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Saudi Arabian GP: Post Qualifying press conference

NEWS STORY
05/12/2021

Saturday's post-qualifying press conference with Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen.

Track Interviews - Conducted by Paul Di Resta

Lewis, well done. As far as pole positions go, I guess that couldn't have been a better day for you, lining up on the front row. But it's looked a difficult session to get that?
Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, wow, what a tough track this is. Incredibly technical and complex. It's amazing what they have built here track-wise. The speed and the pace here are phenomenal. We were quick through practice but for some reason in P3 and particularly qualifying just lacking pace, struggling with the tyres and so for us to get a one-two... I'm really proud of Valtteri and the guys, the men and women in our team who have been working so hard and yeah, this is a great, great result.

This championship is still alive. It's in your hands. If you win both races, you win the championship, so I guess the game plan tomorrow is to work as a team and do the best job?
LH: Definitely. This is the goal. We have worked so hard through simulation, set-up, collaboration, just epic with Valtteri who is the best team-mate there has ever been in this sport, for sure. We have worked together to work on the set-up, to get the car where it needs to be, so whoo! Those guys were just so fast. That bull round this track is something but given where we are I'm very happy with what we managed to pull out with what we have.

Does their speed scare you for tomorrow, that they are going to make a challenge?
LH: For sure, we always get close in race pace. I think my long run was good yesterday but they have obviously fixed something yesterday and they are rapid today so I anticipate it will be a close battle through tomorrow but Valtteri and I will be on it.

Valtteri, you are lining up on the front row tomorrow and I can see the teamwork. You guys are trying to work together to try to do something for the championship tomorrow?
Valtteri Bottas: Yeah, it was an important qualifying today. For me, I struggled in practice three. Actually, they had to change the engine and the guys could just finish the car before the quali and everything was working fine, so I was happy. They last lap was on the limit. I enjoyed it but it's a tough track. Pushing one lap after another. The grip really doesn't drop so it's quite good tough.

Where are you mentally? Is it more about securing this for the team's championship or do you want to get a race win.
VB: Of course, I want to get a race win but first thing first. We need to focus on the team championship and Lewis is still fighting for the title. I'm not, so I will do my best with whatever I can and at the same time I'll try to enjoy it.

Max, that was looking like it was going to be a pretty special lap. Unfortunately, it didn't go quite right in the last corner, but where are you?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it's of course terrible but it was in general a good qualifying. It was a bit hard to switch on the tyres here around the street circuit but I knew the pace was there and it showed in our set-up. And then I don't understand what happened. I locked up and of course I tried to keep the car on the track and finish the lap, but I clipped the rear and had to stop. P3 is a bit disappointing today knowing what lap I was on but nevertheless it shows that the car is quick and let's see what we can do in the race.

Like you said. I think you were two tenths up at the end of Sector 2 and you had really one corner to go. Are you fearful for the gearbox after that hit?
MV: I don't know. I immediately stopped, so let's see.

Press Conference

Well done, Lewis. That was a tremendous lap to take pole. Just talk us through it?
LH: Thank you. What a difficult track this is. I think for all of us we were naturally just pushing so hard. The track had shifted a little bit. I don't know if it's just the wind, but it made it so difficult with tyre temperatures, so we were having to do heavy, quick out laps to try to get these tyres working and in the right window, which was very, very odd. And yeah, very close between us all, but I think the Bulls were definitely faster today. I don't know if we lost performance or they just gained but still I'm proud of the job that we have all done and I'm proud of the job that Valtteri has done, he nearly beat me out there. That was one of the most intense qualifying sessions we've had for a while. I'm grateful for it, even though it's only the fifth of the year.

How much were you having to change the car during the session?
LH: Well, you're not allowed to change the car once you get into qualifying. The only thing you can do is tyre pressures, front wing and then just mess around with your switches if they could possibly help, but otherwise it's just altering and driving round whatever issues you have. It's how you approach the corners. It's where you do and don't attack and just try and define the right balance of being on that knife edge as you could see for Max. Obviously, we were all on the edge and there is a wall of champions everywhere here. A really complex track and incredibly quick. It was enjoyable though. Intense, but enjoyable.

Has it been a thrill to qualify on this track though?
LH: Definitely. I mean it always feels better when you are happy with the balance you have and happy with everything and it kind of runs a bit smoother. I think this one was more heart in your mouth for all of us. Yeah, we got that lap right at the end which in the end was good enough but if Max had finished his lap he would have been ahead. Regardless, I'm happy, grateful and we just have to work as a team tomorrow from there.

Bit more on tomorrow. What is your mindset going into the race?
LH: We're here to win. That's where all the prep has been going towards and I think no doubt they will be quick tomorrow, I think in the race. Collectively it's about being smart and working together as a team, which I think Valtteri and we all do exceptionally well. I think also just enjoy it. It's a night race. It's a new track. It's lots of unknowns but yeah, we'll be pushing.

Valtteri, coming to you, you've made it a Mercedes front row. How satisfying is that - and how good was your lap?
VB: Yeah, it was definitely an intense qualifying, like Lewis said and it is, of course, satisfying to be 1-2. It was really close out there and yeah, the last lap I had was really all I could get out from the car, so it is satisfying and yeah, it is an ideal starting position for tomorrow.

And you had the engine change just prior to the session. How much did that affect your preparation?
VB: My prep? Not at all. The guys, they just finished the car in time, and everything was working fine, so I already promised them some beers when we're... well... allowed to have some. So that's going to be on me.

And throwing it ahead to the race tomorrow, what is your job in this grand prix?
VB: To do the best I can. You know, that's to get the most out of myself, of the machinery, to get the most out of the result as a whole team. That's the focus. So, we'll make plans, of course, for tomorrow, and try to optimise everything but yeah, it's the usual business.

And Valtteri, do you see yourself as Lewis' wingman coming into this one?
VB: Of course. You know if there's a chance I can win the race I'll try but if not, then we need to maximise the team result and yeah, I'm not fighting for the World Championship any more so of course I'll keep that in mind. Lewis and Max is, so we need to see what is the best for the team.

Max, coming to you, that must be really tough. That final lap, as Lewis has told us already, was going so well until the last corner. Just what happened?
MV: I arrived there and for my feeling was braking at the same point, but I had a little lock-up and I still tried to, of course, finish the lap but I clipped the wall on the exit so I couldn't continue. Yeah, it's extremely disappointing, of course. We had a good car in qualifying and everything seemed to be coming together. It was just hard to nail the lap, also you know in Q1 and Q2 with the traffic and stuff. In Q3 it was good but unfortunately, I couldn't finish the lap, so extremely disappointing.

Let's focus on the positives Max. How good is your car around this track?
MV: Well, it seems that at least we can fight. In Qatar we were really off the pace so it seems like our car is working a bit better here, and I hope that tomorrow on this track we can follow well, and then I'm sure we have a good shot at it.

And what are your thoughts on overtaking? We've got the three DRS zones...
MV: I don't know. I haven't really followed a car around here, so it's a bit difficult to say but I hope it's going to be alright. It's not only that. We don't really know the tyres, how they're going to behave, so I'm confident. Of course, I would have liked to have started first - but now starting third is a bit more difficult but definitely not impossible.

Max, are you going into the grand prix tomorrow with a view to winning this - or is it damage-limitation for you now?
MV: Nah, it's still of course to win the race, yeah.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Jeddah, here.

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