Valtteri Bottas was joined by Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen in the post-qualifying press conference in Austin.
(Conducted by Paul Di Resta)
Q: Valtteri, congratulations, man. That’s got the team worked up, to get a pole position today. It looked a bit unexpected yesterday but you’re starting on the front row.
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, really happy about that. It was a nice lap in the beginning of Q3. You rarely get those kind of laps and on a track like this it’s a good feeling. Yesterday was tricky, there were many things not quite right with my car but we managed to find all the reasons and we did good work this morning with finding all the details and I could just find the places I needed to really focus on and, yeah, I knew how to put it together, but to put it together, it was a nice feeling to actually do it in Q3.
Q: you nailed the first lap in Q3, conditions looked like they got worse. Was it very tricky at the end?
VB: The last run there was a bit less grip overall. Sector 1 I was already losing one or two tenths. I’m glad no-one could improve at the end and I couldn’t either, so happy days.
Q: I’m going to take a bit of credit for buying you that coffee this morning. You owe me one, but congratulations, well done. Sebastian, lining up on the front row, it’s a long run up that hill. How are you feeling?
Sebastian VETTEL: I think it looks a shorter distance on the inside, no? I guess that’s what I have to say, being second. No, congrats to Valtteri, obviously it was very exciting because we were all so close. I thought I had a little bit more. I left some in the high speed for the last run, but in my final run when I got there I was already a little bit down. I had two decent laps. There was always… one hundredths, you know, there is always somewhere. But overall, happy, let’s see for tomorrow. Hoping for a good start and then for a good race.
Q: I guess the main thing for you guys and the advantage comes down to the first lap and you’ll try to use that extra speed you’ve got on the straight?
SV: Yeah, it’s not that long and part of it is uphill, but we will see. I hope to have a good start off the line, which will be crucial, and then we will see where it takes. Obviously all of us are on the medium tyre, so nobody has an advantage there and then, yeah, it’s a long race. We will have a busy race tomorrow. The first lap for sure is important but there is a lot of racing after that.
Q: Max, P3, I know you’re not going to be happy with that but further up and it puts you in the fight.
Max VERSTAPPEN: Absolutely. I think for us on this track to be that competitive was a very good result. Qualifying was just very tight.
Q: And I guess the race… you looked very strong yesterday. Are you going to be in this fight all the way and pushing?
MV: Let’s see. Normally we are quite good in the race and also now this time, even compared to last year, we were much more competitive in qualifying. Of course that gives us a lot more hope for tomorrow, so let’s see what’s going to happen.
Q: Many congratulations Valtteri. Fifth in Q1, sixth in Q2 and then that brilliant pole lap in Q3.
VB: Thank you. Yeah, it definitely felt good putting that lap together in the beginning of Q3. After yesterday it was not an easy day to approach as I had a difficult day yesterday. Luckily, we found many things ion the car that were no quite right and also the set-up direction we changed completely and it felt a lot better this morning. Then I was just focusing on the things that matter and the places I needed to improve. So I had a very clear vision in my mind of how to do it but it was then down to actually doing it and it felt good to have that lap in Q3. Even though Q1 and Q2 were a bit off I knew it was somewhere there and I managed to find it.
Q: Now, let’s look ahead to tomorrow. You have to win this race to keep the championship alive. Are you happy with you car’s long-run pace?
VB: I think as we have seen recently, normally on Sundays we are competitive. So, it’s obviously very good starting from pole here. Some corners are quite to follow for the cars behind. I believe we have the pace for that and that’s going to be the only thing in my mind for tomorrow. Now, you know, only a very, very small part of the weekend is done. The big part that matters is tomorrow and I need to focus on that.
Q: Many congratulations Valtteri. Forty-three per cent of the races here have been won from pole. Sebastian, your 100th career front-row start. How satisfying is that?
SV: Gosh, I’m getting old. Obviously it was a very nice session, it was really fun to drive the car thus afternoon, but if you are so close to pole and just on the wrong side of it then I guess Valtteri had a bit more fun. It was OK. I don’t know, what was the gap? It was very small, like one or two hundredths. So that is always there. I had a very good first lap and I had some margin maybe in the last sector where I was maybe taking it a little but too conservative, making sure that I finished the lap, set the lap first and then improve on the second lap. Unfortunately, I didn’t improve, so my plan didn’t quite work. Overall, it was good. I think we will have a strong race tomorrow. The car felt a lot better today than yesterday, which is also what we needed, so let’s see what happens tomorrow.
Q: What are the tactics on your way to Turn 1 tomorrow. Do you think the man next to you might be a little bit tentative because of the championship? Are you hoping that’s the case anyway?
SV: I don’t know, I’ll just pass him and then we’ll see what happens! If he’s thinking about it then I have a good chance. We’ll see. Obviously it’s a long race. The first lap is important but we have a lot of laps after that. But if I can pass him, I pass him.
Q: Max, you were the only one in the top three to improve on your final lap in Q3. You actually said over the radio that you might have gone a little bit too early on that final lap. Do you think it cost you any time?
MV: No, I just questioned if we were going a bit early but they just said we were ahead of the train compared to the Ferrari and Mercedes cars, so that was it.
Q: And just tell us about that second lap. It is so close between the three of you. Have you been able to pinpoint where the time is, where you might have been able to get pole position?
MV: Well, I think in general Q3 was a bit more of a difficult session than Q2, for example, where I found the grip was maybe not the same – but of course that’s the same for everyone. It was just a bit harder to get your lap out and yeah, in general it was just very positive for us in qualifying to be that close. Compared to last year we made a really big step forward and, anyway, now the last two races, I think, we have been a lot more competitive. So that is very positive. I think we are definitely improving and learning, and also looking ahead for next year, I think we are definitely going in the right direction. And yeah, in general very pleased. I think the whole weekend, we had quite a smooth weekend. I didn’t really have a lot of trouble with the set-up or whatever. So, to be here in the top three, of course I would have liked to sit in the middle bit still, I think it’s been very positive.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for you Max, could you please talk us through the situation, I think in Q2, Q3 with Lewis? It was a pretty close one.
MV: Yep. So, we were all lining up to do our lap, or to get to the last corner, and I think it was Seb, the first Ferrari, then Charles and then I had Dany in front of me and we were all just slowing down to make space, and Lewis just drove by like nobody was there and didn’t care. So I was like: well, if you don’t care, I don’t’ care. So, I want to get my position back. I mean, everybody’s just respecting each other at that point, just to start the lap. That’s why it was such a close call.
Q: (Abhishek Aggarwal – Indiainf1.com) Question to all the drivers. So, in the first three practice sessions we heard from all the drivers the track was a bit bumpy. We see lock-ups and cars being spun. So, in the race tomorrow how important is the tyre management, and have you thought about any other strategy to preserve tyres? What are your thoughts about that?
VB: I think with the bumps here, just the main place where it can really affect your race, if you have big lock-ups into Turn One under braking. Those are quite big bumps – but normally, even though, if you lock the wheels, you can recover. So, I don’t think it’s going to make like a massive difference. Every track, there’s tricky points, tricky places that you can really damage the tyres and, obviously, coming into the weekend and in the weekend we’ve done all the analysis already for the long runs in terms of, in theory, where are the best places to preserve the tyres, and where to be slightly cautious at times, when you can, and so on. So business as usual, I would say.
Q: Sebastian, how much worse are the bumps this year, compared to last year?
SV: A lot worse! I think the ground is the problem here, it moves, for some reasons. I don’t know what they installed under the track when they were laying the track but yeah, I think they are aware. I mean, they tried everything. They brought some people out last night to grind parts of the track again to try and make it better for us – but now there’s not so much you can do. We’ll see, as Valtteri said, it’s not going to change the world upside down tomorrow in the race. I think it’s more an issue for quali where you’re really pushing to the ultimate limit and, you go also significantly faster. So, I guess tomorrow should be fine – but for sure it will be a bumpy race. I hope all three of us do well tomorrow but I think the last thing we need is somebody tapping our shoulders after all the tapping we get through the corners around the track. So, yeah, we’ll see what happens.
And Max, your thoughts.
MV: Yeah, not much more to add, is there? I can say the same, but…
Q: (Lennart Wermke – Bild) Seb, question for you. Frankfurt beat Bayern Munich 5-1 today in the Bundesliga, I feel that’s quite an emotional result for you, what’s your opinion on that game and do you feel for Niko Kovač who’s very much under pressure as a Bayern Munich coach?
SV: We are playing football or we are racing here? Is it that boring to watch? You have no question about what we actually do? I think there’s rain forecast in China tomorrow. Do you want me to comment on that?
VB: I heard it’s snowing in Finland…
SV: I’m a big Frankfurt fan but, to be honest, I didn’t know. I found out just before qualifying, so obviously by then the game was done. I think it’s a good result for my team and Niko Kovač has been part of Frankfurt for a while, so of course I feel for him – but I hope he finds back the success very soon.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto Motor und Sport) Question to Seb and to Max. The run to the first corner is pretty short, but it’s uphill. Does that improve the chances to overtake compared to the same distance but flat?
SV: Well, they say we have more power so probably it helps if it’s uphill, because you need more power but, yeah, it’s not an awful long way. We will all try to have a good start and then you go from there. That’s the main target. I think the uphill bit doesn’t change so much. It’s trickier here for braking, so I think we need to be watching out but other than that…
Q: Max, you’ll be on the cleaner side of the grid…
MV: yeah, I think it’s more than that the track is very wide, so you can of course do a lot of different lines, compared to some other tracks where it’s just very narrow. I think the uphill bit… it’s that short and, of course, power matters a bit, like Seb said, but not enough, I guess, to make a big difference.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) For all three. The bumps were bad but were you ever even vaguely tempted with your engineers to do a softer suspension setting?
MV: I think you always pay attention to it but luckily in most places… it’s only really Turn One where it can influence you but, of course, if you will go a lot softer then it influences the rest of the track, so sometimes you just have to live with maybe a little bit more difficulty into Turn One.
VB: No, we didn’t really want to do that much compromise because of the bumps. The losses then, elsewhere could be quite big, so we just need to try and deal with the bumps, and we thought that’s the best way for this track, this year.
SV: No compromise, no sacrifice! Put a cushion in my seat, that’s the only thing to soften it.
Q: (Erik van Haren – De Telegraaf ) Max, are you surprised about the performance of your car, because you sound way more positive than a few weeks ago?
MV: Yeah, I think of course Mexico was very good but we also expected it to be competitive. But of course the races we had before that were not like we wanted so I was a still a bit ‘ok, let’s see if we found the performance back?’ and clearly this weekend was very positive overall so I think we can be very happy about it. Like I said before, it’s a good effort from the team as well to not give up and just keep pushing and try to find the performance back like we also had actually before the break. That’s why I guess I sound a bit more positive.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) For Seb and Max: the two of you usually like to roll out quite cool, special crash helmet designs. We’ve had a few US specials here. Last weekend in Mexico Lewis asked his fans on Instagram… to quote him he asked if he thought that the rule to only have one major design change each year was BS. I just wondered what you thought about the restriction on helmet designs and if that rule was relaxed, would you do more throughout the year?
SV: Well, I change it anyway so… I think it’s our helmet and we should be free to do what we want, so I think the rule is major BS. Yeah, I think it’s a part of… we have very little room left to sort of express ourselves and the helmet is probably the only one and if people like it, that’s great, if they don’t like it well it’s not their helmet so I think we should be in charge for designing which way and which colour our helmet has.
MV: Yup, I agree. I always loved when Seb was at Red Bull and changing his helmet every race, almost, more or less. It was cool because you were just like ‘what is he coming up with now?’ I do a few but I’m not going to say I will do a different helmet every race because it’s just too much effort in designing the helmet but I think if you want to make it blue or red, the next race, why not? It’s your crash helmet and you should be able to do what you want and of course in the past, there have been drivers who have always had the same helmet and then they say ‘yeah, but that’s how we can distinguish the drivers’ but at the end of the day we have massive numbers on the side, we anyway have a halo on the top so let us do what we want with the helmet now. I think anyway it’s very nice to have a different design every year because it’s a bit boring always to keep the same helmet.
Q: Valtteri, do you think it’s a bit boring to keep the same helmet?
VB: I don’t know. Sometimes it’s nice to keep the same helmet but for sure sometimes it would be nice to do something special, every now and then and obviously everyone might have a special occasion, you know, whatever, or a special connection to some certain country where you want to do something special or pay a respect to someone you know or whatever. It would be nice to see a bit more freedom because like both of them have said, it’s our personal thing. We should be in control of that rather than anyone else.
Q (Lawrence Edmonson – ESPN) Valtteri, yesterday it looked like you were losing a half a second to Lewis in the middle sector alone so was there an actual problem in the car or was it a set-up thing and did you get to the bottom of it – well you obviously did get to the bottom of it but what was it?
VB: We actually found quite a few things not quite right. A little bit with the set-up, I think. I think I started to go in the wrong direction, some things on tyre pressures, temperatures and we found some reasons for quite a big straightline speed difference which made an effect on sector two so those combined, when I started today in practice three, I was like ‘wow, this is a different car, it feels normal’ and I was happy again. I knew, since the first run this morning that it can be a good day if we can get everything right.
Q: (Jim Vertuno – Associated Press) Valtteri, how do you think Lewis, as your team-mate, how do you think Lewis will react or respond to starting fifth? Do you think he will be aggressive tomorrow on a track where he’s had so much success or do you think he will be patient and lay back with the championship on the line for him?
VB: I think it would obviously be better to ask him directly. I don’t know what his mindset is right now but from what I know of him, he’s going to be there, fighting hard. For sure he also hates losing, he always wants to win like all of us and obviously he’s leading the championship with a big margin, he doesn’t need many points and I’m sure he would like to win the championship in a nice way eventually when and if it happens. But obviously I will try to delay that, I try to focus on my own race, try to focus on winning the race rather than anyone else’s opinions or mindsets.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto Moto und Sport) Seb, you said the car was much improved compared to yesterday. Was it also on the longer runs, could you find out in P3?
SV: Yeah, obviously we didn’t do long runs in FP3 but I think overall the car felt better than this morning so… we changed quite a couple of things which I think helped and they will also help in the race. How the pace will be, obviously we will find out tomorrow but at this stage I’m quite confident. I think we also struggled in particular on the hard tyres so I think we just didn’t get them to work and that should not be an issue tomorrow.