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Belgian GP: Post Race press conference

NEWS STORY
01/09/2019

Today's post-race press conference with Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Track Interviews - Conducted by David Coulthard

Charles, I'm sure mixed emotions there. We saw you step from the car, point to the sky, an emotional weekend and your first every victory in Formula One, congratulations.
Charles Leclerc: Yeah, on the one hand I've got a dream since being as child that has been realised. But on the other hand it has been a very difficult weekend since yesterday. We have lost a friend first of all. It is very difficult in these situations, so I would like to dedicate my first win to him. We have grown up together - my first ever race I have done it with Anthoine and there was Esteban here - and just shame what happened yesterday. I can't enjoy fully my first victory but it will definitely be a memory I will keep forever.

Beautiful words and certainly echoed by the entire motorsports community. It puts a dampener on this celebration, but this racer's race: you raced, you won, and you've been dominant all weekend. It seems amazing that it's taken this long for you to get the first victory when we consider what happened back in Bahrain. So how do you reflect on the technicalities of this race and the delivery of the team?
CL: Yeah, it's been a very difficult race, we have been struggling quite a bit with the tyres towards the end, but a lot happier than what I have done in Budapest on my side. I've managed the tyres better but Mercedes were very quick in the race and we expected it yesterday but it's a good weekend performance-wise - pole position and the first victory - so with that I'm quite satisfied.

And when you take a victory in front of a multiple world champion it's particularly satisfying.
CL: Yeah, and the end of the race was definitely not easy. He was catching very quickly, so I had quite a bit of pressure but happy I kept him behind.

Congratulations. Lewis, difficult race for us to really understand. At various points you looked like you had the pace, at various other points you looked like you were struggling. But the opportunity was there and you were still pushing right to the end?
Lewis Hamilton: Oh yeah, I gave it absolutely everything that I had. You know we had a great crowd today. I think more people than we have ever had here. A very difficult race today. The Ferraris were just too fast on the straights and very, very hard to keep up with. I got as close as I could at the end - maybe another couple of laps. Forty-four is usually my lucky number but maybe we needed a few more laps today. Nonetheless, congratulations to Charles, his first win. He's had it coming all year, so really happy for him.

Finally Valtteri. It looked fairly lonely out there. You were in viewing distance of the race ahead but you just didn't seem to have the overall pace today?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, race pace felt OK, as we were expecting, but Ferrari was always since the beginning really strong. Strong on the straights. Always at the end of the stint we were better but there was no chance really for me. I was trying as hard as I could and we took the advantage of saving the engine a bit in the end and the gearbox for the next few races.

Press Conference

Charles, sensational performance from you all weekend. What does this victory mean to you after what has been a very difficult 24 hours for everybody?
CL: Yeah, very difficult to enjoy this first win with the situation we have had yesterday, but overall it is just a dream come true. Since I was a child I've been looking up to Formula 1, dreaming to be first a Formula 1 driver, which happened last year, and then driving for Ferrari this year and then the first win today. It's a good day but on the other hand, as I said, losing Anthoine yesterday brings me back to 2005, my first ever French championship. There was him, Esteban, Pierre, myself and we were four kids that were dreaming of Formula 1. We've grown up together in karting for many, many years and to lose him yesterday was a big shock for me but obviously for everyone of motorsport. It was a very sad day and, as I said, very difficult to enjoy it fully today, but hopefully in two or three weeks I will realise what happened today.

Thank you and well done. Lewis, you came close today - less than a second at the flag. If you had executed the race slightly differently do you think the outcome might have been different?
LH: How do you propose I execute it?

Around the pit stops perhaps?
LH: Well, I mean I executed it as best I could. Strategy I think maybe could have been slightly better. I think after Seb stopped... actually I completely lost where I was. I was obviously trying to keep up with him but he was very strong on the soft tyres and we just stayed out too long, I think, because by the time he came in and the next lap the gap was twice as big. So I was chasing that up and also I got stuck behind Seb. But ultimately he did a superb job, so even if we had different strategies it would have been hard to beat him today I think. Ultimately he deserved the win and did the job, so...

Well done Lewis. Valtteri, your 50th points finish for Mercedes today. Do you think you got the maximum out of it?
VB: It felt OK. Honestly I think it's definitely my best result and feeling of performance I've had in Spa. It's normally one of the more difficult ones. Maybe first stint lacking a bit towards the end with tyre drop-off. Second stint was really strong and at the end we were really just getting to the flag. We knew there were no more opportunities, so saving the engine and gearbox quite a lot. It was a bit of a Sunday drive at the end. Not that many opportunities along the way. Obviously we managed to make up one place with better strategy than Sebastian so that was positive so I was just really waiting for the opportunities but there wasn't that much.

Questions From The Floor

(Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Charles, it obviously wasn't the easiest win. What were you thinking when, first of all, you came out behind Sebastian after he'd stopped earlier, and then, as you felt Lewis closing in, in those last laps when you appeared to have had a comfortable lead, after all the disappointments you'd had this year up until now?
CL: When I came out behind Sebastian, first I was not completely confident that the degradation was that much on the medium, that I could actually catch him - but after two or three laps, there was quite a big delta pace, so then I was like ‘OK, I don't think we'll lose time together', which is exactly what we didn't do. And then, towards the end, I was checking the mirrors and obviously every lap on the radio, my engineer was telling me the gap with Lewis, and he was very, very quick. On the Softs, I felt quite comfortable but on the medium I was struggling a bit more. So I was just trying to focus on my own job. Trying to bring the car as quickly as possible to the end - but it was very close. I think one lap more would have been difficult to keep Lewis behind but yeah, it ends up like this, which I'm very happy with.

(Luke Smith - crash.net) Question for all three drivers. A very difficult weekend under the circumstances. Could you talk a bit about how you cope with getting back in the cockpit today and pulling the visor down and going racing after a tragedy such as the one that struck on Saturday?
CL: Yeah, I guess for everyone but for me it was definitely the first situation like that where we lose someone on track - a track that you need to race the day after. So it's obviously quite challenge to then close the visor and go through this exact same corner at the exact same speed you do the day before - but that's what you need to do at the end. So yeah, that's what I tried to do at best today.

LH: Pretty much the same. You just compartmentalise it and you move forwards. Get in and do your job. From a racers point of view and an athlete's point of view you switch into a zone. It's quite easy to switch into that zone.

VB: When you put the helmet on, there's not much in your mind than really concentrating on the thing you do. The thing you love to do: driving. And focussing on that. For sure before and after it's on the mind and always in the back of your mind but when you go to the zone, there's nothing, no distractions.

(Scott Mitchell - Autosport) To Lewis and Charles, Lewis, when a driver wins for the first time in Formula 1, that's when they announce themselves. Obviously Charles has come very close this year, in Bahrain especially. How good a job do you think he's done coping with the pressure, first year racing at the front of F1 and for Ferrari. And Charles, those last few laps, did it feel more nervous knowing what had happened in Austria and Bahrain - or were you able to keep focus, as you said, and keep him behind?
LH: I don't really know what to say. I think his results speak for themselves really. It's not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari, against a four-time World Champion, in the sport more than double... God knows how much more experience, and then to continuous from race one, out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive a four-time World Champion is not easy to do. So I think that speaks for itself. He's been really unlucky in quite a few races this year. Could easily have been the third win today. So, there's a lot more greatness to come from him and I'm looking forward to seeing his growth and racing alongside him. It was fun today, trying to chase him. He was just a little bit too quick.

Charles, your thoughts. Were you more nervous?
CL: I wasn't more nervous. I've started to get used to being in that situation where I'm first and I'm chased by someone that is quicker. Obviously I knew it was Lewis and I knew I could not afford to do any mistakes because he will take the opportunity. But yeah, apart from the last lap, he was never really close enough to try something. But yeah, as I said, I was just trying to focus on my own job and finish the race.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spa, here.

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