Valtteri Bottas clinched the race win in Austin but it was a sixth World title for Lewis Hamilton that made the headlines.
(Conducted by Martin Brundle)
Q: Valtteri Bottas, pole position to victory and you’ve just beaten on the greatest drivers of all time in Formula 1 history. You must be so satisfied with that victory?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, it’s a nice win. Feels good. It just felt very good since yesterday, the car, and yeah, we had a strong pace so we were able to get the win. It was the only I could really focus on and do this weekend in terms of the championship, but obviously it was not enough and Lewis got the title…
Q: You weren’t lucky with the traffic. Was there a point where you thought ‘I might not win this now’? You really had to come back at Lewis and his pace was amazing.
VB: Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure which strategy was going to be ending up the better one, but luckily my pace was good so I could make even that two-stop happen, which was not planned initially. Yeah, we both had some traffic here and there.
Q: Have you got a quick word about Lewis and for Lewis?
VB: Yeah, obviously big congrats to him. I personally failed on my target this year, but there’s always next season. But he deserves it. He had some season.
Q: OK, we’re going to talk to the six-time world champion. He had a great second place today as well. Lewis Hamilton, congratulations, six times a world champion. You’re one clear of the great Fangio and you’re one behind Michael Schumacher, bless him. How does that feel? What’s going through your head?
Lewis HAMILTON: It’s just overwhelming if I’m really honest. It was such a tough race today. Yesterday was really a difficult day for us. Valtteri did a fantastic job, so huge congratulations to him. Today I really just wanted to recover and deliver the one-two for the team. I didn’t think the one-stop was going to be possible but I worked as hard as I could. I’m just filled with so much emotion. I have my whole team here, everyone back at the factory. I’ve got my mum and my dad, my stepmum and my stepdad here, my uncle George and my aunt from Trinidad, and all the family back home obviously. It’s just an honour to be up here with those greats.
Q: Great start: you went around the Ferraris, so now you’ve put yourself into nice championship position. You could have put your feet up, but you just never give up do you?
LH: My dad told me when I was like six or seven years old to never give up and that’s kind of the family motto, so no. I was pushing as hard as I could. I was hopeful that I might be able to win today but it didn’t have it in the tyres unfortunately.
Q: How far can you go? How many championships? Just where can this end?
LH: I don’t know about championships but as an athlete I feel fresh as can be right now, so I’m ready for these next races, we won’t let up, we’ll keep pushing. I’ve got to say a big, big thank you to all team LH around the world, everyone that has come out here this weekend to really make this event what it is, and also to all the Brits and people with the UK flags supporting me this weekend. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.
Q: Congratulations once again. Max, you kept the great Mercedes team very honest today, you pushed like crazy, but in the end the strategy didn’t quite work out for you?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Well, it didn’t work out but I think we did the best we could. They were just a little bit faster today. I tried to stay close in case something happened. For us it was a very good race. It was fun, I could still see the cars ahead of me and I think we had quite decent pace today.
Q: Yeah you did. Your pace was relentless. We thought you were going to have a chance to catch and pass Lewis right at the end. Was that in your mind too?
MV: Yeah, but there was a yellow flag on the back straight, so I couldn’t use the DRS. Otherwise, I think we could have been second today, but nevertheless still good to be on the podium.
Q: And a quick word about Lewis?
MV: Yeah, of course very impressive. Yeah, what else to say? He’s just doing phenomenally. He has a great team behind him, and, yeah, I hope we can take the fight to them next year.
Q: Valtteri, many congratulations, you nailed it this weekend, winning from pole position. Did you have any concerns during that race?
VB: Thank you. Obviously, a really good weekend, some solid progress since last year on a track I struggled with a bit. So yeah, obviously, as an individual race weekend, really pleased. Crossing the line really made me happy, because it was not an easy race. Even though the start went as planned, it was strong, also the first stint. But for me, Plan A was to do one stop, but Max pitted quite early, moved to two stops, so I had to try to cover him and then I went for two stops as well. Lewis stayed long, he tried to do one stop and one stage I worried that it was going to be a better strategy for him. All I could was focus on my every single lap, corner, trying to perfect everything, you know, with the traffic, all that, trying to minimise the losses and maximise all the gains I could. Then it was all about seeing towards the end of the race where we are. And my pace was good today and at the end I could catch Lewis and have some good fighting with him on track, which I enjoyed, and it was a good feeling to get ahead and to win the race like that it feels good when it doesn’t come easy.
Q: Well done Valtteri, second win in three races, very strong end to the season for you. Max, coming to you: without that yellow flag at the end for Magnussen might you have had a go for second place?
MV: Yeah, absolutely. Because of that you have to lift off, otherwise I would have definitely gone by. But that’s how it is. Sometimes those things happen. Overall, we had a really good race. I was just struggling with some weird oversteer in the car. Initially, they said it was my front wing, which had a little bit of damage but after the race I looked at the car and I was missing a big piece of my floor in front of the rear tyre, so that definitely cost me a lot of lap time today. I don’t know when it happened but already quite quickly into the race I had this weird behaviour from the car, which I had not felt before. So that’s a bit unfortunate and otherwise I think we could have been stronger today. But still, to be on the podium here after a very positive weekend in general I think was a really good achievement for us.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Abhishek Aggarwal – Indiainf1.com) My question is for Max. As you finished third today and in the championship points you are closing the gap now, do you think with two races remaining you can pretty finish ahead of the Ferrari driver and finish the gap and close in at three?
MV: I think the gap to third is quite big. It might be a little bit too big to close, but let’s see. Today was good for that. But of course my last few races we lost so many points, that was not ideal. I expect we will be competitive in the last two races so let’s see how it will all work out for us. It is of course always better to finish third than fourth or fifth, even though I think everybody wants to be first, but we will try everything we can.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Valtteri, I guess you knew coming into this that it would be unlikely that you would remain in title contention, so the fact that Lewis has wrapped it up here, does it take the sting out of that to win but also win in the manner that you did and beat Lewis on track in a straight fight?
VB: This weekend, winning it was the only thing I could do to try and maintain the title hopes and delay them. Obviously I did my part, which feels good, but Lewis was strong this weekend, as he always is, so he got some solid points and got the championship. I’ve got mixed feelings, really. As an individual weekend it was strong but then, on the other hand, I felt this year being best of the rest it doesn’t feel good. But it always need a little bit of positives as well, you know. It’s my best season in Formula One so far, so that’s good, and looking at other positives, I’ve made huge gains in many areas, in terms of race pace and everything. But yeah, winning the race this way, Lewis still… I’m sure he really wanted to win this race, to win the title by winning the race, I could stop that and that feels good, obviously. But I just look forward to next year – it’s a new opportunity.
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) Valtteri, the first time you passed Lewis it was pretty straightforward, there was a huge pace differential. The second time you had two attempts: the first one you had to go wide and the second one you made it. Can you talk is through those last two attempts?
VB: Yeah, I was closing in, there was also some traffic also ahead. Lewis had a bit of a mistake in Turn 11, so I could suddenly get this first opportunity. He covered the inside, so I had to take the outside line, although I was ahead, but he braked very late, so eventually I had to run off the track to avoid the collision, but it’s fine because if I was at his position I would have done the same, to defend as well as you can, so I’m fine with that. The other opportunity: again I think he went a bit wide on Turn 8 or 9, so I could get very close before the back straight and then it was much more straightforward. Again, I had good momentum out of exit of 11, got the tow and got him. So, then, after that, it felt like job done and tried to get car home without mistakes.
Q: (Lawrence Edmonson – ESPN) A question for Valtteri. Congrats on the win but as you mention it’s slightly bittersweet. So when you look back at the year, where do you think it got away from and what do you think, ultimately, was the difference between you and Lewis this year?
VB: Overall I think there were a few mistakes, for sure, from my side I should have been able to avoid. There were a couple on race starts, at least some of them were mistakes, some were maybe unlucky moments but they made me learn. Then a couple of qualifyings I messed up in Q3, definitely, which cost me starting position for the race and compromised the race and I lost points because of that. And then, otherwise, I don’t know, luck, unluck (sic) whatever has been pretty even for me and Lewis overall, so he’s just been on a great level again this year, every single race, and I’ve not been able to be at my very, very best every single race, but much more often than ever before, so the direction is clear for me in terms of my development, overall. It’s a good momentum now and in terms of race pace, which has been my weakness in the years before, I’ve made huge gains by working really hard with the engineers, you know, every single detail of my driving and set-up. That’s getting better and that gives me really confidence for next year and, unlike at the end of last year, now I really look forward to the year ahead, and I’m already excited to start the next season and start from fresh. So that’s going to be good fun.
Q: (Stew Myrick – KTXX FM) Congratulations to you both on your respective finishes. There was talk on Friday about bumps on the track, on certain portions of the track. For both of you, how much of a concern was that today and how much did it change your strategy going into today’s race?
VB: Only really the biggest effect in terms of driving was trying to avoid mistakes into Turn One with the bumps in the braking zone. Apart from that, there was a line in Turn Nine where there was a big bump that you could kind-of have a little bit less of an impact with that line, you would lose a little bit of time. So, always when I could, I tried to manage the car by taking that line, taking the time loss but making sure we didn’t damage the car – because obviously, example Sebastian, he had damage in his suspension, probably because of the bumps, so we tried to play safe when we could – but other than that it was not too bad. I think it brings a bit of character to the track. Obviously sometimes visibility is poor because of that but hopefully they don’t get any worse because that would be difficult to cope with.
MV: I don’t mind bumps but they’re almost like ramps in some places. But anyway, I think they will adjust it for next year. I think we have talked enough about it.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for both of you. Ferrari was pretty strong since the summer break. Today they were nowhere. Have you been surprised by their performance and do you have an explanation for that?
MV: Not surprised. At all. About it. After what came out. So that explains everything.
VB: What came out?
MV: The piece of paper.
VB: I haven’t seen it.
Max isn’t surprised. Are you surprised Valtteri?
VB: Actually, I am. Because I haven’t seen that piece of paper. Look forward to seeing it. But yeah, it was crazy. Since the beginning of the race they were far away – but Red Bull was really strong today, as they’ve been now everywhere lately. So… yep.
Q: (Peter Windsor – Clarksport) Congratulations Valtteri on a superb pole and win. Just going back to your driving again, there was a moment when you didn’t know if you would be racing for Mercedes after this year, and the contract was taken up, and it was announced that you were staying – and I’m wondering in the build up to that, how much uncertainty there might have been in your mind, and whether that might have affected your ability to work as you just described, and how long that period went on for – or was it a given in your mind that it was always going to happen?
VB: There was definitely uncertainty for 2020 at some point. Lots of rumours. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just had to wait. So, for sure, as an athlete, as a driver, it’s not an ideal situation. You can’t be completely with peace of mind and focus on the job and, y’know, feel mentally free and in the right place. It’s tricky. When that continues, you know, year after year, every single year of your career, at some point it’s getting a pain in the ass – so it’s definitely nice to get the contract signed. But, it’s going to be the same story next year. But not too worried at this point because the pace is good, I enjoy the driving, I enjoy working with the team and hope they appreciate that as well.
[Valtteri and Max leave, Lewis arrives]
Q: (Abhishek Aggarwal – indiaInf1.com) Lewis, congratulations first of all. In two out of two races we’ve seen you went on with the one-stop strategy. Was that always the plan or are you kind-of improvising, the tyres are responding good and you are making it work ‘til the end?
LH: Well, today, I think it originally looked like it was going to be a one-stopper but that changed once the temperatures came up today. You could see the guys ahead were starting to struggle on their tyres. Max then stopped quite early. So, I don’t think the team was expecting to do a two-stop, for sure, and on my side, I was thinking, ‘OK, I’m starting fifth, I’ve got to figure out how do I get to first.’ That’s all I’m thinking all day: how I could win this race. And so, I nursed those tyres like the best that I could possibly do. And I think that’s probably been a real strength of mine this year. I think I’ve always been able to do that kind of thing but to get the car in a position where you’re able to do that, and each year I’ve been getting better at it. And to eke as much as I could out of those tyres, I was so close to being just able to keep those guys behind – but I’m grateful to have been able to contribute to the team getting the 1-2.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) How would you rate this title compared to the five before? Is it the easiest or the toughest?
LH: No way has it been the easiest. It’s been the hardest year for us as a team. We lost Niki this year. A crucial member and a real pivotal member of our team and the emotional rollercoaster that we’ve been on with losing him, and a race where I didn’t have Bono here, outside of the car, just trying to remain focussed throughout the year. That is the toughest, and only really other athletes who are at the top of their game can really, probably related to it, probably because it’s just: arrive: week-in, week-out, can’t drop the ball – like I did yesterday, for example – and being about to bounce back from the tough… the lower days. And this car has not been easy, not been easy for us. It’s not been easy for us. We started the season honestly going off to Melbourne thinking that we were going to be behind. Mid-point of the season we were behind, and it’s been a real challenge, this second half of the season. It’s been the toughest second half of the season that I think we’ve had as a team, fighting against Ferrari and Red Bull, which is great, we welcome that. But, I don’t know, every journey is different. Every year you go through a different rollercoaster ride of emotions to get to where you’re going. I wrote something in my post this morning, that each and every single one of us is struggling with something in life. Whatever it may be: small, big. I tried to show people that, from the outside, things always look great but it’s not always the case. And I am also struggling with lots of different things and battling certain demons and trying to make sure that I’m constantly growing as a person. I think yesterday was something that was sent to test me, and I was able to do one of my favourite races today, I think. I was really happy with that one.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Congratulations Lewis. Because you’ve had this run of success now with Mercedes, I guess one of the things that sometimes critics question is how much of it as team and car – but if you look at Ferrari, they’ve had their strongest season to date and you and Mercedes have still pretty much wiped the floor with them. So how satisfying is it to have built this team around you. And a second question on Ferrari. Are you surprised at how much they faded from competitiveness this weekend specifically?
LH: On the performance side, no I’m not surprised. You saw that advantage they had through the season, and even last year. They had a huge amount of power, but more so this year, out of nowhere, had a tonne of power and I really just think, at will, whenever they wanted they seemed to have more. This weekend, I don’t know how their speed traces with ours but it’s definitely not like it used to be. It was seven-tenths we were losing on the straights before. Winning world titles. There’s not a single driver in the past that’s won a title without having a great team around him. There’s not a single world tennis player that’s won a title without having a great team around him. It’s part of the game and it’s how you navigate, and how you utilise those tools that are around you and those people around you to shape the future of the journey that you guys are on. And I’m just a chink the chain with this team but I feel very, very privileged and feel very… I feel really happy with my contribution, y’know? That I’ve been able to help steer the team in the right direction with the development, with the way the car needs to get quicker. And, more often than not have delivered performances for them when we’ve had a car that’s quicker than the others and also when the car has not been as quick as the others. Particularly that last year, they were just too quick for us to beat but we out-willed them, we had to out-think them and we did that collectively as a team.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Lewis, I know you’ve talked about qualifying this year and you not being happy with that, but overall you’ve kept up a very consistent level, probably the highest I think we’ve seen from you. Would you say this has actually been your best season overall, as a driver?
LH: I think so. I definitely think so. I think last year was a year of just continuous growth and I think this year has also been continuous growth but I tried to make sure that I’ve started the season as I finished last year. And I think that’s just stayed through the season. If you looked, I’ve been very consistent in qualifying. I’ve not had particularly spectacular pole positions that perhaps I did last year – but it’s been, y’know, first, second row the majority of the time, except for this weekend. And apart from Hockenheim – but I’ll give myself a pass for that weekend because I wasn’t really 100 per cent. Otherwise I think it’s been the best performing year and I think I’m really just trying to… I’m working on a masterpiece and I haven’t quite finished it yet, so I’m trying to understand… it takes a long time to master a craft and whilst I feel like I am mastering it, there’s still more to master. There’s still more to add to it. There’s still more pieces to the puzzle to add. There’s going to be more ups and downs along the way but I feel like I’ve got the best tools now, to this point at least, to be able to deal with those.
Q: (Peter Windsor – Clarksport) You’ve always said that you would take each race as it comes; you’re looking forward to the next race already and how motivated you are to win. But the championship is there now and I’m interested to know now whether – looking back at yesterday – maybe what happened yesterday wouldn’t have happened if the championship hadn’t been so close? That’s one question, and as a sort of corollary to that, when you woke up this morning, were you thinking ‘got to win today’; or were you thinking ‘got to get the championship done today’? Or both? Or neither?
LH: I woke up this morning and I wasn’t really thinking of the championship. I think really I generally try to put that always at the back of my mind and during the season I’m generally not thinking about it, I’m taking it one race at a time. That’s worked for me in the past and so what ain’t broke don’t fix it. Each weekend there’s a different build-up to it, there’s a different journey towards… in that week or two gap that you have and you come across so many different people, different territories that you’re in and it’s a real roller coaster and each time you’ve got to arrive with positive energy, with the right fitness, the right mental attitude. So anyways, yesterday… it sucked, you know? I love qualifying and I was looking for one of those special laps and it was below average. I practised it, practised it and practised it and to think that we’re towards the end of the year and I’m still having those experiences… it’s OK because if it was all good and perfect there would be nothing to be excited about. I came here today in fifth, knowing that it’s going to be a very, very tough race. I watched all the starts from all the previous seasons that we’ve had here, trying to figure out where I’m going to place the car at the beginning of the race and all I could see was first place. How do I get to the guy that’s right on first. I wasn’t even looking at… when I was in third, I wasn’t even looking at the blue car that was ahead of me, I was looking at Valtteri and that’s how I’m built, I’m always looking and wondering… I was like, don’t give me the times of the car ahead of me, I want to know the times of the car ahead because that’s the one I’m trying to beat. So that’s how I’m wired and I was hopeful that potentially this… there was a long way to go on those hard tyres. So I tried not to doubt that we could make it. But Valtteri did a great job today so hats off to him and I’m really genuinely pleased for him and he’s done a fantastic job this year. He’s taken a real step in performance and I tell you what’s really hard: when you’re in the team, you help each other sharpen your tools so when I work with an engineer… I’m pretty sure Bono’s always been a great engineer but I like to think that through our collaboration, I think he’s now probably the greatest he’s ever been as an engineer and the same for me as a driver. And when you work with those people closely and then your number two goes over to the person in the other car and then starts to utilise what you’ve experienced for all those years to give advantage to the other driver, that makes it really hard, so this is why it’s probably been even more of a challenge, particularly from within the team to work with the first year new guy in Marcus, who’s done a fantastic job but it wasn’t so easy at the beginning. And then all my cards have been shown on the other side so creating new strategies, creating new thought processes, trying to really be innovative when it comes to my driving style, having to try and keep an ace in the pocket. Where the hell do you find that used time, so you’re constantly recreating the way you go about driving and try not to show everything, you know, and I think this year, as I said, I think he’s done a fantastic job but I’ve just managed to keep that edge which gave us this championship.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) Lewis, I was struck by something you just said to one of the previous answers, you were talking about dark or demons. You mentioned demons, battling demons. Would you care to elaborate any more on that at all? It just strikes me as a strange time to mention that, given the success that you’ve had this year.
LH: Well, not particularly; to each and every one of us is personal, what we all challenge when you look in the mirror each day, when you feel good or you feel bad for whatever reason. There’s always the darker side that’s always trying to pull you down and you’re constantly having to wake up… I don’t know how you guys wake up in the morning but I look in the mirror and I’m trying to lift myself up and say ‘yes, you can do it. Yes, you are great. Yes you can be fit if you go and put that time in. Yes, you can win this race if you do the right steps and you continue to believe in yourself, and no one else is going to do it for you.’ So it’s just encouraging yourself always and I’m just trying to show a side that I didn’t understand that we’re all similar in many ways. I would say this year that losing Niki, I didn’t think that was going to hit me as hard as it did. It really was upsetting and I miss him dearly today and I didn’t realise how much I loved the guy, from the moment that he was calling me, when I was back home, asking me to come to the team, to when we sat together in the hotel in Singapore, the weekend my gearbox broke at McLaren, to him always taking his hat off so our negotiations to all sorts. Great conversations about his planes, that was a tough pivot point for us in the end and also we lost a young kid in Spa. Again, I saw it on the TV, I saw it happen. That again, when something like that happens, can put lots of doubts in your mind and batting that off and thinking OK, jeez, is it time to stop or shall I keep going, because there’s lots of life afterwards. I still want to spend time with my family, I still want to have a family one day, all these different things, but I’m so charged to do… and I love doing what I do so much that I don’t think there’s a lot that can particularly stop me in that sense.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Lewis, six World titles, it doesn’t just put you among the greats of Formula One drivers, it arguably makes you one of the greatest British athletes ever. How do you get your head around that, is that something you are able to comprehend yet?
LH: I don’t see no – and I don’t know why, I really don’t know why. How am I supposed to feel, you know? I was just saying out there in the scrum that I remember watching this sport when I was younger, waking up, come downstairs, my stepmum, Linda, who’s here today, she would make me a bacon sandwich and me and my dad would sit there together and watch the Grands Prix. It’s odd to watch it and see someone in the TV set and now to be the person that’s in the TV set, you know, and be doing something like the great that I saw in Ayrton and the great that I saw in Michael. It’s beyond surreal to think that this journey, my life journey has brought me to this point in winning a sixth title. But I don’t really know how I’m supposed to feel right now. I just feel… I don’t believe in the whole cloud nine thing, I’m flying super high right now and I’ve got my family with me which is just… I don’t remember the last time my stepdad and my stepmum, my dad and my mum were in the same… at a Grand Prix. I don’t think I’ve had them at a World Championship Grand Prix before so again, to experience that and share that with them, people who have ultimately been at the core of who I am and sacrificed everything they had for me to have the life that I have today, to have this opportunity to do this today, so I was really proud to see them all smiling and share it with them.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action, Speedsport) Lewis, you’ve talked a lot about what this all means to you. You’ve also not had a moment to yourself. Is there a time – tonight, tomorrow, next week – when you sit down and really reflect on everything?
LH: Usually the reflection comes at the end of the year when work finishes and you can just take a load off and just sit back and have a beer. I will be with my dogs, with my feet up and just only then you can have a moment to grasp how great a year it has been. In my mind, I’m just too competitive, so I’m thinking OK, we’ve got two more races to go, how am I going to do a better job, how am I going to improve in qualifying. There’s two more qualifyings to try and get pole, how am I going to see if I can potentially pull out a lap like I did in Singapore last year. How am I going to work it that I can be at the front of both of those. I’m always just looking to improve and I really love being in this sport. I’m so grateful to this sport for giving me a life and giving my life purpose. Also, with social media, we have this platform where you can also have a work and have an impact on people so I’m grateful for the position I’m in and as I said, I really like the idea of trying to create a masterpiece. I think we all should be challenging ourselves to create our own masterpiece in some way, shape or form, and mine’s not finished.
Q: (Phil Duncan – Press Association) You’re obviously now within one of Michael’s record. How motivated are you now to end your career as statistically the greatest driver that’s ever been in a Formula One car?
LH: I think it’s really… it’s all about how you position your thought process. I’ve always said to you that reaching Michael’s was never a target for me. I’m not really one that really thinks of records and those kind of things. I definitely had thought that getting anywhere near Michael was just so far-fetched and I remember having my one for a long period of time, then getting a second one. It was so far away and now yet it seems so close yet it is so far away that I still can’t really even comprehend. The challenges that we’ll face in these next coming months, the next season. You look at these other teams that have really been putting some astonishing performances in in the second half of the season. It’s going to take another load of incredible performance and work from myself and all the people who are around me and I really don’t want to have to think about it right now. And also, I don’t want to build up the idea of trying to get to Michael’s… to get to seven because at the moment, I’ve got enjoy right now. Tomorrow’s not a given, I don’t know what’s going to happen over these next days or months but what I have to do and what we all really should try to make sure you enjoy each day because one day you’re here and one day you’re not. So not trying to think of what’s going to happen potentially at the end of next year or 2021. I believe that I have the ability to continue to grow and to do more with this team and within Formula One and so that would be the target but time will tell. Right now I just focus on trying to be as fit and healthy as I can be and smile as much as I can and enjoy this beautiful journey we call life.