Mercedes top the world of Formula 1 for a sixth straight season – Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were joined by Sebastian Vettel to dissect the Japanese GP.
DRIVERS: 1. Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes), 2. Sebastian VETTEL (Ferrari), 3. Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
TRACK INTERVIEWS (Conducted by Paul Di Resta)
Q: Congratulations Valtteri. Qualifying P3 in Suzuka you don’t expect to lead into Turn 1 but Sebastian made a mistake, you pounced on it and you absolutely dominated that race in classic style. You must be delighted with that?
Valtteri BOTTAS: I’m very happy. Obviously it was a pretty close qualifying and yeah starting third here is never, but there’s not point ever to give up on anything and I knew anything was possible today and opportunities were there today and the first one was at the start. I had a really nice start and obviously Sebastian had an issue, so managed to get in the lead and then the pace was super good. I could really control the race. I really enjoyed it and had fun, so yeah, very, very happy.
Q: Were you a little bit worried when they pulled you into the pits and said you were on a two-stop strategy or was that always the plan? Or did you think you were going to have to overtake Lewis?
VB: Yeah, we knew that one or two stops were both possible and that there was not a massive difference between the two of them. We knew if could be a scenario. That really went smooth. I could really control it when I could and push when I wanted. Nice.
Q: And to top off the day, Mercedes just won their sixth Constructors’ title in a row. You must be delighted with that?
VB: Yeah, really proud to be part of the team. A sixth title in a row is so impressive, so very proud of every single team member, here at the race team and also at the factory. Well done guys and girls.
Q: Well done Valtteri. Enjoy the evening. Sebastian, congratulations, I know after qualifying you put it on pole position, but I have to talk about the start – what happened? You moved and had to stop. Was that a mistake on your behalf?
Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah, I mean the lights were on a long time, but it was my mistake, so I lost the momentum them. So I ended up worse than just having a poor start, it was a really poor start. Then it was difficult because Mercedes was quite quick in the race, especially at the back of the stint, they had more pace than us. Yeah, Valtteri was flying, literally, at the end of the first stint. Obviously Lewis tried to do one stop and I guess it didn’t work and in the end I knew that he would come out behind and I just paced myself around all the bits in the track where I could and just tried to get good exits in the places where he could be a threat. So that worked but, yeah, it was obviously a tough afternoon to then maintain second.
Q: Do you think if you hadn’t made that mistake at the start the win was possible?
SV: I don’t know, because then they can obviously play a lot more the tactics, so obviously that way they had one car comfortably in the lead and Valtteri was out… we weren’t a threat to him. But yeah I think with the lack of pace today, probably second was probably the maximum, but surely I’m not happy with the very first start of the race but after that it was fine, but as I said we just lacked a little bit of pace. But overall it’s been a positive day, everything packed in one day and to get pole and second today is reasonable. It’s a bit of a shame. I don’t know what happened to Charles, otherwise we could have maybe had both cars to challenge them a bit more.
Q: Lewis, I know everything you did today you never really got let loose, you were always kind of in the mix, but when you were free you had the pace and a challenge all the way to the end.
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, well firstly it’s congratulations to the team, so well deserved. To win it six years in a row, the Constructors’ Championship, is the main point. I really just wanted to get the best points for my team today.
Q: Looking ahead: now that it’s down to the Drivers’, do you suspect that you and Valtteri will be battling all the way a bit more freely now that the Constructors’ is over and over and done?
LH: It makes no difference because we’ve been racing freely all year.
Q: Yeah, but it will be a hard fight all the way to the end?
LH: For sure.
Q: Valtteri, great race by you today. Can we start by talking about the start? How good was it, almost as good as Austria 2017?
VB: Not quite. I think nothing compares to that. Sebastian nearly had as good as that one I think. But I did have a very, very good start. But for sure it looks better if there are cars around that don’t have a good start and very much needed, because we knew we had a good race car here with a good pace but if you are behind other cars you can’t really use it that much. I was very happy to get to the lead and obviously it’s quite different being in the lead and being able to control and on this track [being] in the free air makes a difference so I really enjoyed it.
Q: Once in the lead did you have any other concerns during the race?
VB: Everything was going pretty smooth. Just the second stint was full of traffic, so I was overtaking backmarkers all the time, so I couldn’t really have good rhythm and very good pace in that stint.
SV: You could have slowed down.
VB: Yeah… I didn’t want to. Yeah, when Lewis didn’t stop for his second stop I was slightly concerned that maybe his tyres would last to the end and he could actually make it, because he had a decent gap to me. But obviously he was on the medium and I think that tyres would have struggled massively at the end. So, from my side, obviously a very good race and on top of that very, very happy for every single team member, getting the sixth Constructors’ title. Really well deserved. It’s not just the result today but all through the season so very, very proud.
Q: Very well done. Sebastian can we start at the start? What happened from your point of view?
SV: Well obviously I had a poor start so I lost quite a lot of momentum when the lights go off. A mistake on my side. I had it in my hands, literally, to perform a good start – normally starts are really strong – but obviously today we didn’t get it right. I don’t know what happened to Charles but we both missed out on the start maybe for different reasons. After that we knew it was going to be a difficult race. Overtaking isn’t straightforward here and obviously in terms of pace it was very difficult. We could see in the first stint that Valtteri was just quicker, especially towards the end, and then Lewis was catching. He was basically very close to me when we pitted, so I think overall we got the strategy right to stay ahead. I don’t know if… maybe they didn’t get it entirely right. But not the day we wanted if you start first and second. I don’t know where Charles finished. Sixth? Did he? So second and sixth.
Q: Were you concerned about getting a penalty for the start?
SV: I don’t know. Not really. Obviously I had a very poor start in general…
[Valtteri and Lewis laughter]
LH: You’re lying! Come on!
SV: No I didn’t. If you jump the start then obviously you get caught, so I think it was just fine.
Q: And Sebastian, we saw a thrilling battle between you and Lewis at the end of the race. How much did you enjoy that?
SV: I was surprised when they pitted to be honest. I expected him to stay out and try the one stop. Once I knew that.. also before, Valtteri was so far away and we were not fast and it was not possible to catch him, so when he came out I was not rushing to open the gap, I was just trying to keep my tyres somehow fresh to make sure that if he arrives then everything is still in good shape and I have the chance to have good corner exits and play the advantage we have down the straights, which worked. It got a bit close once with traffic but other than that I think it was quite good. I was quite quite happy when I saw the chequered flag. I didn’t want to do another five laps like that. But I knew obviously in the places where you can’t pass I can take it easy to try to maintain the tyres a little bit.
Q: Lewis, coming on to you, Sebastian was surprised that you came in for your second stop. How surprised were you to be called in?
LH: I wasn’t surprised. The team put me on a two-stop, so I knew already when they put the medium on, that was going to be the case.
Q: Do you think, as the race played out, you could have got to the end on that one-stop?
LH: With better guidance I think I probably could have. They said, when they put the tyre on, that we are going a two stop because the degradation is high. So then, just the direction I was given in terms of having to try and close the gap to Seb. So every time I was having to close this gap, so used the tyres quite a lot. So, in how I was using them, there was no way I was going to make it to the end on that. If I had, from the beginning, said we’re just going to eke it out and just see if we could manage it, then I could have just driven differently and, potentially, held it to the end – but all in hindsight.
Q: Lewis, you’ve been with the team for all six Constructors’ titles. How does this one rate against the others?
LH: It definitely feels a little bit different. Obviously… I wouldn’t say as happy as previously because naturally we lost Niki this year and it doesn’t feel the same without him. So, naturally I’m very, very proud of the team. Very proud of everyone back at the factory, and I know Niki would be taking off his hat for today’s result. Yeah, I think we owe him a huge amount and this win is really for him. I think the whole team and the whole of Mercedes will probably dedicate this to Niki. I definitely do. Very, very proud to be a part of it, and a part of the journey – but it has been a difficult, a tough year for us, y’know? And every time I walk into the garage I see Niki’s headphones and his cap. I sat and I looked at it today before I got in the car. As I said, I know he’ll be proud, I know his family will be as well. The team should be proud too.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) Question for the Mercedes drivers. Valtteri, you asked your engineer if he was sure that Lewis was going to stop a second time. He told you yes, you kept to that pace – but then two laps later you had your best lap until that point, that coincided when Lewis came in. Were you starting to have doubts that he was coming in and you wanted to catch, just in case? And for Lewis, if the plan was to go to second stops, why do you think they kept you out for so long at the end of the first stint when you were two to three seconds slower than Valtteri and Sebastian?
VB: Yes, for sure I was wanting to make sure what’s the race situation and what’s going to happen. At that point actually I had some margin to save the engine a little bit for the future races. So that’s why I was asking if I really needed to go full gas, or if there’s a bit of margin for safety. I think the timing for the good lap times, I was getting through some backmarkers then getting into the rhythm again, getting into good lap times. All my stints, they were not massively long so I could really push hard when I wanted. And like I said earlier, the car felt really good today, so I was very comfortable to push when needed.
LH: Was I surprised? No, that was the target, that was what we were supposed to be going for. The surprise is that, every time you come out, by going long you end up frikkin’ twice as far behind as you were before, which is twice as frustrating. Because I can’t see that, so I’m not aware of that, and I come out and a I realise that I’ve just lost another ten seconds and I’m like: ‘Why – you could have told me. If you’d said I was going to come out a further ten seconds behind – I was pretty much 22 seconds behind Valtteri – I would said no and would have come in earlier.” So, there’ll be some discussion I’m sure when we get back.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Valtteri, you have many times said that this is your favourite circuit. Does it feel any different after finally winning here compared to those five before?
VB: For sure. It keeps it my favourite circuit, for sure. It’s not been one of the strengths of mine – ever – this track, but even though it’s always been kind of the favourite that I’ve looked forward to the most in terms of the driving side. So, yeah, for sure now it makes it a more special track for me, and it’s one of the very iconic grands prix in the calendar to win, so very pleased to do that, for sure.
Q: (Luke Smith – crash.net) Valtteri, Lewis. A sixth successive double set of titles – confirmed today, one of you two will win the Drivers’ Championship. Toto has spoken before about the pride of wearing the shirt, the staff and Mercedes, can you talk a little bit about how proud you are to be part of this record-breaking team, and what you’ve built here.
VB: I think I said earlier, I’m very proud obviously. We’re making history and, it’s funny with anything you do, if you are getting success, and so on, sometimes it’s quite tricky to realise that success. Sometimes you have to step outside, a step or two to realise it really. I’m sure we will look back at this afterwards at some point, that wow, we made six and obviously hopefully more – but this moment, yeah, I hope we all can really appreciate it and take the time to enjoy it as well, even though we need to keep pushing. It just feels like life goes pretty quickly onwards and it’s very important to enjoy those moments and, at least personally for me, I’m really, really proud, really happy for every single team-member. I know the amount of work that has gone into achieving it. So very, very happy for everyone and I just hope everyone realises that and enjoys it because it’s well-deserved.
LH: I think I kind of said stuff earlier on. I’ve been with the team for seven years. I’ve been with Mercedes since I was 13 so very proud to be racing the silver star and be part of this incredible journey that Mercedes is on. Joining them in 2013, with just the utter belief that we will do something special, it’s kind of crazy to see it coming to fruition, all the hard work. Naturally, when I met everyone in 2013, just seeing how dedicated they were there, and it still remains the same. Even though we have the success each year, they’re hungry, they’re driven, they’re excited that they have Valtteri and I in the car and they give absolutely everything. And I love that, and it really inspires me to go out there and drive the way that I do, the way that we do throughout the weekend.
Q: (Jens Nagler – Bild) Two questions for Seb: how did you enjoy the battle against Lewis and secondly, if I’m correct, there’s not chance whatsoever now to clinch the title for you so is Mexico the first step of the next attempt?
SV: Well, obviously not happy with the fact that we didn’t have the year that we were looking for but it’s not today that made the difference, not yesterday, not last week or… Obviously it’s been a long year and it’s still going so… I don’t think we’re lacking anything. I think we just need to work better. I think we are very committed, working very hard but it’s not yet on the level that can be achieved. Obviously Mercedes have shown that in the last years that you can do better and they’ve been able to maintain that. I think we are not in that position, but I’ve loved to be honest and I’m sure that we would be more enthusiastic by nature but that’s not the case so we need to work better. As I said, I think we don’t need to work harder but I think we need to work better. The first one: yeah, I enjoyed it but obviously I knew that I was a bit of a sitting duck because I was quite slow in the corners and very fast on the straights, so I just tried to play my advantage and that worked. I’m sure that Lewis didn’t enjoy that as much but in the end it was key to… or we tried as hard as we could to stay ahead despite being slower at the end so that’s good but overall we had a great chance today, starting first and second. Obviously after the first couple of meters that advantage was gone but after that we knew that it would be difficult from where we were to turn it around and we saw in the first stint that we just couldn’t go with them, especially at the end they were a lot stronger. So as I said, there’s still room for improvement. It doesn’t start in Mexico – next year; next year starts next year so whatever we can learn this year, I think we’ve learned a lot about our car, the weaknesses, we’ve improved it but we’re still not there so… We’ve had a strong couple of races but overall I think we’re still a little bit behind.
Q: Sebastian, you say you’ve learned a lot about yourselves; what have you learned about Mercedes this year?
SV: It’s very difficult, obviously you can’t see what they are doing but I think from the outside they are very close to perfection every time they go out on track so very consistent, very little mistakes. That’s certainly also part of what makes them so strong but yeah, if you clinch the Constructors title with four races to go there’s a lot of things you do better than all the others. If you go into detail then you can argue what their car is maybe doing better than ours but I don’t think that’s the point overall, it’s a team effort and as I said, I think we do have the ingredients, we do have the commitment, we do have the intelligence but we just need to do it better. It’s a lot of small things; it’s not one thing that we need to improve, it’s a lot of small things that we need to do better, every single one of us and that’s the only way that we can try and step up. Hopefully they get a bit bored, we will see what happens.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, just throwing it forward, you can now obviously win the championship in Mexico so how important is it for you to get that over the line as soon as you can? And Valtteri does this result give you renewed hope that you might be able to do the unthinkable and beat Lewis to the title?
LH: I think for me it’s never been a case of always wanting to rush things. Valtteri’s driven well all year long, he’s done a great job today and he will most likely do a very very solid job these next races, so we still have a battle, the fight continues. I think Mexico is generally our worst race of the year because of the way our car is set up and it’s going to be a tough one for us. The last few have been pretty shocking, even though we’ve won the title there. I’m hoping for a better weekend but I think it’s going to be very hard to beat the Ferraris with those long straights. We have no hope of getting by on those straights, that’s for sure but even if you look at the others, the McLarens are picking up some serious speeds on the straights, so are the Red Bulls so I think it will be a tricky one. I don’t anticipate it will be Mexico. I think we will be battling for a good few races.
VB: Yeah, I don’t really give up on anything as long as there’s a theoretical chance so there’s no point in that. Today was a good example on the track where it’s difficult to overtake. You start third, OK, two Ferraris ahead, it’s a difficult case to win but it’s possible. Yeah, everything’s possible although I’m realistic as well that I will need to be very lucky, that’s a fact, to win all the rest of the races but yeah, I don’t really think about that much at this point. It is my bad, mostly, that I’ve been behind this much in the points compared to Lewis, it’s my fault which I try to fix for the future but it is where we are now and just take it now race by race and see how it goes.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, are you kicking yourself now that you did make that stop or are you thinking maybe I could have got to the end of the race on those tyres? Question to the other two drivers: if you were in that same situation, you’re leading the race, you’ve got 22 laps to go, would you have risked it and stayed out? Final question: Sebastian, who’s going to win the title out of these two guys here?
LH: Honestly, I’m thinking of what I’m going to eat tonight. I’m thinking about I can’t wait to get back to the UK to see my niece and nephew. What’s done is done. Naturally we’ll go and sit and talk to the engineers and strategists. I think today could have been done better. There’s multiple scenarios during the year when that’s been the case but nonetheless, Valtteri did the job. I’d have had to have driven differently in that second stint, stretch out as far as you can… naturally when I was in the lead I thought about staying out but by the time I’d already pushed so much to close the gap to Seb… we should have at least got a one-two today but I think the strategy wasn’t optimum for me. It was naturally optimum for Valtteri but yeah, there were a lot scenarios. Valtteri had a very good gap to the first stint. He didn’t have to stop early because he clearly had a good enough gap. They should have stopped me before Seb to undercut him but it’s always an afterthought. Often the first car gets priority which is always how we’ve always had it but we can do better as a team, to make sure we score more one-twos, so we’ll just work hard on that and there’s no love lost or anything like that. We’ll be pushing hard.
VB: Yeah, obviously, I don’t know. I wasn’t in his car and I can’t know how the tyres were feeling and how much he was pushing before and so the only thing I know is that at this point for him probably the computer would have said no, it’s not possible with the numbers we had for the tyre life so that’s the only thing I know.
SV: Yeah, I think Valtteri has said pretty much it. It depends a lot on how you feel with the tyres so I don’t know whether Lewis was talking with the team and asking to stay out or what were the options, but if you get the call out then you trust the team and you come in. And the second one is that Lewis will win it. Doesn’t matter which race. I don’t think it matters for him, does it? It wouldn’t matter to me.
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) Lewis, in the last few laps you had softer tyres than Sebastian, newer tyres than Sebastian, you had DRS but still you couldn’t make the move. How worrying is that, that this gap is too big in terms of straightline speed, for Mercedes to catch for next year?
LH: We’ve got time for next year. I think it’s not been a great year for us in terms of the great issue, in terms of our engine development. I think it’s been a really hard time for the guys, they’ve been working as hard as ever but it’s just not been as successful in that department, as I say, plus it’s quite draggy but we’ve had great reliability and hopefully that remains the same and that’s still something to be really proud of of course. We have, obviously, still won the Constructors championship but we’ll push to try and maybe reduce the drag a little bit but also increasing power for next so they’re fully onto it and I have all the confidence in the world that we’ll be able to make some sort of step into the next season. Of course I got in the tow of Seb, the tow with DRS and maximum power and everything… it’s incredible how quick they are. It makes it very very difficult, even if you’ve got the advantage of the tyre but I think it’s cool anyway, it provides interesting racing. I wish we could have had a closer race today but it’s a difficult track to do so.