Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas were joined by Charles Leclerc to face the media after a controversial Russian GP.
1 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
2 – Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes)
3 – Charles LECLERC (Ferrari)
(Conducted by Paul Di Resta)
Q: Lewis, congratulations on another race win here in Russia. That’s Mercedes dominated all of these races here since we’ve come here in 2014. But you were up against it. You were pushing hard; you did something very different on strategy. When Ferrari had that issues, the perfect storm, you capitalised on it didn’t you?
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah. First of all, just an incredible job for all of the guys here this weekend, not giving up, trying new things, pushing forwards, always trying to be innovative and just never giving up. That makes me incredibly inspired and it’s just incredible to have this result today considering how quick they were off the start. Just keeping up with them was an incredibly hard task. But, as I said, we haven’t given up, we keep on pushing and the car was really fantastic today. So a big thank you to everyone here and also back at the factory, because I know they’re all sitting on their couch with their fingers crossed. And we’ve got a great crowd today as well.
Q: This mindset that you’re in Lewis, generally, we wouldn’t see you quite as happy, getting on the front row as you were yesterday and obviously to go out there and get the job done when you’ve struggled to get on top of Ferrari. What now? Are you thinking about the championship only or do you think it’s about winning races all the way to the end of this?
LH: Honestly, I try not to… I say this every season, I try not to think too much about the championship and [take it] one race, one step at a time. I think collectively that’s what we’ve been working on. Obviously it’s getting harder and harder as the season goes on. No, it’s one step at a time; one foot in front of the other, we don’t want to stumble. But of course we have got to keep on putting performances like this in and I know the bosses back in Stuttgart will be super-excited about today.
Q: The team are absolutely rock solid and you can hear it from everybody how excited you are about it?
LH: Oh man, it feels like a long time coming but it feels like the first time as well, so that’s why it feels special.
Q: Enjoy. Valtteri, P2 I guess starting from P4, you can’t be too disappointed with that. Lewis had track position and it was bringing it home to the end.
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, I think starting fourth and finishing second is not bad. For sure, it’s not a win, but as a team, for us it is a big win. It’s been a tough few so it’s good to get back to these kind of results. I had a good race myself. Just the first stint I was lacking a bit of pace, I couldn’t keep up and I was stuck behind one of the McLarens at the beginning. But the second stint felt decent and I just had to keep Charles behind and I managed to do it, so not too bad.
Q: You had that Ferrari in your mirrors. Honestly, did you expect then to have that race pace they did today, because that’s been a strong point of the Mercedes over the past races?
VB: We saw that we should have good race pace for today and we believed we could do it. We really need to raise our game in the qualifyings now but race pace is OK and I had fun.
Q: Charles, the perfect storm happened for Ferrari. Obviously they lost a car through reliability and you finished in P3. I know you’re going to be critical at how it happened but at the same time that’s a podium finish?
Charles LECLERC: Yeah, I mean at least we are quite consistent. It’s good to be back on the podium. It’s a shame for the team not to have the second car up here, but yeah, on our side an OK-ish race. Mercedes are still very quick in the race runs, a lot quicker than compared to qualifying. So we need to work on that, to try to understand and improve that for the next races.
Q: We heard you on the team radio saying that you wanted to swap back, Sebastian didn’t stick to the rules, obviously something was discussed before. Are you starting to lose trust with that, that something wasn’t followed?
CL: I will always trust the team. The tactic was me giving the slipstream to be one-two at the end of the straight, which happened. But then… I don’t know, I need to speak with the team to know better the situation.
Q: OK, and on to the next one. You can look back and the race performance has certainly has been increased, hasn’t it?
CL: Yeah, we were quite quick. I think we definitely had the pace to finish in front of Valtteri but it was quite tricky to follow. As soon as I was getting around 1.5s behind him everything would overheat and it would be quite a difficult time for us. Third today was the best we could have done unfortunately with the safety car.
Q: Lewis, a huge day for you and the team. Just tell us before the start of this race, how confident were you?
LH: To win the race? I don’t think we were particularly confident. We knew that we were on obviously tyre and we put ourselves on a slightly different strategy in that respect and I was hoping that was going to give us an opportunity to dice and fight with them at some stage through the race. But before the race we sat down and we were like, our estimations of whether the soft tyres will last or not, either we’ll be correct or they’ll be correct. And ultimately, I think they were right, because the soft tyre was much stronger than we anticipated. Obviously there was that difference between the compounds, so keeping up with the softs, with their consistency and their speed, was… Oh God, it was so hard. So I wasn’t expecting that. There was obviously that slight tail-off towards the end where I was able to start closing the gap but it wasn’t massive chunks out that I was taking out of them but then were obviously able to extend, we were planning to extend for like 15-plus laps or something like that and hoping that when we came back out on the soft we would have the chance to fight with one of them who is on a different tyres. Obviously safety car and all those things came into it. Valtteri did an exceptional job, because it’s not easy keeping the Ferraris behind and Charles has been driving so well, so ultimately just an incredible day for the team considering the challenges that we have had. I think this weekend we knew that we had have to pull more out of this car and there was more potential there, but we didn’t know where it was. I think we pulled ourselves a little bit closer to the Ferraris this weekend and it was just enough to get ahead of them.
Q: And you got swamped by the Ferraris at the start. Was that the result of you being on the mediums and them on the softs?
LH: I think partly. When we did the laps to the grid, I didn’t have a lot of grip, I don’t know about Valtteri, but I was a bit worried. And then obviously we definitely lost a little bit from the initial phase but then I wasn’t able to get to the tow because he stayed on the left and gave Seb the tow. I tried to sneak in behind Seb but there was a McLaren there so I had no tow down to Turn 1 and I nearly lost another place. After that it was just trying to keep up with them, but it was like trying to do qualifying laps every lap trying to keep up with them because they were so fast. Massive challenge but one I’m really proud of, really proud of everyone and I hope that everyone back at the factory is able to relax for a second but then come back and work hard tomorrow, because we still have plenty of races to go and a lot of challenges ahead of us.
Q: Valtteri, great performance from you today, fourth on the grid to second. How much pressure were you under from Charles in that last phase of the race?
VB: Yeah, for sure, it’s never easy. I think they had a strong car today, good pace and, as we’ve seen this year, they’ve been extra quick on the straights. So I knew if they get close enough, especially in Sector Three, they are going to be a big threat into Turn Two. Just really had to try to keep it together, try to minimise the mistakes and, you know, the car felt pretty decent today, especially with the soft tyre in the corners. So, try to really maximise everything I could in the corners, and try to get a good Sector Three and good exit out of the last corner and that way I could keep the position. But yeah, to be in that position beforehand, I think the team did all the right things today. Already the decision yesterday to start on the mediums to go long in the first stint, you know then, at certain points when you go long in the first stint, you start to hope for that VSC or Safety Car to come – and today it came. Like a miracle. So, that’s always good. So, yeah, bit better feeling than yesterday for sure.
Q: Charles, congratulations on third place – but it was a complicated afternoon for Ferrari. Can we just go back to the start. Can you just tell us about this agreement that was in place between yourself and team-mate Sebastian?
CL: I think everything was respected. At the start, obviously I went to the left to give Seb the slipstream. I knew he would overtake. We knew that. Then we just had to do the swap back, and we did it at the pit stop later on in the race and yeah, then our race went downwards. As soon as Seb had the issue, the Safety Car didn’t come at a great time for us and, yeah, everything was more complicated from then on.
Q: Charles, just to clarify, so you’d agreed to stay to the left and Sebastian was expecting you to hold that side of the track to get the tow. Is that what was agreed?
CL: I mean, staying to the left whatsoever… If there was Lewis and Seb side-by-side I obviously had to advantage Seb and not Lewis, which is normal. So yeah, that is what was agreed.
Q: And how surprised were you that Sebastian didn’t swap back immediately?
CL: I don’t know. I think the situation was quite tricky. There was a Safety Car straight away, so then it was quite difficult. I tried to stay as close as I possibly could for two or three laps but then it was very difficult to follow, especially first and second sector. Tyres overheated and then I dropped back a little bit. But then I was, as I said on the radio, I had one hundred per cent trust in the team to do it themselves, as it was agreed before the race, and that’s what they did at the pitstop.
Q: And any reliability concerns for you after Seb’s engine problem?
CL: I don’t think so. I don’t know. I actually don’t even know what is the issue. First I need to speak with the team but I don’t think there was any concern on my side.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Charles, you mentioned there having one hundred per cent faith in the team to sort the situation, and you did it at the pit stops but obviously the team needed to get involved to sort that. Do you have the trust in Seb after this to honour team agreements? And to the Mercedes drivers, you’ve talked about how good your relationship is, and how hard you work for one-another in the team. How damaging would it be to that relationship if one of you openly didn’t follow a team order?
LC: Yeah, I think the trust doesn’t change and we need to trust each other, Seb and myself, because I think it’s usually important for the benefit of the team in some situations to know that you can count on the other car, and vice versa – I mean in both ways. So yeah. I think it’s very important but yes, the trust is still here.
LH: I mean we work together, so it’s about having respect. And I think the respect has been there since day one. We talk about the scenarios very openly. Valtteri has always been respectful in all those scenarios and I think it’s vital that we’re both acting accordingly, which we do, I think.
Valtteri, anything to add?
VB: No, that’s fine.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to Charles. Do you think if Seb would have given you the place earlier, you could have fought for the win?
CL: Not if the Safety Car would have been the same – I mean at the same time. To be honest, that was our main… the main thing that went wrong today was this. But this is nothing we could have done. It’s a shame for the team because I believe we had the potential to do very good today and, yeah, with the Safety Car at that time of the race, was not great for us. Yeah, that’s it.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for you Charles. You said you gave Seb the tow. Does that mean you could have done anything differently if you would have fought against him?
CL: I actually had absolutely no reason to fight because, as I said, I trusted completely in the fact that we will swap back after, so there was no need to take any risks at that time, and yeah, that’s why I just didn’t fight.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Charles, do you think the second pit stop was not too optimistic – because at the end you lost the position with Valtteri?
CL: I think it was a tricky situation. Because obviously staying on mediums that had already five or six laps, compared to softs that were new. Especially for a restart after the Safety Car. We are, I think, everyone on the grid is struggling to keep these tyres in temperature any time we are behind a Safety Car. If you are on a Medium, already it’s a disadvantage, and if it’s a bit worn, then it’s another disadvantage. So, we didn’t want to take the risk to lose more than one position. I think we did the right choice. Looking back, you can always think about a better scenario – but at that time I think it was the right decision for us.
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) For the two Mercedes drivers. Lewis, at the start, you could stay within three seconds of Seb. Was that the limit for keeping the tyres alive and going for as long as possible – or you couldn’t get any closer. And to Valtteri, exactly the opposite. After the restart was the priority just to keep Charles behind, or you couldn’t get closer to Lewis because you didn’t have the pace?
LH: I think that was probably the limit. I was on the Medium tyre; they had the advantage with the Softer tyre which is quite a bit quicker. And then secondly, when you’re towing, two seconds is quite hard to follow. So yeah, I think I dropped back to around 3.3s or 3.5s, but I was trying to keep up. I wasn’t managing it, that’s for sure! They were just pulling away initially, and I think once we got to like, 15 or 18 or whatever it was, I started to be able to keep up with them a little bit better and as their tyres started to drop off a little bit, I was able to then start making some headway, and start taking time out of their gap.
VB: I think at that point we were on a similar tyre with Lewis, same car. For me the priority was definitely to try to keep Charles behind. For sure I was trying in the beginning. If I could get a chance at the restart of the Safety Car and the first lap, but there was no way. So, I was trying to balance out in the first few laps to push hard enough to keep Charles behind and, at the same time, try and leave a little bit of margin to Lewis. Because when you follow very close behind obviously you slide and destroy the tyres easier. So, I think the few seconds gap I had most of the second stint at the end was ideal. I Could get a bit of a tow effect on the straights and not too much sliding in the corners. So, that’s pretty ideal. But I have to say, Lewis was very quick today and, especially the first stint, I don’t know why, I didn’t have the pace to match. Second stint was a lot better.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) There’s been a fair amount of concern and criticism raised by the drivers over the direction of the 2021 rules and how much you guys have heard. We know that Chase and Ross gave you a bit more of an update this weekend. Do you feel a bit more informed now? Would you like a little bit more inclusion, even away from the meetings that you’ve attended with the FIA?
LH: I think it’s been a huge step for us to be involved, it’s a big step for all the drivers to be united and I think we’re building a new and better relationship with the FIA, the GPDA and the FIA communicating and I think they’ve been quite open. I think there are things that we ask about and they are like ‘we can’t change it now’ but there’s no such thing as can’t for an engineer. There’s lots of things that can be improved but the thing they did show us the other day is that the amount that you lose behind a car today… what their simulations say that we will lose in terms of downforce behind the new car… I think it looks great, so I’m working as hard as I can to make sure I can stay around for then and get to drive those newer cars. And naturally we don’t want the cars to be slower either – I think they said they’re two or three seconds off so hopefully we can push that forward but some things like weight, we don’t want the car to get heavier but it is going in that direction. But I know they’re working really hard at it.
VB: Yeah, I think, as Lewis said, it’s a good start that we are closer to them and they are actually sharing the ideas with us and I think we have a pretty good understanding when it comes to driving and racing and we’re always happy to give our opinion and I think we have the best understanding what makes us happy and what makes the racing better. It means happier fans and so on so for sure it’s nice to be involved and hope that that really continues.
CL: Yeah, I completely agree. I think it’s very important that, as has been said, we are all united for the same goals. I think our ideas are clear, what we want and it’s important that we are involved because we just feel things that sometimes on the data doesn’t look the same way. It’s a good step.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, you’re 73 points clear of Valtteri, 107 clear of Charles now with just five races to go. Is it difficult, in your mind, not to think that you’ve already pretty much got this sixth world title?
LH: I just don’t try to think about it. It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s pretty easy just to focus on the task in hand and it’s not easy at the moment so honestly just focusing on trying to be the best I can be each weekend, one race at a time and making sure I’m just delivering at a high rate. What’s really impressive is just to see how naturally we’re fighting against the Ferraris who have got great pace but Charles, Valtteri, Seb, Max, Carlos, some of the other drivers are really performing so well. I think it’s one of the best years I’ve seen the drivers perform in terms of just class performances, so it’s meaning that everyone is having to raise their bar including myself. I’m enjoying that challenge and as I said, just one race at a time. The next one is going to be super hard to keep… to trying to beat these guys again but not impossible as we’ve shown today.
Q: (Doria Panova – motorlat) To the Mercedes drivers: another podium, congratulations, but obviously it wasn’t a perfect weekend for you, so what is your opinion about this Grand Prix and what areas do you think you need to improve?
LH: Well, we’ve been very fortunate to have come to Russia and quite incredible performances for many years now. I think the Ferrari had the front row last year or the year before…
VB: Year before…
LH: …and obviously again incredible performance this weekend. I think we’ve done a good job today so it’s ended up being a good weekend but of course we were on the maximum limit and I think those guys are still quite dominant at the moment so it’s taken quite a special job from us today to pull out ahead of them. I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I’ve not spent a huge amount of time in Russia but the people seem so welcoming and just generally really nice people and I think that getting used to Formula One… you know, when you grow up I see Russia and you see the Kremlin in the movies and you see Moscow and it’s freezing and when I came out here, I didn’t even know that they had a seaside and it’s beautiful. I wake up and open my curtain and I see the sea. I have no clue what point of Russia I’m actually in but it’s obviously got a lot to offer. In terms of the racetrack, I think it’s growing on me and it’s obviously got the great straight. I think we can do better in making it somehow better for closer racing, because the corners are all so fast, it’s very very hard to follow as we are all saying. So perhaps in the future we might be able to make the corners tighter or something. I don’t know.
VB: Yeah, definitely. I’ve always enjoyed coming here, it’s been pretty successful for me personally. I’ve had many podiums and my first ever win for me here so it’s a special place on that side and obviously neighbours with Finland. You say we didn’t have a perfect weekend but we had a perfect day today and it’s Sunday that really matters in Formula One, so happy days! But we definitely have work to do.
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) Lewis, you mentioned this a bit but Suzuka is a different kind of track but with Ferrari now being quick on the corners and possibly the Red Bull Hondas having no grid penalties, how tough is it going to be between all three of you and the other three drivers from the top teams? What balance do you expect there?
LH: It’s going to be awesome. Suzuka is incredible, it’s one of the most exciting parts of the year and now so more than ever before because you’ve got three solid, incredibly fast teams, particularly pushing each other and having the ability, the potential to win a race. I have no idea who is going to be quickest there. Obviously, at the moment, Ferraris are quite dominant but maybe it will suit our car a little bit more, who knows? Or the Red Bull, maybe. So it’s exciting to go there because that’s a serious driver’s track, one of the best ones of the whole year. The tarmac run-off areas that you see here or around the world… it’s proper grass and gravel and walls so it’s the ultimate test, I would say, that track, for the car and also for the driver. I just hope that we get to have a good race there.
VB: Yeah, look forward to it. Not much to add. I think it’s going to be exciting, good fight between three teams and between all the drivers and I really look forward to it. Personally, it is my favourite track if I had to chose one so it should be fun.
Q: Charles, how confident are you of Ferrari’s pace at Suzuka?
CL: I think, as I’ve said earlier this week, we’ve been quick in Singapore, we’ve been quick in Monza and both of them are the complete opposites so I think it shows that we are doing some progress so there are no reasons for us to be very slow in Japan, but it doesn’t mean that we will have an easy life. I’m pretty sure that Mercedes and also Red Bull will be very strong there. I’ve only been to Suzuka once but it’s a track I loved, last year I took so much pleasure driving especially through the first sector. It was just a really great experience so I’m really looking forward to going back there.
LH: It’s pretty incredible it’s your second year, only your second year. Already in Ferrari and he’s doing… is it four wins this year?
CL: No, no, you are over-estimating me. No, two.
LH: OK, anyway, that’s still pretty impressive.
CL: Thanks man.
Q: (Beatrice Zamuner – motorlat) Charles, given Sebastian’s DNF today, how much of a concern is reliability to you at the moment?
CL: As I’ve said, I don’t even know what the issue is so for now, I’ll speak with the engineers. I don’t think reliability has been an issue or a concern from the beginning of the year on our side so I don’t expect it to become one now but let’s see. I’ve got no idea what the issue is so I firstly need to speak with the team to understand what went wrong.