Lewis Hamilton dominated the competition by putting his Mercedes on pole for the Styrian Grand Prix by over 1.2s.
It was a soggy affair at the Red Bull Ring with Max Verstappen earning himself P2 on the grid whilst Carlos Sainz delivered a storming lap for McLaren to ensure he will start from P3.
After letting the adrenaline calm down following a treacherous session, the trio headed over to the media room to tell them all about it.
1 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
2 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing)
3 – Carlos SAINZ (McLaren)
(Conducted by Paul Di Resta)
Q: Max, I know you’re not going to be happy with P2 but it’s a front row start and just talk me through the session and how difficult it was and did that car put you off at the second-last corner on your final attempt?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, well, I think overall it was a good qualifying but in Q3 it was raining a lot more and it seemed like we were struggling a lot more in the really wet conditions so I was just aquaplaning a lot more and I couldn’t really put the power down in some combined corners. It was not easy and I tried to be a bit close to the guy, I had to try to stay in his tracks to have a little bit less water. But anyway I think P2 is still good. It’s just very tricky out there and of course the last lap would have been better. I don’t think it was enough to beat Lewis but the pace overall was good.
Q: We heard you talking about visibility, was that on your visor or was it just the sheer spray coming up? And last point, do you think you’ve got a better car in the dry to fight Mercedes?
MV: Visibility is horrible. First of all, from the tyres you can’t see a thing. So even when you are six seconds behind, it’s very hard to see the braking zones, so it’s not very enjoyable out there, but it’s the same for everyone, so we had to deal with that. In the dry I think we can have a good shot at it. We’ll see how it’s going to go. I think our car, in general, is better than last week’s so I’m looking forward to it.
Q: Lewis, that was a dominant lap on the last attempt. We watched your onboard and you were fighting all the way to the end, so you must be pleased with that?
Lewis HAMILTON: All I could hear was ‘I must be pleased with that’. Honestly I am. What a tricky day. The weather was obviously incredibly difficult out there for all of us. A lot of the time you can’t even see where you are going. I had one big moment I think the lap before the last, big aquaplane, which definitely had my heart in my mouth but it was able to improve on the next lap, nice and clean. I love these days. You remember back when we used to race back in Larkhall and those places when it was like but obviously a hundred times a worse when you’re in a Formula 1 car.
Q: I know you had a difficult weekend last week with the penalties and obviously right at the end of the grand prix… Are you confident for tomorrow, because yesterday looked like it was a tough day in the dry?
LH: Yeah, yesterday was a difficult day. It started off well enough in P1 but then P2 was a big issue for us but we discovered it overnight and nothing major. I think today would have been better for us if it had been dry. But I’m grateful for the rain always. But I’ve heard that tomorrow is going to be much more sunny day, so I think we prepare for both conditions. That’s where I want to start. I’m glad it was a trouble-free session. I didn’t make any mistakes you know; that’s always a positive.
Q: Carlos, congratulations, I think you must be happy with that to qualify third. We know you had a good weekend last weekend but McLaren showing they’ve still got strength, even in these conditions.
Carlos SAINZ: Yeah, very happy to come back, back-to-back weekends and to put it in P3 for the first time in my career, second row it feels amazing, especially as this qualifying was probably one of the toughest I have done as a Formula 1 driver. To put together in the last lap a really good lap, it was so much aquaplaning, it was crazy on the straights, just keeping your foot down, sliding on the straights. It’s something I enjoy, but I’ve been talking to Max and Lewis and they were also quite excited about it.
Q: How confident are you for tomorrow, because we know the car was strong last week?
CS: Yeah the car in race trim has been better than we thought after Barcelona, so we are kind of confident going into tomorrow but at the same time we saw again on Friday the race pace of the Ferraris and Racing Points… I actually don’t know where they are starting. Far back? Then it’s good. But then I’m sure I’m going to have Alex, I’m going to have Valtteri behind. It’s going to be a tough first few laps but then I hope I can settle into my own pace.
Q: Lewis, that was an incredibly exciting session to watch. Just what was it like inside the car? How treacherous was it out there?
LH: Thank you. It was the worst conditions we could probably get these cars around in. It was an incredible challenge. I’m grateful that we go to do qualifying because we missed the morning session. It’s a real challenge for everyone, naturally we’re all in the same boat. Visibility was very, very… minimal. Making sure you get in the gap and putting the laps together when I counted was really the key. But the team did a great job in terms of the positioning, in terms of the information I was getting and I felt pretty much at home in the rain today. Grateful, that’s for sure.
Q: Well done, Lewis. Max, coming to you. Talk us through the session from your point of view. How good was the car and also, how much did Vettel on the apex of Turn 9 at the end of the session distract you?
MV: I think overall quali was good. Just Q1 was so busy. You couldn’t see a thing. You always had to drop… leave a bit of a space so you could do a lap. In the whole of Q1 I didn’t have a free lap. But still it was alright and also the track wasn’t too bad to drive on. With these cars, with these big tyres as well, it’s incredible, you can’t see a thing when you are within six seconds of the car ahead of you. But yeah it was all going well, the same in Q2 actually, I think it was all pretty good. But then towards the end it started to rain a bit more and immediately sector two was becoming more tricky. So yeah, I couldn’t really improve on my last two or three laps but it was good enough of course to go to Q3. Q3 was very difficult, for me at least. Just a lot of standing water. I lost quite a lot of grip and it didn’t feel as good as Q1 or Q2 but still of course to be second is alright.
Q: And just that final lap?
MV: I guess it was Seb going into the pits. You can’t see even the colour of the car. I understeered because of it and then I went a bit wide, like I came onto the kerb on the exit and I lost it and had a four-wheel drift into the last corner but anyway it was not good enough of a lap to beat Lewis.
Q: Carlos, the best qualifying of your Formula 1 career. First up, just how much satisfaction does it give you?
CS: Yeah, quite a lot, obviously. I’m very happy and a very good day for me. I’m quite pleased that my best qualifying of the year is coming in these conditions because I love driving in the wet and I’ve always enjoyed myself a lot. Today, I did enjoy myself but I must say it was quite stressful. It was a very stressful qualifying session. It would be good for you guys to see what we are actually going through in a Formula 1 car towards the end of Q3 with the amount of standing water, with the aquaplaning, not seeing anything and just keeping your foot flat, trusting that the thing is going to grip, and putting a lap together towards the end and risking everything. So, very happy, very stressful but at the same time really looking forward to tomorrow for my best starting grid position.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question for Lewis. Your team said after FP2 they were rather in the dark on your car. Just wondered, any potential issues? Have they been solved and are you confident in dry conditions tomorrow?
LH: Yeah, the guys did a great job last night, just going through it with a fine comb to understand… to just double check the car and then look at the data and we understood what may have been causing the problem and felt more confident going into today knowing that hopefully that wouldn’t be an issue. So, there’s no long-standing issues.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) All three of you have touched on just how difficult conditions were out there. Carlos said it was very, very stressful. Do you think big credit needs to be given to the race officials for actually getting this qualifying underway and in today? And how much do you guys enjoy it to make the difference as the drivers – because you seem like superheroes out there when it’s that treacherous to get these laps in.
LH: Yeah, definitely. The officials definitely have a difficult job the majority of the time and particularly on a day like this, knowing when to go and when to choose not to let the cars run – but I’m grateful they did. Just as we came to qualifying. Obviously it was drying up – or it wasn’t raining for a while – and just as everyone got in the car it started to rain again. And so we obviously had that bit of a pause. But once we got going it was fine for the first session. Then it did get worse – but I’m glad that they allowed us to stay out. It was definitely on the limit – but that’s racing! I’m glad they didn’t take that away from us because today, it’s so special being out there, it’s so difficult. I don’t know how it comes across on the cameras but it is the hardest conditions that we ever drive in. Just one small lapse of concentration and you’re off. And it can be big or small. More chance of it being a big one. So, yeah, I’m grateful for that.
MV: Well, not so much to add, to be honest.
CS: yeah, I agree with Lewis and with Max. I think towards the end of the session it was getting really, really tricky but I’m glad that they left us out there because these cars generate so much spray and we evacuate so much water that there was a very thin line where you put your tyres. There was actually a small amount of grip to actually run. I think if the session had been stopped, the track would have just got worse and worse and it would have been very difficult to get back out of track but yeah, these cars, they do a good job of drying out tracks and keeping the water out of it. So, pleased. Very, very difficult, as I said. A lot of front locking, a lot of rear locking, a lot of improvisation on the car. That is the conditions I think, as drivers, we enjoy the most because it’s the most natural instinct, and what comes to you as the first thing to do.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Lewis, question for you. You’ve done some pretty special things in the wet in the past. Where does that qualifying session rank for you, do you think, career-wise?
LH: It’s been a long, long journey. Honestly, it was a fantastic lap, the last one. I think just the importance of managing your time out there, managing your battery pack, knowing when to use the few laps that you have on the qualifying modes, creating the gap, not making a mistake when it counts. That was a lap. Obviously the lap that I had before I think was good enough but that last lap of me was really as close to perfect as I could get it in those conditions. And considering it was raining more, it makes me even happier knowing that I went a little bit quicker during that time. It definitely takes me back to times like Silverstone 2008 because, when you’re really at one with the car and you’re not phased at all and – as Carlos was saying – how you have to be very dynamic with your driving style from corner to corner because the wet patches arrive, the puddles are shifting about with the cars that are driving ahead of you, which is a massive challenge. I’m smiling under this mask. Super happy.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) For all three drivers, Lewis sort-of touched on the communication with the engineer in trying to find space. Is this the most hectic time that you have with your engineers, in terms of back-and-forth over the radio – and at what point does it become too much? How do you strike that balance of having the information you need and then being left to do the job?
MV: I think it’s more in the lap before you want to do your best lap, or whatever, towards the end of the session. You keep communicating a lot but of course the engineer sometimes stays quiet in the middle of the lap, for example, but it can happen, if people are backing off towards the end of the lap, they tell you. But it’s good. I don’t mind when they are talking to me. I know it’s tricky conditions but it’s also good to know what’s happening around you in terms of lap times, gaps in front, gaps behind, because you can’t see anything. Also in your mirrors. In the wet you can take them off – it doesn’t really make a difference. So yeah, communication is, of course, key in these kinds of conditions.
LH: Not a lot more to add, except to say communication really is vital and I think the rapport you have with your engineer, you have to have a good relationship, a good understanding of each other. It’s something I discuss. Bono and I have discovered over time how to lean on each other and when not to. So, I think the communication was really perfect. I couldn’t have done it without him and, as Max was saying, you’re out there, you really feel very, very lonely because there’s a cloud of rain – or spray – ahead of you and then the same behind. You don’t know where anyone is, you don’t know what time it is, all you know is that you’re going super-fast.
Q: We did hear you at one point say words to the effect of ‘Bono, leave it to me’.
LH: Yeah, I think there was one lap that he was quite relaxed and he was like ‘well, take this lap to calm down’ and I was starting another lap. So I was on the lap and he was trying to talk to me about the next lap and I was like ‘Bono, just give me a second’ and I was still on that lap. It’s not easy, definitely, to hear from someone when you’re on a pushing lap or when you’re cornering because you’re so focused on one thing and it can be distracting. But that wasn’t an issue.
Q: Let’s get your thoughts, please Carlos?
CS: Yeah, not a lot to add. I think I was talking to Tom, my engineer, before the session and I was asking him or letting him know that he was probably on for one of the most stressful qualifyings of the year. He agreed to me that actually qualifyings are the most difficult from a race engineer point of view and I think he did a tremendous job. As Lewis said, we are completely blind on the car, we don’t see nothing in front, we don’t see nothing at the back of ourselves and we don’t even know who is pushing, who is not. Sometimes you don’t want to disturb someone but you need to keep track position so there are basically our rights more than ever in these conditions and yeah, we are all three here is probably because our race engineers have done a very good job also.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, I don’t if he knows about this but there’s obviously strict protocols now in place for Hungary: team members, should they breach protocols they do risk a €15,000 fine or prison. I just wondered whether he had a view on that at all, if he knew about it. Just a feeling, talking to his engineers, not so much himself as he would stay in the track limits, but I just wondered if you’ve spoken to him about that?
LH: I was only made aware of it before qualifying. Naturally, it doesn’t really affect me because I stay at the track but it is, obviously, there will be protocols, I’m sure, for the team. I think the team have been fantastic in how they’ve managed it in their bubble, during this time, so I don’t anything about how their set-up there will be. Obviously, they’re not fortunate like us, to be able to stay at the track but it is a challenge, it is challenging times, we can understand it so we definitely need to make sure we take it very very seriously which I think everyone is.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis…
LH: Why don’t you have your mask on?
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Lewis, you touched on it a little bit but can you explain why you think you’re so quick in the wet, 1.2s to anyone else? And the second question was whether you’d considered take a knee perhaps on the podium, maybe if you win tomorrow’s race?
LH: Honestly, I haven’t thought that far forwards, so I still have to do the job tomorrow and these guys are no pushover so it’s going to require a perfect job from myself and the team. Can’t see myself doing that anyways. To the other part: I think it’s difficult for an athlete to explain why they’re good at something. I think, ultimately, it’s down to people to have… I know how good I am and that’s the belief that we have to have inside of us, all of us. I think that’s the same for every athlete. I think it should probably apply to everyone doing their jobs around the world; people try to be the best and believe that you can be the best and at some point, hopefully, you do believe you’re the best. But yeah, it’s down to focus, it’s down to how you study the track and your ability to be dynamic and manage the trickiest of conditions with the pressure on you. That’s generally what the best athletes in the world do in the last moments of an NBA game, when you’ve got Ray Allen taking that three point shot, when that one counts… either gets you through or not. That’s really, kind of what makes those individuals stand out.
Q: Lewis, when you’re on track, how does the skill of being a racing driver change in the wet?
LH: Change? I don’t know how to really answer that. Naturally in the dry it’s a lot easier not to make mistakes, it’s a lot easier to stay on track, it’s a lot less risk, even though there’s a lot of risk, it’s magnified by a thousand once you get in the rain. And as I said, there’s a balance of how much risk you take. In the dry, obviously you can take more risk, there’s more forgiving. In the rain there’s no forgiveness or very little forgiveness, so it’s… more and more times I experience rain days like this, it’s where your ultimate respect for other drivers are in the same boat, who are facing the same issues that you are facing, and get the job done. That’s impressive to see.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Carlos, after last weekend’s race your team boss said, particularly looking at Lando’s race, the car was very quick in qualifying and then not as strong in the race. Have you made any progress on that front over the week and do you think you are going to able to stay with the frontrunners tomorrow?
CS: That’s a very good question, my friend. I don’t know how we’re going to do tomorrow. I just know that we focused a lot in FP2 on the long runs, tried to see how the three compounds behave and try to take the right decision, going into tomorrow. It’s very tricky because you don’t know the fuel loads, the engine modes everyone’s running. I wouldn’t say we were particularly that far off in the race last weekend. We just probably went back to our normal position or where we deserve to be but I think we over-delivered in qualifying or I think Lando delivered with an incredible lap in qualifying. So yeah, let’s see what we can do tomorrow but I’m definitely excited about it.