Today's post-qualifying press conference with Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.
Track Interviews -Conducted by David Coulthard
Charles, we saw you getting out of the car and we suddenly thought, is there an issue with the Ferrari but it's strategic?
Charles Leclerc: No, there wasn't any issue. I think we were in a fight for pole, which was a good surprise, to be honest, because I did not expect that after testing and after the free practices that were a little bit difficult. We managed to find that pace for the quali lap, which was great. However, we need to keep in our mind that in the race run we seem to be a little bit on the back foot compared to Red Bull. And I think we are in a better place starting third with new tyres than starting first with old, or a bit further up [than third]. I don't know if we will have gotten pole or not. But it would have been close.
Now you were the pole king last year. That session, though, as we were watching the times being traded between yourselves, the Red Bull, the Aston Martin or Fernando, it seems a lot tighter. It's certainly a lot tighter than what the pre-season testing had predicted.
CL: Yes. I hope it will also be like that on the race runs. But yeah, it was very, very close actually. Aston Martin was really quick. Mercedes, also, was really quick at some points of the qualifying. And we are much closer than what we expected, which is looking good for the future. I think it makes Formula 1 more exciting. So I'm looking forward to the rest of the races.
There's a glint in your eye. Do you have a feeling about tomorrow?
CL: Well, again, let's say that in the race run we seem to have a bit of a weakness for now. Having a new tyre will help us tomorrow. But I don't know how much the picture will change with that. But it's going in the right direction at least.
Well done. Thank you, a top-three finish. We're going to hear now from Checo Perez. Checo, pretty tight there with Max, just a tenth between you. It's been tight all weekend. How was your lap? Did you leave anything behind?
Sergio Perez: Yeah, I mean, it has been a really tight qualifying. I don't remember such a tight qualifying battle from Q1 to Q2, you know, the competition it's really marginal. So you cannot leave anything on the table to maximise your grid position. In the end I wasn't totally comfortable with the balance. I believe, certainly, that you can always improve a tenth on your lap. But I think to get this start for the team is really special.
You say you're not comfortable with the balance. This is all about one-lap performance. Of course, the race tomorrow it's about those long runs. Do you think the balance will be more suited to the race run for you?
SP: Yeah, if anything, we prepared much more to do the race. You know, we have more of a Sunday race car at the moment underneath us. We knew we had to do some compromises for quali, which we ended up doing. They were not ideal, but hopefully tomorrow it pays out and we can have a very strong race car.
Well, that's ominous for your competition to know that was a compromised qualifying car. And you've just put it in P2! Congratulations. Thank you. And now it's time to hear from our pole position man. Max, congratulations, your 21st pole position on your father's 51st birthday. So that's a good father's present.
Max Verstappen: Yeah. I hope he was watching. I'm pretty sure he was watching. But yeah, I think it's been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today, not really finding my rhythm. But luckily, in qualifying, I think we managed to put the best pieces together. And, of course, very happy to be on pole, and for the whole team, coming off of last year and again having such a strong car with Checo up there as well. Yeah, it's amazing. And I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
Put us in the cockpit. There's been some minor changes to the floor heights, minor changes to the construction of the Pirelli tyre. How does the car feel relative to the first evolution, year one of this regulation?
MV: Well, I think compared to last year everyone knows a bit more what they're doing with the car. So naturally, I think you already start off better and more competitive. And then, yeah, the changes I think slowed down the car bit, but we are still going faster. So that's of course a great thing to see. And I think again, you know, throughout the year, you will see that everyone is increasing their performance again, a lot and that's the beautiful thing about Formula 1.
Did you honestly expect it to be so tight? You know, the gap to Ferrari. Fernando Alonso was not that far away as well.
MV: I was actually positively surprised being on pole after the struggles I had in practice. So that's positive and normally our race car is better. So let's see.
Max, this was the moment of truth and you've continued where you left off last year. How happy does this make you?
MV: I'm particularly happy because my whole weekend up until qualifying was very difficult. I couldn't really find the comfortable balance I had in testing and I was just struggling a lot to just get the car together, really. I went into Q1 and everything already felt a bit better, but it was still not, let's say, perfect. So yeah, I'm very happy then in Q3 that we could put these laps in. I still think it's not perfect, but in a better direction. So, for sure, for the next race we will have to analyse a bit why from the test to the race weekend it's so different for us, and also for me driving wise. But nevertheless, we are sitting here with two cars. So coming off last year I think this is again a very strong start for us. So yeah, very happy with that.
How much have you had to change the car this weekend?
MV: A lot. I went left and right and back to the middle and found a bit of a compromise. So that's a bit unusual that you make such big changes. But, like I said, luckily in qualifying that's probably the best balance I've had throughout the weekend so far.
Given those struggles, how good was that final lap in Q3?
MV: Yeah, the laps were good. Yeah, you come out of qualifying and you always immediately analyse your lap, right? And yeah, overall, pretty pleased.
So what about the race? How confident are you feeling in the long run?
MV: That should normally be our stronger point than the one-lap pace. So hopefully we can show that again tomorrow.
Checo, coming to you now. This is Red Bull's first front row start, here in Bahrain. So a great result for the team. Anything more to come from you in qualifying on that final lap?
SP: Just like Max said, you know, the balance has been really different from testing. We've done plenty of kilometres here but we came to the race weekend and we found a very different balance to testing. So, we've been working our way through, we've been making massive changes from one side to the other. I think in the end, we knew we had to compromise a bit the quali-pace for tomorrow's race. So hopefully that will pay out tomorrow. Generally, I wasn't that comfortable with my balance in Qualifying. But I think, as I progress, I was able to learn my way around the balance I had and get a good Q3 lap in the end, but not enough to beat Max.
Checo, you talk about how the balance has changed from testing to this weekend. Can you just tell us a little bit more about that? What have been the struggles exactly?
SP: Well, I wouldn't go too much in detail. It's just that we found quite a different car to what we had in testing and we don't understand what's the reason behind it: could be wind; the relative temperature; many variants that I think after the weekend, we will have a bit more of an idea. But for now, we've got a focus for tomorrow.
Is this the same car that you had in testing? Or has it got upgrades on it?
SP: As far as I know, it's the same.
Okay, looking ahead to tomorrow. Where do you see the main challenges coming from? Do you think Charles is going to be quick? Can you challenge Max for the win?
SP: Well, the Ferraris definitely picked up throughout. I think there were sandbagging a bit through the first days of testing and in during the weekend. They're definitely there. They're very strong. So, I will expect them to be in the fight for tomorrow's race. And you can already see, you know, that it is not only Red Bull and Ferrari there are plenty of other teams that have joined the competition. So, I mean, if you don't get a perfect lap in Q2, Q1, you really have to put more tyres on, so yeah, the competition has increased certain for this season.
Charles, coming to you, Checo says you've been sandbagging until now. Is that the case?
CL: I don't know. Definitely not as much as...
MV: Maybe you found a sandbag in the car?
CL: I didn't find it myself. And I'm not aware of it. I mean, we found a lot of performance in Qualifying. But I mean, 'a lot of performance', we were in the fight, which is something that I probably did not expect. So, it's a good surprise. To tell you where we found the performance, I'm not really sure, so we need to look into that. Because as much as we need to understand the bad days, I think we also need to understand the good days. That's how we will improve but good that it's like that. But we also need to be realistic. I mean, those guys, and also Aston Martin, seems to be really, really quick in the race. Which is why I think, we made that choice in Q3 to be willing to lose one or two positions at the start, but having new tyres to put all the chances on our side, which I'm sure is the right choice. But let's see tomorrow.
Look, if you had another go in Q3, do you think pole position would have been possible?
CL: I mean, I hate saying yes, it will have been or... I mean, it's difficult to say but for sure, seeing the margin on the first set, I knew there was a bit of time to find. So, it will have been close.
Just looking ahead to tomorrow, the long run pace of the car versus Red Bull. How do you see it?
CL: They are quick, they are really quick. Hopefully we have another good surprise tomorrow. Of course, for now, we don't know in which conditions they were running in FP2 when they were doing the race simulations. Looking at FP2, they are very quick.
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