The dominant Charles Leclerc was joined by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to face the media after qualifying for the Russian GP.
DRIVERS: 1. Charles LECLERC (Ferrari), 2. Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes), 3. Sebastian VETTEL (Ferrari)
TRACK INTERVIEWS (Conducted by Jenson Button)
Q: Charles, all I can say is, wow! What a dominant performance. All of the way through practice, yesterday, today, qualifying – you really are on a role.
Charles LECLERC: Yeah, the car felt amazing. It definitely feels great to be back on pole. I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole. The straight is very long after the start. Tomorrow the start will be very important as always, but here probably even more, because of the straight length.
Q: It’s still the best place to be in. The last person to score four [consecutive] pole positions for Ferrari was Michael Schumacher. That must make you feel pretty special?
CL: Yeah it definitely feels very, very special, but I don’t really want to think about those kind of stats for now. I just want to focus on the job. There’s still a long way to go until tomorrow. It’s definitely a good start, we’ve been competitive all weekend long and the race simulation seems positive too, so it’s looking good for tomorrow.
Q: Congratulations. Lewis, I must say, all the way through qualifying, obviously the Ferraris have had the upper hand, but as always you pulled the lap out there at the end and got the best out of the car?
Lewis HAMILTON: I’ll tell you, it was a tough qualifying session, because these guys have some crazy speeds on the straights. They go to another level, you know. That whole party mode you talked about us having, they have something else beyond that – jet mode! Nonetheless, I gave it absolutely everything I had at the end and the team did such a great job to just tinker and push forwards. I’m so glad it came together. I wasn’t expecting to get on the front row for sure, so I’m really, really happy with it nonetheless.
Q: And the great thing for you guys also is that you have the medium tyres for the start of the race. It looks like you knew they would be quick in qualifying so you’ve gone for a slightly different strategy for the race.
LH: Yeah, well we know that they are on a slightly lower drag level this weekend plus they have that power, so we’ve got to try something. You’ve seen the last couple of races we’ve been behind all the way, so we’re fortunate enough to opt for another strategy and I think the team have done a really good job with putting us in that position. It’s a long way down to Turn 1, so it’s not always the best for starts on the harder tyre, but I’m going to try to two the hell out of Charles if I get the chance. But it’s going to be hard because they get good starts as well.
Q: Sebastian, not the easiest qualifying I’m sure. Q1 was pretty tricky: one little mistake and all hell broke loose after that. But, P3, you’ve got the run down to Turn 1 and I’m sure that after the last race, with the strategy and winning that race, there are still a lot of opportunities tomorrow?
Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah, definitely. Obviously I’m not entirely happy, I think I couldn’t extract the absolute maximum from the car. As you said, it was a bit disruptive in Q1 but by the time we got to Q3 I thought it was OK. You spoke about Turn 1, it’s a long way, obviously we’ll see. We’re on different tyres strategies compared to the Mercs, so I think the race will be decided tomorrow. The speed is there so let’s keep it up.
Q: As you said, there’s a long straight down to Turn 2. You guys are pretty quick in a straight line too. For us it’s going to be great watching, but it’s going to be pretty crazy for you guys into Turn 2?
SV: Yeah, first you need a good start; then you worry about the rest, sort of thing. Let’s see. Obviously there’s potentially an advantage if you are behind but I guess if you are behind you always tend to say that, so let’s see what happens.
Q: Charles, you got progressively quicker as the session went on. Where were you finding the time?
CL: I don’t think I had any clean laps before the one of Q3. The first lap of Q3 felt very good. The second lap: very good until Turn 16, where I lost rears, and I lost a little bit of lap time. But overall the car was just coming together. The balance was better and better. I was adjusting a little bit the aero balance and I just felt more and more confident.
Q: And what about your confidence for tomorrow’s race – the long run pace of your car?
CL: I believe that the long run pace yesterday was extremely positive, I think probably the most positive of the whole season, so this is looking good. But it’s going to be an interesting race. I mean, Mercedes are starting on the medium, so I think the strategy will play a role. I think we did the right choice to start on the soft, but we will see tomorrow.
Q: Good luck with that and well done today. Lewis, if we could come on to you. You sounded very happy at the end of the session, happy to split the Ferraris for the second week in a row. How good was your lap?
LH: Pretty decent. It was a pretty good lap. Honestly, it was a really good lap. Last time, Singapore felt like a really good lap as well, it’s just… I was just saying to Charles out there that already by Turn 1 we were already three tenths down or something like that, so it’s very, very hard. But nonetheless I pushed, we pushed, as hard as we could and I was really, really happy with the lap. It all came together. That last one was the best of the weekend – as it should be – and no mistakes or anything like that, so I really feel like I got everything and maybe a little bit more from the car to split the Ferraris once again, which is not an easy task.
Q: Charles thinks it’s going to be a strategic battle tomorrow. Do you feel the same way?
LH: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think the team did a great job to put us on the mediums and naturally from the two tyres there’s obviously a delta and the softer the tyre the better the start. So it will be a little bit tough off the start tomorrow. But even if we were in the lead, if we were on pole for example, they are just so fast on the straights by the time we get to Turn 1, which is the little kink, they blast past us with the jet fuel or whatever it is. So, yeah, it is about strategy, which is why we are on a different tyre and I hope that we can utilise that and keep the pressure on. If you’ve seen the couple of races we’ve had we’ve been right with them but I’m hoping tomorrow we can really give them a good fight.
Q: Sebastian, coming to you, it seemed a good opening lap of Q3 for you but then it seems to slip away on that second lap. Is that a fair assessment?
SV: Not really. I was quite happy in general. Obviously a bit disruptive with Q1 where we got a bit unfortunate with yellow flags and stuff. I thought by the time we got to Q3 that was fine. I think overall I was pretty happy with the car. I just felt that there was more in the car that, yeah, I couldn’t get to. Nevertheless, I think tomorrow is a long race. I think we have good pace for the race. It will be very interesting with the Mercedes on different tyres to start with, so let’s see what happens.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Lewis, how important was it to be on the first row for tomorrow’s race? And would it be crucial to be at the second corner first, before the Ferraris to avoid what happened last week in Singapore?
LH: Time will tell. But, of course, if I’m able to try and somehow keep Seb behind, and there’s only one car ahead, for example, that changes things on top. So, naturally we’re going to push as hard as we can but it’s going to be very, very hard. Down to Turn One it’s a long drag – but I’m sure we’ll have a good battle, one way or another.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for all three of you. You all sounded pretty confident that you’re on the right tyre, even though you have different ones. Can you explain why you are confident this is the right tyre you’re starting on? Do you think this has to do with the car that the tyre suits better to your car – or is it only strategic reasons?
CL: On our side I think the start is very important here and we thought that the benefits of starting on Soft was big. And then there was not much difference, in terms of degradation, from the Soft to the Medium. So, yeah, we thought it was worth it to make it our start tyre. LH: I just wanted to be on something different.
Is that what it now takes to beat these guys? You’ve got to roll the dice?
LH: I don’t know. I haven’t beaten them for a while! So I can’t tell you. I’ll tell you at the end of tomorrow.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To all three. Charles, this is your fourth pole in a row. You were asked downstairs, you’re the first person to do that for Ferrari since Michael, which is obviously pretty special. Are you on a roll at the moment in qualifying where you feel like you can’t do anything wrong, and everything comes together. And to Lewis and Seb, you’ve both had massive success in Formula One, been on this sort of run – what does it do for you as a driver when you have this sort of succession of poles?
CL: Of course I felt confident going into qualifying but at the end anything… I mean at one point it’s going to end, so whether it’s now or later, I don’t know. So, the only thing I’m trying to do is focus on myself, try to have exactly the same procedure as I’ve had since the last four races and not… yeah, I definitely don’t come in the car thinking it will be easy and that it will come together alone. I just try to keep working as I did in the last few races, and then hopefully the lap time comes.
Lewis, how does it feel? The importance of momentum, invincibility when you’re on a roll?
LH: I don’t know – I’ve never felt invincible. Of course, when you get on a roll, it doesn’t really make… from my experience, it’s nice, for sure but it doesn’t make a difference. So if it’s separated: one pole; one second; one pole, it doesn’t make any difference to me. But he’s stealing all the poles right now, so it’s going to be very, very hard to beat their poles when they’re so fast on the straights but we’re working at it.
SV: I don’t know – it’s been a while for me! Yeah, I think you take every session separately, so you’re not really trying to look back. I think it’s just about nailing every session.
Q: (Dzhastina Golopolosova – The Paddock Magazine) Question to Charles. Mercedes dominated here for five years and today you showed that you can break this trend. What do you think about tomorrow?
CL: For now… I mean the race it tomorrow. It will be very important to stay in front, and they were also strong in the race pace, as they’ve always been since the beginning of the season, so, it obviously feels good to be on pole here. I think Singapore was a big surprise for everyone, for us to be in front and here, I think we felt we had our chances, considering how quick we were in Singapore. Yeah, I mean it feels good to break that but we need to finish the job tomorrow.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Charles, Jenson already mentioned the record that you equalled today with Michael Schumacher but I want to consider with you that there was this past 19 years from that and there are some other guys, for example Seb, who are with you that couldn’t do that. So how is your feeling, to think that today is an historical day not only for you but for Ferrari?
CL: As I said, it feels good but it doesn’t change my approach to the other weekends and as Seb and Lewis said, every time you go into a session, you take it just normally, without thinking about the others, the last poles I’ve had. So yeah, obviously it feels great but I don’t want to think about these things and I just want to focus on the job ahead.
Q: (Giusto Ferronato – La Gazzetta dello Sport) For both Ferrari drivers: in Italy probably now many people are thinking that you have found the solution to win all the races. Is this correct or they are too optimistic?
CL: I think we need to keep our feet on the ground. Obviously at the moment we are in a good momentum, we are having really good performances but at the end it doesn’t change… Mercedes are still quite ahead in the overall championship, which at the end is what matters the most. I think we need to keep our heads down, keep working. Of course at the moment it seems that it’s working our way but I will not say it will be like this for the rest of the season, so we need to keep working. SV: Not much to add so maybe too optimistic. I think we need to wait until tomorrow. I think at the last race obviously it was difficult to pass. I think Mercedes was faster than us in the race so we will see what happens tomorrow with different strategy.
Q: Sebastian, is this the best Ferrari you’ve driven?
SV: I think the car got a lot better since the beginning of the year when we started to really struggle. Obviously we had a bit of a high at winter testing. I think we understood what it takes and I think the step in Singapore in particular seemed to help us and allowed us to make another step forward. But I think the ’17 car out of the box was probably the best so far.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Sebastian, have you looked at all the data with Charles on the exercise of pole and have you found where he is better than you since the return of the summer?
SV: Well, obviously in qualifying here and there. I think we didn’t have the best sessions on my side. I think obviously today Charles was faster so it’s pretty easy to see where he’s faster but it’s a little bit here and there. I don’t think there’s any pattern standing out, saying that he’s always faster in the same type of corner. As I said, obviously the last couple of races was closer than maybe it looked on the result so we will see what happens tomorrow. Usually come race day I’m getting more and more confident in the car and pace has never been a problem in the race so we will see what happens.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Lewis, you’ve mentioned the deficit you’ve got at the moment to Ferrari and where you feel that deficit is so how deep are you having to dig inside yourself for a lap like this? You had a big gap to Valtteri today for example and you said your Singapore lap was also very good.
LH: Yeah. Honestly I feel like that maybe the last couple of laps have felt worthy, like pole-worthy in terms of how this has come together and optimising within the car. Naturally obviously they are faster than us and Charles has done a good job but I mean in terms of being as close to the limit as possible and yeah, I think I’ve just been getting more and more comfortable with the car, I think in this second half of the season, a little bit more comfortable with it, even though we’ve lost a little performance compared to them but there’s still work to do collectively, in all of us, including myself so we just keep working on that. Please don’t write that the wrong way, pole-worthy, I was meaning in terms of what do you… putting the perfect lap together, I feel like each time I’m getting as close to that as possible and then you finish the lap and it’s quite a long way off pole but it feels like quite an achievement to get in between the two Ferraris who have a bit of a delta to us at the moment.