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FIA post-race press conference - Abu Dhabi

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Press Abu Dhabi Race 2023.jpg

DRIVERS

1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull), 2 – Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), 3 – George RUSSELL (Mercedes)

TRACK INTERVIEWS

(Conducted by David Coulthard)

Q: George Russell, third place and well appreciated by the crowd here. That has made the difference, you have secured second in the Constructors’ Championship for the team and that means a lot.

George RUSSELL: It means a huge amount. There are so many people back at the factory, in Brackley and Brixworth, who have worked so hard to achieve. It has been a really challenging season. I've let the side down a couple of times this year. So, pleased to bring it across the line today. It was tight with Checo at the end. I thought Charles was going to back me up but respect to him for keeping it clean…. and I can chill out now.

Q: Yeah, you’ve got to sweat on your brow. You had to really fight hard there. You knew that Checo, very late in the race, got that five-second penalty. Were you able to compute what was happening with Charles and the gaps or were the team keeping you informed?

GR: I mean, I came out of the pits on a second set of Hards. I was managing a bit and then Checo just came from nowhere. So, I don't know what happened there. They had great pace. It was really tense at the end. The tyres were dropping off. But just really pleased to have secured P2 for the team. And I’m sure everyone will have a few drinks tonight.

Q: Well, you say that, but you also told me ahead of the Grand Prix that you've not been feeling 100% for a couple of weeks.

GR: I was probably coughing four times a lap then, so it was pretty miserable out there, which didn't help things. But, as I said, just a massive relief to have brought the car home in P3. Can't believe it's only the second podium of the year, but really happy to end the season this way.

Q: It's a very well deserved podium and congratulations. So we're just being joined by Charles as he applies all his jewellery. Very nice. Would you like to finish putting them on before the interview? Would you like to finish putting your jewellery on? Or is it a gift?

Charles LECLERC: It's actually a sponsor.

Q: Ah, OK. I thought you were just being generous! Charles, great thinking in the cockpit there at the end to allow Checo to overtake you. I wasn't part of the final part of the commentary, I was coming here to do the interviews. Was that something that you discussed with the team beforehand? Or was it all in those last few moments?

CL: No, no, it was all in the last few minutes, because Checo had five seconds penalty. So we had to help him, in a way, for him to finish in front of George with the five seconds. I tried to give him the DRS and a slipstream. But unfortunately that wasn't enough. So, on one hand, I'm really happy because on a weekend like this, honestly, there wasn't one thing we could have done better as a team. I think it was definitely not a given that we were in the second fastest car this weekend. But we did an incredible job, doing everything right – strategy, qualifying. It's just a shame that we finished third in the Constructors’. That's all that mattered to me in this end of season. And we didn't achieve that. But yeah, anyway, I would like to thank the team for doing such incredible work and for working so incredibly hard since the first race. We knew that it was going to be an uphill season because we lacked performance compared to where we wanted. But the team has done an incredible job, pushing until the last race.

Q: Just put us back in the race start. It looked like there were two opportunities for you to go wheel-to-wheel with Max. Turn 1, of course, and then down at the end of the back straight into Turn 6. What was happening there? Because it looked like you've done enough to get the pass done.

CL: Yeah, I obviously wanted to try and get that first place. But we also know that in the race, we lack some pace compared to them. So even if I would have passed Max there, I probably would have gotten overtaken again, three or four laps later. And at the end, my only target was to beat the Mercedes. So I didn't want to lose too much tyre juice and also time with Max. But yeah, it was fun.

Q: OK, Charles, Congratulations on finishing the season with a podium.

CL: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Q: And ladies and gentlemen, at the end of what's been an incredible season for Max. An unbelievable 19th victory of the year. How are you feeling right now?

Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, an incredible season. It was a bit emotional on the in-lap. You know, it was the last time I was sitting in the car, which has of course given me a lot. So yeah, I’m of course very proud to win here at the last race. But I have to say a big thank you to everyone at Red Bull. It's just been an incredible year. It will be hard to do something similar again, but we definitely enjoyed this year.

Q: It looked like it and can I just compliment you on your donuts at the end?

MV: You taught me how to do it!

Q: You did it beautifully, and positioned your car there. Now, how would you reflect, beyond thanking your team here? This is where you won your first world title. You wrapped up your third much earlier in the season. Difficult to imagine it can get better than this.

MV: Yeah it'll be very hard to have another season like this, we know that. Of course, you always want to do better, but sometimes doing better is not only race wins and eventually winning the championship but we'll see, you know. We are working hard for next year to have again a very competitive car. For sure, all the other teams out there want to try and beat us next year and we are ready for the battle. But in the meantime, we are going to enjoy a little bit this year as well.

Q: Well, Max, as you are the champion, maybe the final words to the fans that you've seen all around the world, not just here in Abu Dhabi, but it's been an exceptional year for Formula 1.

MV: Yeah, it's been incredible you know, sold out in basically every place we went to. Great fan support and again, also here. I hope you guys enjoyed the race today as well and you saw all your favourite drivers do well. And, of course, thank you very much for cheering us on.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Max, very well done to you. You've ended the season as you started in Bahrain, nine months ago, with a dominant win. You looked untouchable out there. How sweet was it?

MV: Yeah, it was, of course, a good race. I mean, the first stint, I didn't really know what to expect, because I didn't do a long run. So I probably took it a bit too easy in the beginning, but I guess that was better than trying to push ahead and destroy the tyres. So I took a few laps. But then I also think the Medium was just not as good as expected. So then we had to pit, because I saw everyone around me also pitting and, you know, on the Hard tyres, everything felt a bit more normal, a bit more easy to manage with the temperatures and basically I could extend my lead lap after lap. And yeah, it was pretty straightforward. I think for not having done a long run, the car felt quite decent out there.

Q: You were taking it easy in the early laps. That wasn't the case when Charles was right up next to you.

MV: No, of course, I mean, the first lap, you cannot take it easy.

Q: Tell us about that battle?

MV: It was good. I think. Yeah, we raced well. I didn't expect Charles to go on the left into Turn 6 but it was a good move. But I think at the same time, of course, Charles also had to think about the Championship, you know, for the team. So yeah, it was good. I enjoyed that.

Q: And Max, your lights to flag win means you've passed 1,000 laps led in a single season. Proof, of it when needed, of how untouchable you've been this year. Does that stat impress you?

MV: Well, I knew it was on the cards, of course, going into the race. And also, from the engineering side with the strategy, we wanted to, of course, try and plan it in a way that I wouldn't pit too early. So, just wait for others to pit. Of course, to try and achieve that it was maybe not always the, let's say, the fastest strategy. But I wanted to stay in the lead, of course to get the laps in.

Q: And so ends your record-breaking season. When you've retired from racing, Max, many years down the road, what will you remember most about this year?

MV: I think the just the team spirit. Not so much the wins or the, whatever, poles or laps led, just the enjoyment we had as a team. Because, yeah, the wins are great, of course but I think it's also very important to have a good atmosphere in the team and have a lot of fun. And just the people you work with, there's a lot of smart people in the team. And I also know that whatever you do in motor racing, I think it never will top that. So yeah, just seeing everyone at work, trying to do the best they can every day, and give it all out there for you. Yeah, that's really nice to see.

Q: Charles, let’s come to you. Great job by you to claim your sixth podium of the season. Did the race pan out as you'd expected?

CL: Hmmm… well, yeah, more or less, I think we were a bit more competitive than what we expected. I think we expect to be a bit on the backfoot compared to Mercedes or McLaren, but I guess, apart from that, everything was as expected. I mean, Max was stronger as expected but we had quite good tyre management. We were expected to struggle mostly with overheating. That is normally one of our weaknesses. But today we did quite a good job on that.

Q: Talk us through that first lap battle with Max.

CL: Yeah, it was nice. On the other hand, obviously I had, in my mind, the Constructors' Championship, so I couldn't take too many risks. But as I said, I saw an opportunity, I saw that Max was looking in the mirrors where I was expecting him to look in the mirror, so I made him think that I was going to the right, then I went to the left and then I tried also in Turn 9 but I knew that it was important for me to take care of those tyres, and even in the first lap, everything is so sensitive here that even if you push too much in the first lap then this can have a huge consequence on the rest of your run. So, at one point I just decided to settle for the second place, which anyway if we will have got that first place, I don't think we'll have kept that for long.

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ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Q: Charles, you’ve just talked about the positives from a tyre-wear point of view and how the pace was better than you were expecting. How much confidence does that give you going into next season?

CL: I mean, depends for what. On one hand it is good to finish a season like that. That gives me the confidence that, for next year, hopefully, we know more where we need to set-up our car and where the development needs to be done. On the other hand, there's still a long way to go before getting to the Red Bull pace, especially in terms of race pace. So, on that we are all aware in the team that there's still a lot of work to do.

Q: And in the Constructors' Championship, it was close, it was on a knife edge, right until the chequered flag. Can we get your summary of finishing P3 and how frustrating I guess that is – but also just the pace of the car? Do you think you've had the third fastest car this year?

CL: Depends where? Because there was so much going on. Yeah, it depends where we are. It's so much up and down. We've got races where we were definitely the second fastest cars, other races where maybe we were the fourth or fifth fastest car, so it was really up and down. But I believe that since Japan, when we brought an upgrade to the car, it went in the right direction, especially for my driving style. I always like to have a strong front and I felt much more at ease and could be much more consistent. So yeah, that's a positive. Then, of course, very disappointed with that third place in the Constructors’ as that was my only target since two or three races now. It was until the very last lap, I tried to give Checo the DRS for him to try and pull away five seconds to George, but that didn't quite work out.

Q: George coming to you. Can we start by talking about P2 in the Constructors' Championship with Lewis coming home ninth, you were Mercedes main man in that fight. How much pleasure does it give you to come home ahead?

GR: Yeah, it was a great weekend. And I'm really pleased to finish on this high because it's been a really challenging season. One, as a team, but on a personal side, just not getting the results that we probably deserve. The pace has been really strong on so many occasions, but just results kept on slipping through our fingers. So, you know, lady luck maybe on our side slightly today with Checo’s penalty but I think that more than made up for the other races this year.

Q: And let's talk about the race. It looks tough for you both on track and physically.

GR: Yeah, I’ve been really ill the last two weeks. Firstly, in Vegas with a big fever, I couldn't sleep and just felt awful. And then I've had a horrendous cough that stayed with me all week and in the car. I was coughing every single lap but when you're strapped into the car, you can't breathe. You can't take a deep breath in to get the cough out. So, it was just constantly with me. It was pretty, pretty miserable. So, I was pleased to bring it home when I saw that chequered flag.

Q: Final one for me. Are there any positives from the W14 that you'd like to see taken into next year? Or do you want a fresh start? A completely clean sheet with next year's car?

GR: Yeah, I think we're taking a clean slate into next year's car. I think that the positive is we're not scratching our heads why we're so far behind Red Bull. We see so many flaws with this car, which gives every single person back at the factory so much motivation and fire to chase after those problems and find those solutions, which we think will make a good step into next year. But, of course, I expect Red Bull to make a step again. But I’ve got no doubt, come Bahrain, we’ll be in a stronger position than we were in Bahrain this year.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Charles, how was the car once you’d come off the medium tyre at the first pit-stop? By that stage you weren't too far behind Max; I think there was only a second and a half/two seconds but things seem to be a little bit less competitive after the stop.

CL: I think Max was saving quite a bit on the medium because there were two or three laps before he pitted where he started to push and then straight away I understood: OK, they've got maybe much more margin than what I initially thought. Then on the hard, it was mostly about managing the gap to George behind. I was aware that we couldn't go and fight with Max, so I didn't want to take too much out of the tyres in the first few laps to then push. And I was also still thinking about a one stop at that time, so I had to go to the end of the race. Maybe we didn’t optimise that stint because then we went for another stop. So yeah, I think that's the reason why also the pace didn't seem to be as good.

Q: (Luke Smith - The Athletic) Max, you've had five races where the championships have all been sewn up so one could have maybe forgiven you for taking your foot off the gas a little bit and easing off. Obviously, that's not in your nature. What's kept you motivated through this final stretch of races when everything's been settled? How do you keep just pushing and pushing and finishing the season on such a high to take the momentum into next year as well?

MV: I do think that that is just how I grew up. I can't just come into a weekend not giving it all. I just get annoyed with myself and I know the people around me get annoyed with me if I would be like that. It doesn't really matter. My mindset also didn't change after winning the championship. I come to the race weekends and I of course always try to do the best I can. And it's nice. You know winning is great. Why would I not want to win when you have the opportunity to win? When I see that there is of course the opportunity to win, I will always try to do the best I can and also for the team. When you have such a good car, you want to try and extend certain records and do well.

Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Max, we heard you over the radio saying that the team could give Checo priority on second pit stops; was that a case of your tyres just felt good and you were happy to go a bit longer? Or were you being kept up to date with his progress because he was coming up to chase up George and Charles?

MV: No, it was to try and lead for 1,000 laps in the season. I knew that that was on the cards. So I said to GP… he was also of course aware of that, so just to make sure that they wouldn't pit me too early. The tyres still felt OK. They were not fantastic but they felt OK at that point so we just kept on extending a little bit.

Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport. com) Another one for Max to reflect on the record-breaking season a little bit. Obviously, the car has been better than last year's car but do you feel your personal performances are better than last year as well, and if so, in which aspects?

MV: Well, in general the car has been better than last year and we were very solid in terms of no retirements, no real issues on the car which of course is also a big key to that. From my side, every single year I try to do better but I think better - it's more about just general experience in F1 and trying to put the weekend together a bit more. Some weekends that works better than others. And then yeah, besides that, just try not to make too many mistakes. Try not to get too much damage on the car with the cost cap and stuff, these kinds of things which I think worked quite well.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, did the gear shift issue we heard you talking about with your engineer go away once they told you to shift positions on the steering wheel? And why is that something we've heard you talk about quite a bit this season?

MV: Oh, it's been that for a couple of years so it's nothing new. It's something that we are constantly working on but it's not easy to solve, let's say like that. It can be better but we try to do the best we can. It was a little bit better, yeah.

Q: (Luke Smith - The Athletic) George, just on how you're feeling right now. Esteban Ocon was ill earlier this weekend as well and he said yesterday that the body's not really designed to do 23/24 races a season, particularly with the calendar structured as it is, the trip from Vegas to here. How much do you think F1 has got to really consider wellbeing for the drivers and everyone in the paddock moving forward, for how we structure the calendar and approach things because it's been a long and testing season for everybody?

GR: I think the drivers, we have it best from every single person in this paddock, the way we travel. We're in a very fortunate position. But everybody up and down the paddock - I've got so many mechanics who are ill, people in the engineers’ office, just really struggling with the constant time zone shifts, the body not knowing where you are, eating at different times, staying in different hotels, different environments, different climates. The body's getting confused. I think there are talks for next year about personnel being regulated that they can't do every single race. I think that would be a good thing. I don't think it's sustainable to 4,000 people, I think it is, to do 24 races a season, especially when you see how geographically it still doesn't make a huge amount of sense.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Charles, just a question to you on the tactic to give Checo the position on the last lap. How are you following that and when did it occur to you that that might be a faint possibility of coming off and being able to thwart Mercedes in the Constructors’?

CL: Oh, quite a few laps before; as soon as I was aware about the five seconds penalty, basically. Then I was asking constantly the gap between George and Checo. Then they told me that Checo had passed George, so I knew Checo was behind me and his best chance was obviously to get the DRS from me and try and pull away as much as possible from George. So I knew that there was quite a bit of discussion between my engineer and myself and I let him know as well that this was my plan but it didn't work out.

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