeer at the apex, which meant when I picked up the power I was just getting a snap of oversteer. The driving style I was doing in the Williams last week, where I was strong last week in the Williams, was not working, and it was very different to Valtteri, very different to what Lewis was doing. I think the Mercedes just has so much more grip and so much more front end on the entry phase that could allow me to carry a bit more speed but it was difficult. It’s just a very different way to drive the car. I’ve been so impressed with the engineers I’m working with, how they’ve tried to show me how to improve. The standard of that team is absolutely incredible. They’ve really helped me to improve on the small things. Still not there yet, obviously, it’s a strange track, only a day in the car but yeah, happy.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) George, you could stand on the podium tomorrow as a Formula 1 winner. Have you had time to think or dream about how that might feel, really? And you mentioned earlier in the week that you hoped you’d be able to speak to Lewis; have you spoken to him at all?
GR: Yeah, Lewis dropped me a message on Thursday or Friday night, can’t remember now. Just wishing me well and said look after his car which… so far so good. No, to be honest. Obviously it would be amazing to stand on the podium but ultimately, as a racer, you just want to deliver the best performance possible and in all honesty, some of the performances that we achieved in the Williams for a P14 in qualifying was… the buzz and the thrill to achieve that was incredible so tomorrow I’m going to leave satisfied or disappointed, depending on how I felt I did. Whether that’s a win, whether that’s a P3, whether that’s a P5 or whatever, there’s no expectations, going into with an open mind and hope for the best.
Q: George, over one lap, where’s the biggest difference between the Williams and the Mercedes?
GR: It’s difficult to say because obviously this track is a little bit Mickey Mouse. The infield section is very tricky but the car is finessed to every single detail and everything from brakes, downforce, power handles to bumps, I could not believe how good the car was over the bumps into turn seven. It’s just faster. This is the level that everyone in Formula One is working towards, what the guys at Mercedes in Brackley are doing at the moment, just incredible.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) To all three: George, based on what you’ve just said, what the guys in Brackley are doing is incredible etc, one of the questions on all the fans’ and readers’ minds at the moment is does Mercedes actually need a big bucks superstar like Lewis to lock out the front row of the grid, and possibly even win the race with a one-two? How do you suggest we answer that one?
MV: Of course you do, because he will make the difference in the most crucial moments. That’s why he’s a seven time World Champion.
VB: I’m not a team manager, but if I was I would just try to find the best driver pairing for your team, that’s how it is. So yeah. But I’m not a team manager, I’m a driver so I don’t really think about those things.
GR: Yeah, as Max said, guys like Lewis, they make the difference when the pressure’s on, in the key moments and that’s what Lewis has done so well over all of the years. Yeah, he’s a superstar and of course, if you’re Toto or whoever, you want him in your race team.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) George, what’s been the single most impressive thing for you about this weekend?
__GR: The food’s been really nice, to be honest. That’s been… it’s good, to be honest! It’s good at Williams. Now you make me feel bad! The food at Williams is good.
MV: Or just in general…
GR: Yeah, the food is nice. There is not one single thing. All of it. That’s why Mercedes are so dominant. It’s not just one thing that makes them so great, it’s everything and the way the whole team works, the way they deal with issues and… yeah…
VB: The coffee’s not great. It’s Nespresso.
GR: The coffee’s not great. Yeah, it’s Nespresso.
VB: Needs to be better.
MV: You know your coffee.
VB: Getting there. But I’m pushing all the… the priority is always the coffee.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) George, one your approach this weekend, the preparation and the effort, the changes behind the scenes has been meticulous on your part and obviously Mercedes as well. How much have you driven that in terms of just wanting to make sure everything is sort of tuned to your liking as possible? And how useful has it been, sort of working with someone like Bono who’s got so much experience?
GR: It’s been a property method, to be honest. Not just Bono but the four or five engineers around, the mechanics, up late at night, modifying the seat, modifying clutch paddles, learning all the procedures. It’s been a proper, proper effort. I think we are all pretty knackered and tired, just from the lack of sleep really, last night, leaving the track at three, four a.m. In the morning, I think the guys were there until probably sunrise maybe. They want to win and I asked the guys, how do they feel, they’ve obviously been so loyal with Lewis and they’ve been part of his team for so long and (they said) ‘listen, we just want to win’ and that just shows the mentality of that team.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) George, I was just wondering, in terms of your preparation for everything that’s happened so far this weekend, how much of that has been unlearning stuff that you were doing in the Williams last weekend? And is the reverse true, that there were things you were doing last weekend that have helped you so far in the Mercedes?
GR: Yeah, I guess arguably I probably would have been better of if I just came in with an open mind and not raced this circuit or at least half of this circuit last week, because I spent all last week braking at this point, turning at this point at turn one and doing this, doing that and this car is just completely different. Then all the procedures, learning new procedures, learning new buttons. FP1 was a mess, pressing wrong buttons here and there and even in qualifying, I pressed neutral at one point instead of something else. It’s difficult when you’re in such a routine. For me, down at Williams, you don’t even think about these things; it just naturally happens. Trying to modify as much as is physically possible, just to make things easier for me. It’s been a lot of work and it still takes a bit of time. It takes a couple of races just to understand all of that so Toto, a few more races please and I’ll be there!