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FIA post-race press conference – Saudi Arabia

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 09: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull

DRIVERS

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

TRACK INTERVIEWS
(Conducted by David Coulthard)

Q: Charles, congratulations. Your first podium of the year – it's only the second race – but after a great qualifying yesterday the pace of the Red Bulls just too strong for you.

Charles LECLERC: Yeah, we had quite a good pace because we had the fastest lap at the end. I got a bit held by a DRS, but overall the feeling was pretty good. It was a bit of a boring race because Red Bull were a bit too quick and behind we had a bit of a gap, but we took the maximum points we could today and that was the target, so that's great.

Q: Congratulations on that point for fastest lap. This is a tough race circuit. The pace of this race, I can see you're visibly sweating more than in some Grands Prix. How did it compare to last year?

CL: From last year, it's actually a step better. I don't know why exactly. Maybe because I was a bit more on my own, so you have a bit less adrenaline in the car, but all in all, it's definitely one of the most physical race tracks of the season. It's warm, but most of all, I think it's more for the neck. There are so many high speeds. Very, very difficult, but also very, very fun to drive.

Q: Excellent. Well, look, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask about your team-mate for this weekend. He was voted Driver of the Day. Oliver Bearman brought points home. How impressed have you been with him getting thrown in the deep end?

CL: I mean, he completely deserves it. He's done an incredible job already from FP3. He was straight on the pace in qualifying. He did a great job and missed Q3 by so little and I think today he's been incredible. I mean seventh in your first race in Formula 1, having done only in FP3 In a new car is just hugely impressive. So I'm sure he's extremely proud but everybody has noticed how talented he is and I guess it's just a matter of time before he comes here in Formula 1.

Q: And now we have Checo Pérez, the winner here last year, second this time. But I have the impression this was a stronger race this weekend than in Bahrain. Tell us about it.

Sergio PÉREZ: Yeah, we definitely made some good progress. I think it was a shame that we just qualified out of the front row because we had a great start. Unfortunately, Charles really kept it together and we couldn't get through. It was a nice fight then later on. And it was quite a compromised race, I'll say, with the Safety car there so early. It was a very long stint on the Hard. And it was tricky at times, especially in the beginning. We had no warm-up at all. We were sliding a lot. It took us a long time to get through Lewis and Lando. But I think overall, it's a great day for the team. You know, very different track to Bahrain, and we keep being strong. So, yeah, we just have to keep this momentum going. I think we've taken a step forward from Bahrain. We've done good improvements from yesterday, so we still have some bits to tidy up, and our time will come.

Q: You mentioned there about the Safety Car. We just saw on the screen behind you, very tight with Fernando and the Aston. That's always going to be the case in those sort of double-stacking situations?

SP: Yeah, it was a shame that we got that penalty. Luckily, it didn't hurt our race but yeah I think in this scenario you know I was quite close to Max and everyone was coming in at the same time, we just need a wider pit lane!

Q: Enjoy the podium and congratulations on second place. And now for our winner. Max your 56thvictory in Formula 1 and your first century of podiums. You must be feeling good.

MV: Yeah, I think overall, of course, a fantastic weekend for the whole team, but also for myself. I felt really good with the car. And, yeah, also basically it was the same in the race. Of course, the last stint was a bit longer than we would have liked, but with the Safety Car, you had to go for it. So the last few laps also with those back markers, with the cold tyres was a little bit slippery, but we had good pace all around. We could manage it quite well with the gap also. So, yeah, overall, very, very pleased.

Q: You mentioned yesterday in qualifying that the car was on rails. Sounds like it was a bit more challenging on this circuit, especially with the long stint.

MV: Yeah, exactly. I think ideally you don't want to do such a long stint on that tyre, but we had to. And that, of course, around here with all these high-speed corners, if the tyre falls out of the window a little bit, it makes it all a bit more tricky.

Q: We heard Charles mentioning that this is a tough one on the neck. Do you have any feeling of that when you were doing your Grand Prix?

MV: Yeah, this is always… Early in the season as well, anti-clockwise, a lot of Gs constantly throughout the whole lap, so it's definitely always one of the more physical ones.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Max, very well done. That looked like the perfect race for you. Is that how it felt in the cockpit?

MV: Yeah, I think it was a very good race. Of course, after that first stint with the Safety Car, we had to box. And I knew that it was going to be a very long stint to the end. But of course, it was the same for most of us. And I think we just managed the pace very well to the end. And yeah, I think the whole weekend, the car has been performing really well, probably a little bit better than expected even. And yeah, overall, of course, very pleased to win here.

Q: Are you more pleased with the performance here than you were one week ago in Bahrain?

MV: Well, I mean, the race in Bahrain, I think, was also very good. So it's a bit difficult. You know, it's very different scenarios as well. So I mean, around here, you know, you naturally have low tyre deg. So you probably also ask different things from the car.

Q: Now, it seemed that Charles's best chance of challenging you was at the start. So talk us through those early metres of the race. How was your getaway, first of all?

MV: It was OK. Not very, very good, but good enough, I guess. So, yeah, that's the most important.

Q: Well, this is your 100th podium in Formula 1, achieved in just 188 starts. That's a very impressive strike rate. Can we just get your reaction to that?

MV: It's 88 missed podiums! No, of course, very happy with that. But I'm not really a guy, you know, looking at the stats. So I'm just happy to hit 100. But I want to, of course, continue and just focus race-by-race on achieving the best possible result all the time.

Q: Well, let's go race-by-race. Australia is next. Just how much of a different challenge is Albert Park?

MV: Yeah, it's a very different track again, especially also now with the new layout, the new tarmac. So, yeah, next week we'll go in the simulator again, try to set it up as well as we can before we get there. And then we'll just see throughout the weekend where we are. I mean, it's impossible to know how competitive we are going to be.

Q: All right. Very well done today. Thanks. Thank you, Max. Checo, let's come to you next. A great second place for you. Just give us an overview of your race, first of all.

SP: Yeah, it was quite a bit more chaotic. I had a great start. Unfortunately, I couldn't keep ahead of Charles because he kept it there and obviously I gave him the space into Turn 2 and it was his corner then in Turn 4. So that was a nice start, good start once again. And from then on, I was able to get through Charles, I think within two or three laps. And then it was looking good, the race. I was within three seconds from Max, and I think the degradation on that Medium stint was looking quite good. But unfortunately, then we were compromised with such an early Safety Car, and that meant that basically everyone just pitted. And when I was going out, it was actually my mistake, because I was told by the team to hold it back. But in hindsight, I looked on the right and there was nobody there when I looked. But in hindsight, I think the penalty was correct and that pretty much compromised our race.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about when you're in the pits. How much can you see from the car?

SP: You are able to have a bit of awareness of what's going on around you, definitely. And when I looked at the mirror, there was no one. I saw that I didn't have the proper release. But I didn't see anyone. So sometimes the team can be a little bit slower than you in the car. But this time was the other way around. So... Yeah, my bad in that one, but still happily didn't change a race.

Q: But final one for me, you've said this weekend that you're happier with the car here in Jeddah. Where is it better compared to last weekend?

SP: I think things that we are doing with the car. I think last weekend was really a poor race in terms of how we managed it, the amount of degradation we had. But we understood the reasons behind it. The race was quite strong today because we were able to make the progress from Friday to the race. But I think qualifying, we just went a step backwards. And that's the main key from our weekend, to understand why we actually went slower than FP2 when you correct for everything. So it’s something we’ve got to understand the reasons behind it and make sure that we are able to keep progressing.

Q: Thank you for that. Charles, let's come to you next. Let's get an overview of your race, first of all.

CL: We maximized everything today. We were struggling all the time at the beginning of the stints, whether it was at the beginning of the Medium or beginning of the Hards, we struggled to switch the tyres on. Then towards the end of the stint we were pretty good. With the Medium, we didn't really see that. With the Hard, we saw that towards the end, but it was too late to actually recover what we had lost at the beginning with the battles we had. All in all, it's been a positive race. I think we are doing small steps in the right direction. If I look back the last six, seven months, we are the team that have improved the most and we are slowly closing the gap. So the gap is still quite big. But if we keep working like that, I'm sure it's a matter of time before we put the Red Bull under a bit more pressure.

Q: And struggling to switch the tyres on at the start of a stint gives you more at the end of the stint, is that right?

CL: Not always, but today was probably the case, so that was good.

Q: Can we also get your view of the battle with Checo, both at the start and then when he actually overtook you at the start of lap four?

CL: I have a very bad memory when I finished the races. I remember really well exit of Turn 2, where I was like, ‘oh, I hope Checo will leave the space’. And he did. So I kept my second place there. And then I cannot remember. I think it was quite a clean overtake. There wasn't much I could do. But we were struggling a little bit to defend today and also to attack. I think we had a little bit less top speed than the others, which was wanted. But we'll review that to see if it was the right decision or not.

Q: And given the progress you've made here in Jeddah, do you expect to make another step when we go to Melbourne next week?

CL: I don't think we'll have many things new in Melbourne. So without new things in Melbourne, I think we are doing a good job by maximising our package at the moment. So that's where we are. I think we'll probably have to wait and see whenever we have new parts to the car, what kind of step we do forward. And hopefully that will bring us closer to Red Bull.

Q: Final one from me. A word from you on your teammate, Ollie Bearman. How difficult was his job today, given that he missed Friday practice?

CL: Incredibly difficult. Thursday practice, by the way! But yeah, he's been extremely impressive. Extremely impressive. I think everybody has seen that. Obviously having him in the same garage, seeing how he worked and how he approached this whole situation with so much calm was very, very impressive. Obviously with so much excitement as well, but it was really impressive. I think he has shown the whole paddock what he was capable of. And I think after a performance like that, it's a matter of time before we see him permanently in the Formula 1 paddock.

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 09: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing speaks to Third placed Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 09, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Peter Fox - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Nabih Bulos – Los Angeles Times) Hi, this is for Mr Pérez. I wanted to ask you, the F1 season now has a lot of races in the Gulf, like in Bahrain, in Saudi Arabia, in Qatar, in Abu Dhabi. And I basically wanted to ask you about the importance of racing in the region, in the Middle East and the Gulf, especially with all the criticisms that have come with that, and what it means in terms of building new audiences, but also bringing new drivers, potentially, and new people who will join F1.

SP: I think it's always nice to go to places where the sport is the priority for the people. We've seen over the years that in this area it keeps growing and we have to remember that at the end of the day Formula 1 is a worldwide sport that we might race in Saudi but a lot of people around the world are watching us. So I think it's good that it's expanding from Europe because I feel like in the past, Formula 1 was very centralised in Europe, not just with drivers, but the people working in the paddock. And now it's nice that you see a lot more different nationalities within Formula 1, not just in the drivers’ side. I would like to see more on the drivers’ side as well. But just the people around, yeah, just having a lot more people working in Formula 1 from other countries is nice to see.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Max, please. Max, you were barely on the TV coverage once you'd got past Lando and were back in the lead. I just wondered, you know, it's such a high-speed track, a tricky layout. Were there any really difficult moments, given how serene your progress looked otherwise?

MV: Just I think with the back markers at the end, you know, the tyres were getting a bit cold and yeah, it was a bit slippery getting close to them. And of course, then also you don't want to take too much risk. We had a good gap behind. So that was probably a little bit of a difficult moment to pace yourself there. But yeah, in general, the car has been already from yesterday, it's been working really, really well for me. So I felt really good in the car.

Q: (Nate Saunders – ESPN) Another one for you, Max. Just to follow up on what you said here yesterday, just about Helmut and your loyalty to him. You've been massively dominant at two races now. The suggestion seems to be that you'd be happy to walk away from this success if he wasn't at the team. I just wondered if that is the case. I mean, from the outside, it seems like if you did walk away from Red Bull now or at the end of this season, you'd potentially be giving up at least one world title, maybe more. I just wondered if you could clarify that. Thank you.

MV: I always said that what is most important is that we work together as a team and that everyone keeps the peace. And that's what we, I think, all agree on within the team. So hopefully from now on, that is also fully the case. Everyone is trying to focus in the same direction. And I think the positive out of all this is that it didn't hurt our performances. So it's a very strong team. I think also mentally, what you can see from not only driver's side, but also mechanics, engineers, everyone is there to do their job. And I think everyone, even when there is stuff going on or whatever, they're just very focused on their job as they should be.

Q: (Rawan Hamdan – Saudi Press Agency) A question for Max. Lando Norris was in the front quite a time, and I want to know what do you think about his performance being the first one quite a time in the race, and how did you overcome him?

MV: Yeah, I mean, he didn't stop, so naturally he was ahead of me. And it took a few laps for me to warm up my Hard tyres. I also didn't want to take too many risks as well, you know, because when you don't have a lot of grip, it's easy to make a mistake around here. And, yeah, at one point, once the tyres had a bit of grip, I could catch him and pass him. So, yeah, it's pretty straightforward.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Charles, you mentioned that maybe things were a bit difficult with top speed here for Ferrari. I just wondered, with that in mind, where else do you think you lacked to the Red Bulls this weekend? Was it a case that things like their DRS is particularly potent in qualifying? Obviously, we know about the tyre degradation, so where do you think the gap was?

CL: For the DRS, I don't think that's where we are lacking at the moment, but of course we'll have a further analysis after this weekend to understand exactly what are still our weaknesses and try to update them since last race. However, today I don't think tyre degradation was a thing. It was more about tyre warm-up and we struggled a bit more to bring them to the right temperature in order to push. which made it also a bit more difficult because I had to overtake cars during my warm-up. And that was a bit trickier for us than for them. And that's where they pulled the gap, which then stayed more or less stable towards the end. But that was too late for us to put them under any pressure.

Q: (Rawan Hamdan – Saudi Press Agency) You are guys now like a role model to the people here who love motor sport and to teenagers. I want to know what advice would you like to give to new generations coming to Formula 1, maybe next year from Saudi?

MV: Advice to race themselves. As a driver? Right. Yeah, I mean, you know, in some countries, of course, around the world, naturally, there is more motor sport history. So you probably grew up with it a little bit more. And I think we are raising more and more awareness around here in Saudi with the younger generations to get into driving and racing. And I think a lot comes down to education and guidance. The more help and support that there will be from people with a lot of experience, the more that you can grow it here and the passion. So that takes time. It's not that it happens within five years and suddenly there will be a Saudi driver suddenly coming through the ranks. You need to really work on that. It's good to see that they're loving motor sport and you can see the fans here. They're quite young in general, what you see around here. That's a good start and yeah hopefully of course we try to do this in in every country that we go to that is maybe a bit new to the calendar and hopefully one day of course wherever we go you maybe have a national hero driving in Formula 1.

SP: Well, I have a good experience myself coming from Mexico. It's quite hard to make it into Formula 1 or into the sport because Mexico, the motor sport is good, but it's never as good as in Europe. You have to go to Europe at a very young age. That would be my best advice. Try to grow up as soon as possible on the racing side. Start fighting at a very young age with the best drivers in the world and they are in Europe because naturally the best level is over there. As soon as possible that they can get the opportunity to get to racing in the best countries for them, the better it will be. And that's the only way we will have a Saudi F1 driver.

CL: Yeah, I agree with both Max and Checo. I think in Europe there's a very high level at the moment. I think Formula 1 is doing a lot in order to put the sport in countries where maybe motor sport wasn't such a big thing a few years ago, like here in Saudi. And it's great to see the new generation so passionate with motor sport. and I'm sure that with the increased interest we'll soon have drivers from countries like Saudi wanting to become a Formula 1 driver and then from that moment onwards it's all about following your dream and enjoy the moment and the road. That is quite a long road. Sometimes you believe that you cannot make it, but if you always believe in your goal and you work properly with the right references and the right people helping you then you will you'll make it.

Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Another question to Charles, please. I just wondered, given what you said, the context of the tyre warm-up being the limitation today, can you talk us through that re-start fight with Piastri, the pass on Lewis, and also was that why you took a little bit more time than Checo to get past Lando after the restart? Thanks.

CL: No, for Lando, I don't think that that was the thing that was making me struggle to pass him. I think it was more about the straight-line speed. But yeah, the re-starts obviously was quite tricky with the tires being a bit off the window. But I think everybody was struggling more or less. On our side, it was probably on the worst side. But then once they went into temperature, which was the case when I was close to Lando, then it was more the top speed that was making me struggle to get past.

Q: (Nate Saunders – ESPN) Another one for you, Max. It's been picked up a bit on social media, actually, this week, that you've been on Twitch quite a bit, just kind of late night racing and stuff like that. I just wondered how many hours do you think you've clocked up this week? And are you a bit of a night owl when it comes to these races? Is it just easier to do that stuff? Is it easy to do that and unwind? Because I think a lot of people are just impressed that I think this morning you were racing and then you're here tonight. You're here tonight racing in real life. Just talk a bit about that. Thanks.

MV: Yeah, I mean, I just stayed a bit on European, or even UK, I would say, schedule. So I would go to bed at like 4 a.m., wake up late.

SP: We’ll have to get you a membership in Disney+.

MV: Yeah, I'm paying for that at the moment, actually. Yeah, I mean, the thing is, of course, also, you know, I have my own sim team, so naturally I'm just catching up with them a bit. And yeah, it's a bit of just unwinding as well. I mean, I don't have a rig here. I'm driving on my controller, you know, so it's just fun. Just not having to think about Formula 1 and just be with people that, you know, are friends. Whenever I can, I do it. Yeah, I woke up this morning and had an hour spare, so I just logged in and had a bit of fun.

Q: (Nabih Bulos – Los Angeles Times) Sorry, just one last one. This is for all three. I mean, we have also heard sort of these allegations about sports washing and greenwashing and all this stuff about the various, again, Gulf countries. And I'm wondering, you know, what are the feelings? I'm wondering, you know, just what are the feelings about that? And I guess, what are your response or what would your response be to those kinds of complaints and criticisms and allegations in terms of sports washing and greenwashing and things of that nature?

CL: I think as a sport, and we've always said that, I think we need to bring the values of the sport in those countries in order to open the minds of people. Having said that, obviously we are in a very tricky moment for our sport. And I think, yes, we should focus on sharing the good values and there's a lot of work still for us to do on that, as we are seeing at the moment. But I will stay on the line that I believe that we are 20 drivers showing good values, the respect, and we need to keep going to those countries in order to hopefully open minds and for them to have a better future and also to inspire young people in order to follow their dream. And I still believe that this is a good thing anyway.

MV: I think with sport in general, I think there are a lot of things that you can achieve everywhere in the world. Of course, being competitive and performing here and showing to a new young crowd what we're doing. Of course, we are not into politics. That's a whole different story. And I think also it's very important that sport is sport, politics are politics. Sometimes people like to be in the middle of it. I prefer to just focus on sport. Otherwise, I would have been a politician. But that's not my expertise and definitely not where I want to end up as well. And at the end of the day, every single country has their own flaws, but also positive sides. And we are not going to change the world at the end of the day as a sport, but we try to share positive values. And then, of course, it's also up to the country to make positive changes. I do think that since we have been here already there have been some really nice positive changes and you have to respect that and sometimes you know it takes a bit longer in some countries but I think it's very positive and yeah it's great to see and also great to meet a new culture as well I think for everyone you know to get educated on that as well, because everyone is a little bit different around the world wherever you go, and you have to respect that as well. But then, of course, also, wherever you're from, your country, there are always things that can be done better, right? So it's a work in progress in general.

SP: I think Formula 1 itself, it's a great platform that gives an opportunity to new countries to expose yourself and you know that the whole world is watching you once you are in Formula One. So I think that's really, really good. It's a very nice opportunity for all these new countries that are coming into the sport. and I think as a product we are very unique. I think you have 20 drivers, different nationalities, great sportsmen with great values and it's something that I think just helps all those countries to be able to show themselves and try to keep improving and keep evolving, as the world is, I think. As always, every country can be better, but it's always important to be able to give back to the people.

Q: (Rawan Hamdan – Saudi Press Agency) Max, as you mentioned the cultural sharing, I want to know where are the places in Saudi you would like to visit or see it and which is the most part you like in our culture?

MV: I've only been in Jeddah. The country is so big, when you fly over it, when you come from right or left. I think there are a lot of places that I would like to visit. I have a lot of my friends also that have been visiting, like the capital, Riyadh or even like Al-Ula. The Dakar rally, of course, is happening here. So there are a lot of beautiful shots that you see. So yeah, step by step, hopefully one day I can see a little bit more of the country. Of course, they're building a new city and there's so many, I think, exciting projects, of course, happening. So yeah, it's great to see the country opening up, I think, a bit more to the world. And, yeah, positive change. And that's the only thing that you can wish for, really. So hopefully from all around the world, you know, we can see more of Saudi Arabia.

Q: (Rawan Hamdan – Saudi Press Agency) And have you tried many kinds of Saudi food?

MV: Not yet, actually. So I need maybe an expert next time that I'm here to have something really local.

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