FIA post-qualifying press conference – Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 08: Third placed qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull


1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing) , 2 – Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), 3 – Sergio PÉREZ (Red Bull Racing)

(Conducted by Khalil Beschir)

Q: Checo, P3 tomorrow, starting from the third on the grid. How was the lap? Were you satisfied from the first lap? The second lap was a bit of a surprise for everyone.

Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah i didn't get much of an improvement on the on the final lap, which I think is why we missed the front row. But overall, I think Max has done a tremendous lap. I think that was not possible for me today but I think being on the front row was achievable, but anyway, I think we are still in the fight for tomorrow. Tomorrow, it's a long race, and anything can really happen.

Q: Well, you know how to win here. Long run yesterday, your car looked really good, very stable. The tyres lasted long. How is your team tomorrow with the fight with Charles and Max?

SP: Yeah, it will be quite interesting. I think it's going to be a long, fun race. I think there will be plenty of action. The cars around us are all very close, so it will be a very interesting battle tomorrow.

Q: Well, good luck for tomorrow. Charles. Great last lap. The first lap, you had an extra lap going out, doing two outlaps. How was it? The second lap was much better, but you had two preparing laps. in the first try on Q3?

Charles LECLERC: Yeah, the first lap in Q3, we tried something different, doing a preparation lap, but that didn't work out well for us. Then in the second lap, I put everything together and that was what was in the car today. So I'm really happy with the lap. A shame that we are a bit further away than what we hoped in qualifying, but tomorrow is the race and I hope we'll have a good surprise and that we'll be able to challenge the Red Bulls in front.

Q: Yesterday on the long runs, on the Soft, you had very good pace matching the Red Bulls on the Medium, obviously. But are you more confident with the car? Hopefully you solved the problems from Bahrain. How's the confidence of the team going into the race?

CL: For sure, we did a step forward compared to last year. I felt more comfortable in the car. I think the car is in a better place in race runs. So we just have to focus on ourselves. And obviously, we cannot change the car now for tomorrow. So we'll try and optimise everything else for the race. And then let's see what's possible tomorrow.

Q: You woke up today with the news of Carlos. You have a new team-mate. How much did you go in and help him to get on? Because he did a great job, I think, today. How was it today in the team with Oliver?

CL: I mean, first of all, I hope Carlos will recover quickly. And then on Ollie's side, I mean, he's done an incredible job, obviously, with only one session in FP3. He was straight up to speed and comfortable with the car. So it's good. I'm happy for him, obviously. It's a very special day and the first race in Ferrari having done only one session I guess is even more so special, so I hope that tomorrow we can have a great race both of us and score good points for the team.

Q: Max , finally. It has been coming for a few years. Your first pole position in Jeddah. Amazing lap. I think your first lap was perfect. The second lap was a bit slower. Talk us through this great pole.

Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, it was a very good day, I think, so far. We improved the car a little bit overnight, and that gave me a bit more confidence to attack the high-speed corners. And around here, of course, it depends a lot on your confidence level, how much you can go to the limit. And I really think today I felt very comfortable with the car. And throughout qualifying, it's pretty crazy how fast you go around here. I think, in my first step in Q3, I was very happy with... how I did the lap. It felt almost a bit like, you know, the failed ‘21 lap. But then, of course, making the last corner. I had a lot of fun and the car was behaving really well.

Q: Well, I mean, you go into the race… I think yesterday the car was very stable, very good balance. I'm pretty sure you are confident going into the race tomorrow. But it's a long race here. Anything can happen with safety cars. How is the preparation going into tomorrow?

MV: Yeah, as we have seen in the past also, you know, there have been a lot of crazy races around here. A lot can happen. Normally people always say it's a one-stop, easy to the line, but it's not like that around here. A lot of straights as well. But I'm confident with the race pace that we have that tomorrow the car will work really well too.


Q: Many congratulations to the top three qualifiers for the FIA Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. In third place, Sergio Pérez. In second place, Charles Leclerc, and taking his first pole position here in Jeddah, and the 56th of his Formula 1 career, the pole sitter, Max Verstappen. Many congratulations…

MV. 34. It's 55 wins.

Q: Thank you for the correction. Sorry. Maybe I'm pre-empting tomorrow. Look, Max, many congratulations. That looked like a very tidy session for you. How good were those fastest laps in Q3 in particular?

MV: Yeah, I think in general, just the whole day, I felt a bit more comfortable with the car. The balance was a bit more together. Yeah, I could just push a little bit more. And then qualifying was quite nice. I mean, no real big problems, and I could just follow the track evolution a bit, so very happy with that. Yeah, my first lap in Q3, I think, was very nice. Maybe Turn 1, 2, and the last corner, I could have maybe improved a tiny amount, but overall, the car was just performing really nicely. I felt comfortable. I could push to the limit. And on a track like this, when you have that feeling, I think it helps to get a good lap time out of it.

Q: You said a moment ago that it felt like that ‘21 quali lap that wasn't quite. Does that make this one of your best ever pole positions?

MV: It felt really nice, yeah. I mean around here there are some corners that are really like really tricky at high speed, to hit the apexes like you want to, and I did feel that that was the case on that lap with not hitting the wall in the last corner you know! So yeah, I was very pleased with that.

Q: You were quickest in every sector. Does the car have a weakness around here?

MV: I mean, there are always particular corners where I think, you know, we can find a little bit more, but it's about finding the overall compromise, you know, to be quick. That's most of the time on every track the same.

Q: Well, let's throw it forward to tomorrow's race now. How is the long run?

MV: Yesterday it felt good, even though I think the set-up we had yesterday was not as good as today. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Normally, we should have good race pace. And actually, of course, the degradation won't be as high as in Bahrain. So, yeah, we'll have to see how close everyone else is. But from our side, I think the car is set up well.

Q: You and Charles on the front row for the fifth consecutive race now. How do you see the dash to Turn 1?

MV: Yeah, well, we'll see what happens, right? I mean, it's not where you win the race anyway nowadays. So, of course, you always try to have a good start, but it's important to just get through lap one and settle in.

Q: All right. Many congratulations to you. Well done, Max. Charles, if we come to you. Your seventh consecutive front-row start. How pleased are you with the performance of the Ferrari?

CL: Well, it's good to be starting on the front row. However, today I didn't really find the right feeling with the car. For some reason, with the new tyres, we didn't have the car in the right place, which I hope that for tomorrow it will improve a little bit. For some reason, we had quite a lot of oversteer and just the rear is not quite ready. So in Q3, we tried something different. We went for a prep lap, which didn't help at all. And then in the second lap, I put everything together and I don't think there was much more. But today, the feeling wasn't as good as what I had, what I was expecting, considering yesterday.

Q: Well, what were your expectations coming into the session? Because some observers thought you'd challenge Max for pole very closely.

CL: I mean, more than expectations of positions, I had expectations of feeling and balance. And that's not what I found today, which for sure we left a little bit of performance on the table. However, Max did a great lap. And today they were just stronger. So we've got to work on that and try and understand for the future what happened for qualifying on that first time lap.

Q: Well, what about the race? What are the main challenges of 50 laps here in Jeddah?

CL: We were just speaking earlier, I think physically it’s definitely the most or one of the most difficult races of the season. So that's going to be one challenge. Then apart from that, as always, you need to get the strategy right and we'll do our homework tonight to take the right decisions.

Q: Do you think the Red Bulls are beatable?

CL: Yes. I mean, I'm always optimistic, so we'll try our best. However, we know that normally they have the upper hand and they have a bit more pace in the race than in qualifying. And looking at the gaps today it’s going to be a difficult one to get the top spot tomorrow. But I'll do everything as always.

Q: Final one from me. Of course, we're sad not to have Carlos Sainz with us this weekend and we wish him well, but Ollie Bearman is just making his debut with Ferrari. Can we get a few words from you on the performance he put in and how did it impact your own session?

CL: Well, first of all, I wish Carlos the speediest recovery. And for Ollie, I mean, he has done an incredible job. Obviously, not having done FP1, FP2 is quite a big disadvantage. He got into a car that he didn't know on such a challenging track, like it is in Jeddah, and straight away, in FP3, he was on it. So it was good to see, and I'm sure that it's a very, very special weekend for him. I remember my first race in Formula 1, and I wasn't in Ferrari, and I had some months to prepare for that. So I cannot imagine how special it is for him to get the call this morning and to jump into Ferrari on such a racetrack. So I hope we can score good points tomorrow so that he keep those memories in his mind forever.

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 08: Second placed qualifier Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari talks in a press conference following qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 08, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Q: Checo, coming to you now. No pole position for you this year. Just how would you sum up qualifying from your point of view?

SP: Yeah, I think the whole day hasn't been as good as yesterday. Somehow we took a step back from what we were doing yesterday, but it's something that we have to understand, especially for tomorrow. I really hope that what we've done, hopefully tomorrow we will be in a better position come race day and be able to have a stronger race.

Q: Generally, though, are you happier in the RB20 here than you were a week ago in Bahrain?

SP: I think yesterday was a very strong day, very positive. Over one lap, over the race distance, things were going on the right direction. But today it seemed that we took a step back somehow. I don't know if anything else has changed on the track or on our prep, but certainly something to review and try to come to the bottom of it.

Q: And just talk us through the challenge of beating Charles tomorrow in particular, making it a Red Bull 1-2.

SP: Well, I think it's going to be a challenge. You know, I think racing here, it's all about race pace, all about degradation. So I think the faster one tomorrow will finish in front. So it's a track where you can overtake. It's a place where you can race. So, yeah, there is a long way ahead of us tomorrow.


Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to Max, please. I wonder if you could just talk us through the second run in Q3, why you didn't go any quicker there, or was it just a case of, if you were on 2021 level of performance with the first lap, that was just unbeatable?

MV: The first one was a very good lap, and the second one, I had a little moment between 9 and 10, so I lost momentum. From there onwards also, I knew that the previous lap was very good, so I was like, I don't want to risk potentially damaging the car for maybe matching the lap time again, if I would really put everything together. That's why I just lost a bit of momentum there and a little bit out of the last corner. Once you see that you're a bit down already on your lap time, on a street circuit especially, sometimes I guess it's better to just finish the lap and just deal with it.

Q: (Fred Ferret – l’Equipe) A question to Charles Leclerc. Was there a particular reason to try something different at the first lap on Q3 and what was it that you were trying?

CL: Yes, just to have one more lap in the tyre because the balance felt a bit more in line with what I expected on a scrubbed tyre, so on used tyres. So we tried to have a prep lap just to make sure to try everything and to see whether it was feeling any better. But unfortunately, it didn't. So that's what we were trying to achieve. However, the results were not positive. Anyway, I don't think there was time to do a prep-push, but I wouldn't have done that because that felt worse. So yeah, there's still something we need to understand about this qualifying because the feeling wasn't quite right from Q1. And we need to understand in order to be better in the future.

Q: (Christian Menath – A question is for Max. Sorry to ask you this question after qualifying and after pole position, but Helmut Marko said that it could be the case that this is his last race. What would this mean for you, and would this have any implications for your future?

MV: Yeah, from my side, you know, I have a lot of respect for Helmut and, you know, what we have achieved together goes very far. And also, of course, my loyalty to him is very big. And also, I've always expressed this to everyone within the team, everyone high up, that he's an important part in my decision-making for all the time in the future as well within the team. So, yeah, it's very important that he stays within the team, including, of course, everyone else, because, you know, it's a whole team effort. And it's very important that we keep the key people together, because I feel like if such an important pillar falls away, that's also what I've said to the team, that is not good for my situation as well. So, yeah, for sure, for me, Helmut has to stay, for sure. You know, he has built this team together with Dietrich from day one, and he's always been very loyal to the team, to everyone within the team, to make sure that everyone would keep their positions already from back in the day. And I think it's also very important, of course, that you give the man a lot of respect for what he has done. And that comes back also to loyalty, you know, and integrity. So, yeah, for sure, it's important that he stays part of the team also for me.

Q: (Nate Saunders – ESPN) Question for you, Charles. You mentioned about Ollie and his performance just after qualifying. I just wonder what it's been like working with him since he's joined the team and just how impressed you were with how he handled that today? And just to all three of you, I know Oliver had practice and qualifying, but how difficult is this circuit in particular to kind of get to grips with straight away in the way that he had to?

CL: It's definitely one of the most difficult track of the calendar for sure, being a street track and so fast as well. But he handled it perfectly. As soon as he got with the engineers this morning, he had so much to understand in order for him to be ready. We didn't have much time to speak. The only thing I've told him when he came this morning, I was like, “are you excited?” And he was like: “I cannot wait”. Which, I expected this answer, and it was good to see the excitement for him for his first race in Ferrari and again he's done a great job.

MV: Yeah. It's super hard to jump in on a track like this. And I think what he has done has been very, very impressive. Like, you know, I was watching his first few laps in FP3, because that's where you can judge if someone is a bit comfortable or not in the car. And by lap two, lap three, I was like: “Okay, that's a strong start. I like to see that.” And yeah, to be P11, I think only at the time six tenths off pole, that is more than I think you could have asked from him. So for sure, yeah, he's done an incredible job. And I hope, of course, he also enjoyed it a little bit out there because it's quite stressful, you know, when you come into a new team, basically, a new car and without any experience on this track. So, yeah, hopefully he's happy with himself, also, not that he says, “I didn't make it to Q3” or whatever, because I think everyone within the paddock has seen that he did a great job.

SP: Yeah, I think it was very impressive. I think it's a place where you don't want to get the call to do your debut, because it's one of the most challenging places, the one that you have to take the most risk, the one that you have to be the most confident with the car, with the balance. So, yeah, big respect for what he has achieved today. I think he has done a really strong job. It just shows how well prepared he is for the opportunity. So well done to him.

Q: (Rodrigo França – Car Magazine, Brazil) Question to the three of you. Speaking of that, I would like you to remember the worst and the best memory of your F1 debut, the first race ever?

SP: Well, for me, the worst memory was that we got disqualified! Because a millimetre or so with the rear wing. So, yeah, I realised how politics works in Formula 1 straight away. And the positive was making it into the points in my first ever race. I think I was the only one on one stop, and it worked really well. So fighting some Ferraris on my debut was very enjoyable.

MV: The car broke down, so probably that was the worst of it. To be honest, when I look back at it now, it was probably my worst general feeling in F1 because you're quite nervous. You don't know really what to expect. I'd never done a longer race than 35 minutes because in F3, it was like 30, 35 minutes. So I think the race itself was actually going quite well. We were fighting for points. But to be honest with you, I prefer not to think about it too much. It was not really a highlight in my career.

CL: Yeah, I mean, obviously the positive part was the excitement coming into that first race in Formula 1. It's a moment that we have all been waiting for in order to get there. The bad part is probably we weren't as competitive as we expected. So I was disappointed. But let's say that there were more positives than negatives. Obviously, having done my first race in Formula 1 was a dream come true for me.

Q: Charles, Oliver only had hours to prepare for his debut. Are there positives and negatives that come with that?

CL: Well, anyway, I don't think you have much time to think about it too much because this morning he got the phone call, he arrived at the track and then straight away he had to be on it because there were so many things going on. But I think also Ollie is extremely talented and he has shown it once again today. But there's been quite a lot of work done on the simulator and I'm really happy also to see that straight away he found the rhythm because that means that also the guys at the simulator are doing a great job. And that's all the preparation that he has done back at the factory is for something. And he's been prepared in the best way possible in order to be ready, which doesn't take anything off his talent. that has been, again, extremely impressive what he has shown today.

Q: (Rawan Hmdan – Saudi Press Agency) My question for the Red Bull team, you look like you are dominating the race, and maybe you will get it, because you are the fastest, almost. And my question specifically for you, Checo, you are owner of an E1 team, which was in Jeddah recently. So what do you think of Saudi hosting the major and big events, sports event in the world?

SP: Well, I think it's definitely a very good opportunity for any country to host these sort of events, you know, to show the world your country. I think we've all had a great time here. And I heard that also the E1 race was a really nice atmosphere. People were super positive about it. So it seems like definitely over here. they seem to like a lot the racing, any racing. So it's always good to come to places where the fans are passionate about our sport.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Same question to all three of you, please. Just following up on what Charles was saying earlier about this being one of the most challenging races. Why is that? Is it the high level of grip and the high speed, with the proximity of the walls? How does it compare to, say, the other night race like Singapore?

CL: I think the fact that it's a street track but with so many fast corners you are obviously on the limit of the car and every little bumps have an effect on the car and when you lose the rears at those speeds it's not a nice moment., so that makes it very, very challenging, as well as obviously the very high-speed corners. You need to be super precise and yeah, that makes it very, very difficult, because if you are out by 5 or 10 centimetres, it's not like you go wide and that's it. You touch the wall and it's done. So to find the confidence on a track like this is much more difficult than other tracks.

MV: Yeah, it’s early in the season, anti-clockwise, a lot of G forces continuously in Sector 1. The walls are super close, so your focus is constantly at 100%. Some tracks you can relax a bit on the straight or whatever, but here the straights, most of them are not even straights, you're constantly turning, pulling G, so your body doesn't have a lot of rest. In some places, like Turn 22, for example, it's getting a bit bumpy. So your view is also a bit more difficult. And yeah, the degradation is very low. So you can push quite high every single lap compared to maybe some other tracks where you have to pace manage a lot more. And that, of course, naturally brings the G-forces down a bit. And naturally, you can ease yourself into it a bit more, which is not the case here. And yeah, I think that all together makes it one of the hardest tracks on the calendar. SP: Yeah, I remember my race from last year with Max pushing all the way through the end. It was very intense, one of the most physical demanding races I've had. just because of the amount of G you pull into the high speed, but consistently. Like Max says, there's a lot of straight, but it's not really. You're always turning, pulling some G. And yeah, the race is just quite a fast, low degradation race. And I think it just makes it all together a very unpleasant race.

Q: (Rawan Hmdan – Saudi Press Agency) I want to ask, is Jeddah in the top three of your favourite places to race?

CL: Yes. Well, in terms of track, I've always been a huge fan of city tracks and obviously Jeddah being one and being such a challenging one it’s definitely on my top three list, together with… I mean, on my top four list, I wouldn't know which one to put. Yes, Monaco, Singapore, and Baku, together with Jeddah, are my four favourite tracks of the season.

MV: I'm probably the least of the supporters of street circuits sitting here, but I think from all the street circuits, I think it's definitely a really cool one and a demanding one. That's for sure. But I'm still in favour of the historic tracks.

SP: Well, given my track record here so far, I've been going well. So it's definitely one of my favourites. I really enjoy street racing and it's one that I really, I think it demands a lot of the drivers through qualifying and through the race. You know, even when you finish qualifying, you are quite exhausted. And I think tomorrow the race, it will be no different. I think 50 laps tomorrow, it's going to be quite an intense race, so it's quite nice that it takes everything out of the driver.



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