Saudi Arabian GP 2021
DECEMBER 4, 2021
Saturday Press Conference
1 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
2 – Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes)
3 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing)
(Conducted by Paul Di Resta)
Q: Lewis, well done. As far as pole positions go, I guess that couldn't have been a better day for you, lining up on the front row. But it's looked a difficult session to get that?
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, wow, what a tough track this is. Incredibly technical and complex. It's amazing what they have built here track-wise. The speed and the pace here are phenomenal. We were quick through practice but for some reason in P3 and particularly qualifying just lacking pace, struggling with the tyres and so for us to get a one-two… I'm really proud of Valtteri and the guys, the men and women in our team who have been working so hard and yeah, this is a great, great result.
Q: This championship is still alive. It's in your hands. If you win both races, you win the championship, so I guess the game plan tomorrow is to work as a team and do the best job?
Hamilton: Definitely. This is the goal. We have worked so hard through simulation, set-up, collaboration, just epic with Valtteri who is the best team-mate there has ever been in this sport, for sure. We have worked together to work on the set-up, to get the car where it needs to be, so whoo! Those guys were just so fast. That bull round this track is something but given where we are I'm very happy with what we managed to pull out with what we have.
Q: Does their speed scare you for tomorrow, that they are going to make a challenge?
Hamilton: For sure, we always get close in race pace. I think my long run was good yesterday but they have obviously fixed something yesterday and they are rapid today so I anticipate it will be a close battle through tomorrow but Valtteri and I will be on it.
Q: Valtteri, you are lining up on the front row tomorrow and I can see the teamwork. You guys are trying to work together to try to do something for the championship tomorrow?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, it was an important qualifying today. For me, I struggled in practice three. Actually, they had to change the engine and the guys could just finish the car before the quali and everything was working fine, so I was happy. They last lap was on the limit. I enjoyed it but it's a tough track. Pushing one lap after another. The grip really doesn't drop so it's quite good tough.
Q: Where are you mentally? Is it more about securing this for the team's championship or do you want to get a race win.
Bottas: Of course, I want to get a race win but first thing first. We need to focus on the team championship and Lewis is still fighting for the title. I'm not, so I will do my best with whatever I can and at the same time I'll try to enjoy it.
Q: Max, that was looking like it was going to be a pretty special lap. Unfortunately, it didn't go quite right in the last corner, but where are you?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, it's of course terrible but it was in general a good qualifying. It was a bit hard to switch on the tyres here around the street circuit but I knew the pace was there and it showed in our set-up. And then I don't understand what happened. I locked up and of course I tried to keep the car on the track and finish the lap, but I clipped the rear and had to stop. P3 is a bit disappointing today knowing what lap I was on but nevertheless it shows that the car is quick and let's see what we can do in the race.
Q: Like you said. I think you were two tenths up at the end of Sector 2 and you had really one corner to go. Are you fearful for the gearbox after that hit?
Verstappen: I don't know. I immediately stopped, so let's see.
Q: Well done, Lewis. That was a tremendous lap to take pole. Just talk us through it?
Hamilton: Thank you. What a difficult track this is. I think for all of us we were naturally just pushing so hard. The track had shifted a little bit. I don't know if it's just the wind, but it made it so difficult with tyre temperatures, so we were having to do heavy, quick out laps to try to get these tyres working and in the right window, which was very, very odd. And yeah, very close between us all, but I think the Bulls were definitely faster today. I don't know if we lost performance or they just gained but still I'm proud of the job that we have all done and I'm proud of the job that Valtteri has done, he nearly beat me out there. That was one of the most intense qualifying sessions we've had for a while. I'm grateful for it, even though it's only the fifth of the year.
Q: How much were you having to change the car during the session?
Hamilton: Well, you're not allowed to change the car once you get into qualifying. The only thing you can do is tyre pressures, front wing and then just mess around with your switches if they could possibly help, but otherwise it's just altering and driving round whatever issues you have. It's how you approach the corners. It's where you do and don't attack and just try and define the right balance of being on that knife edge as you could see for Max. Obviously, we were all on the edge and there is a wall of champions everywhere here. A really complex track and incredibly quick. It was enjoyable though. Intense, but enjoyable.
Q: Has it been a thrill to qualify on this track though?
Hamilton: Definitely. I mean it always feels better when you are happy with the balance you have and happy with everything and it kind of runs a bit smoother. I think this one was more heart in your mouth for all of us. Yeah, we got that lap right at the end which in the end was good enough but if Max had finished his lap he would have been ahead. Regardless, I'm happy, grateful and we just have to work as a team tomorrow from there.
Q: Bit more on tomorrow. What is your mindset going into the race?
Hamilton: We're here to win. That's where all the prep has been going towards and I think no doubt they will be quick tomorrow, I think in the race. Collectively it's about being smart and working together as a team, which I think Valtteri and we all do exceptionally well. I think also just enjoy it. It's a night race. It's a new track. It's lots of unknowns but yeah, we'll be pushing.
Q: Valtteri, coming to you, you've made it a Mercedes front row. How satisfying is that – and how good was your lap?
Bottas: Yeah, it was definitely an intense qualifying, like Lewis said and it is, of course, satisfying to be 1-2. It was really close out there and yeah, the last lap I had was really all I could get out from the car, so it is satisfying and yeah, it is an ideal starting position for tomorrow.
Q: And you had the engine change just prior to the session. How much did that affect your preparation?
Bottas: My prep? Not at all. The guys, they just finished the car in time, and everything was working fine, so I already promised them some beers when we're… well… allowed to have some. So that's going to be on me.
Q: And throwing it ahead to the race tomorrow, what is your job in this grand prix?
Bottas: To do the best I can. You know, that's to get the most out of myself, of the machinery, to get the most out of the result as a whole team. That's the focus. So, we'll make plans, of course, for tomorrow, and try to optimise everything but yeah, it's the usual business.
Q: And Valtteri, do you see yourself as Lewis' wingman coming into this one?
Bottas: Of course. You know if there's a chance I can win the race I'll try but if not, then we need to maximise the team result and yeah, I'm not fighting for the World Championship any more so of course I'll keep that in mind. Lewis and Max is, so we need to see what is the best for the team.
Q: Max, coming to you, that must be really tough. That final lap, as Lewis has told us already, was going so well until the last corner. Just what happened?
Verstappen: I arrived there and for my feeling was braking at the same point, but I had a little lock-up and I still tried to, of course, finish the lap but I clipped the wall on the exit so I couldn't continue. Yeah, it's extremely disappointing, of course. We had a good car in qualifying and everything seemed to be coming together. It was just hard to nail the lap, also you know in Q1 and Q2 with the traffic and stuff. In Q3 it was good but unfortunately, I couldn't finish the lap, so extremely disappointing.
Q: Let's focus on the positives Max. How good is your car around this track?
Verstappen: Well, it seems that at least we can fight. In Qatar we were really off the pace so it seems like our car is working a bit better here, and I hope that tomorrow on this track we can follow well, and then I'm sure we have a good shot at it.
Q: And what are your thoughts on overtaking? We've got the three DRS zones…
Verstappen: I don't know. I haven't really followed a car around here, so it's a bit difficult to say but I hope it's going to be alright. It's not only that. We don't really know the tyres, how they're going to behave, so I'm confident. Of course, I would have liked to have started first – but now starting third is a bit more difficult but definitely not impossible.
Q: Max, are you going into the grand prix tomorrow with a view to winning this – or is it damage-limitation for you now?
Verstappen: Nah, it's still of course to win the race, yeah.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, just wondered, what do you think the difference was between your last two laps in Q3. It looked like the first one was a little bit ragged and your last one was very solid. How did you change your approach between those two runs? Thank you.
Hamilton: It's always frustrating when you… I think P3 was relatively good. I decided to not make any changes going into qualifying because most of the time when I make changes going into qualifying, nine times out of ten probably, or eight times out of ten, as soon as I get out and I start the lap I'm like 'damn it, I wish I didn't make that change'. This time I didn't make a change and I was like 'damn it, I should have made a change'. But, so I generally just struggled through the whole of qualifying, through Q1, really struggling to pull out the laps, get the grip from the tyres, which was something that we haven't necessarily struggled with all week-end but way, way worse in quali, and yeah, just get my head around the fact that we were generally off. I was off. I was even behind Valtteri. So just kind of consolidating my thoughts and how I approached things and each corner and just trying to maximise. I can't tell you how much of a knife-edge it was. The car was… I was struggling with the car and so, at the end, I think the first lap, the first run was so-so. I just struggled with a lot of snaps. I had that big snap in Turn Eight, and then that last lap, it was just all or nothing. So, but still, not as quick as I would have hoped to have had but it was the best that I could do.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Max, to you, I was just wondering on that last lap then, it looked spectacular up until the last corner – it was spectacular in the last corner too but in a different way – how good was that lap up to that point, and did you know how quick you were as you entered the last corner. And what approach were you taking into the last corner? Were you just trying to consolidate or were you still pushing right to the edge?
Verstappen: I saw it was a good lap. I was three-tenths faster on my delta, so… and I thought, last corner, there might be still a bit to gain. I knew, of course, Lewis was a tenth, tenth-and-a-half ahead but I approached it like I always do in qualifying but now somehow, I just locked-up and I have to see if I actually braked later or not. For my feeling, I didn't, but yeah, just really… like I said, just really disappointing because it was a really good lap up until then. I was really enjoying it. And then, of course, not to finish it is extremely disappointing. Especially now in this fight. Of course, you want to start first but nevertheless it also gives me hope because in Qatar we were four-and-a-half tenths off and then you know in the race it's going to be really tough but here, I do think we have a good shot at it.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll) Question is to Max. Max, Dr Marko already confirmed that Red Bull is appealing the decision of not handing a penalty to Lewis for the yellow incident. Do you understand why the stewards decided not to penalise that given what happened to you in Qatar?
Verstappen: The stewards were, of course, very clear to me in Qatar about the yellow flag but I'll leave it up to the teams but… yeah… it is what it is.
Q: (Jon McEvoy – Daily Mail) Lewis, in England, the news is that you're being backed by a firm held responsible in some way for the deaths of 72 in the Grenfell fire disaster. What do you say to the loved ones of the deceased, and will you ask your team to drop the arrangement before tomorrow's race?
Hamilton: (No reply)
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Lewis, just regarding that incident with the yellow flag activation for a second in FP3 and also the impeding of Nikita Mazepin, could you just talk us through your perspective on those incidents, and why you think they happened?
Hamilton: Yep, with Nikita, basically, I was told that he was 10s behind starting the lap and it's such a difficult track, you have to get the feedback all the way down to when they're four seconds behind or something like that, three seconds, so you know when to get out of the way and there was radio silence so I had no idea where he was and yeah, next thing I know he's right behind me so… Yesterday in the drivers' briefing, I did say that I think there was a potential for this so we should probably keep a minimum speed everywhere, like they did for the 22-27 I think it was but they only did it for 22 to 27 so I apologised to Nikita. And then yeah, with the yellow flags there was a white panel going through nine but there was no yellows, I didn't have any yellows. There was no car stopped anywhere so…
Q: (Tom Cary – Daily Telegraph) Lewis, just a follow-up on Jon's. I don't know whether it was the way he phrased the question or whether you're just not going to entertain questions on that subject but I just wondered whether you were aware of the Kingspan's links with Grenfell before the deal was announced in Wednesday and whether you're comfortable having their stickers on your car?
Hamilton: It's not something that I feel like I have to speak of publicly. I had nothing to do with the team's signing any of the sponsors, apart from… Tommy was probably the only one that I brought to the team. It was news to me when I heard the things that have happened this week and I was very much aware and watching very closely all the families that were affected by what happened there and we know there's been a huge outcry and amazing amount of support from the community around there. As I said, this really doesn't have anything to do with me and I know Toto is sorting it. Unfortunately my name is associated with it because it's put on my car but whether that remains the same, we shall see.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) To all three drivers: there was lots of speculation heading into this weekend about the very fast nature of the track, potential for lots of massive accidents but so far there has been Charles's big crash in FP3 and obviously Max hitting the wall late in Q3. There hasn't been all that chaos; are things different that what teams and we were expecting when you arrived here?
Verstappen: No, I mean there hasn't but it's not so much as only the ??? but if you're starting the race or whatever and one car hits the wall on the right side, you can bounce back onto the track and then you have a big accident, a bit like Eau Rouge but of course they're now changing Eau Rouge a bit, also with the run-offs so… It's a lot of fun to drive. The blind corners, of course, with traffic is really tricky but of course when we are doing the slow laps, as you could see also today, impeding and stuff like that, it potentially can become very dangerous and this is only the first time that we are here, right, so it's a tricky one: fun to drive but still, of course, the danger is there.
Hamilton: I kind of really commented on it earlier. It's fantastic to drive, it's incredibly quick, there's not much else to say.
Q: Any concerns?
Hamilton: No, everything's unknown, no one's taken the tyres further than 11 laps or whatever it is so I'm just hopeful tomorrow everyone's safe and we don't have any tyre issues and yeah, can put on a great show.
Bottas: A bit like Max said, you know, obviously we still haven't had any big accidents. Charles was decent but luckily but he was all good after but definitely on this track the potential is there for accidents but of course we try the best to avoid them and yeah, it's a fast track and there's no run-off so anything can happen but hopefully goes smoothly.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, just generally about your thoughts on the championship battle. You seem so calm every time you appear with the press, whether it's in the press conferences or TV interviews. Is that your natural persona or is that something that you've particularly have worked hard on this year, to appear so cool and calm?
Verstappen: I think people who know me… I've been like this from when I started racing but of course with today, I'm upset with myself but then still, you know, it's still two races to go and a lot of things can happen and like I said, I feel good with the car, luckily. We have been competitive, not like Qatar where we've been off so yeah, it's a nice battle and it's exciting, you know. You go into a session not knowing who is going to be ahead of the two teams so I think that's always very cool for everyone and hopefully, of course, it's going to be the same tomorrow.