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Bahrain Grand Prix: Post Qualifying press conference


Today's post qualifying press conference with Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and George Russell.

Track Interviews - Conducted by Jolyon Palmer

Max Verstappen, pole position, starting off 2024 like you finished '23. Look, a pretty routine session for you out there. It was very close, but how was it for you?
Max Verstappen: Yeah, it was a lot of fun, actually. The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind, you know, the last two days, it's been quite tricky to get the whole lap together. And it was the same in qualifying. Q1, Q2, of course, you naturally go a bit faster with the track ramping up, but then to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little more difficult. But, of course, very happy to be on pole. To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected. But luckily in qualifying, I think the car came to us and I felt a bit happier with the whole car.

You mentioned it was unexpected. Through practice, you haven't been right at the front. We all expected maybe the Red Bull this year looks different, looked like it might be spectacular. It's not been so easy on one lap pace, but you came into this genuinely thinking that this was really a fight on.
MV: Yeah, I said already yesterday, you know, we just needed to fine-tune a few little things on the car to try and get that, let's say, perfect balance, even though with the wind that was not possible today. But luckily, I think we went in the right direction today and we could really push a bit more with the car. And luckily, another step in qualifying.

You're very used to starting from the front now. Another race tomorrow to try and win, take the lead in the championship and start a new campaign. Your race pace looks good. Are you feeling comfortable? Are you worried about any threat from somewhere?
MV: I think the race is going to be close as well. We do look good in the race, and that's, of course, the most important thing. But, yeah, we'll see tomorrow. I'm confident that we can have a strong race.

OK, good luck and well done, Max. Charles Leclerc, second place, a very good qualifying, but in the end, not quite enough for pole, but a good front row.
Charles Leclerc: Yeah, I'm a bit disappointed, but yeah, we did a good qualifying. I mean, it's been a tricky weekend until now. We were trying quite a few things in FP1, FP2, FP3, and then I found the sweet spot in qualifying. Q1 was a bit tricky. Unfortunately, we put two new sets of softs, which compromised a little bit the Q3. But all in all, it's quite a good qualifying, a good start of the year. We are in a better place compared to a year ago, so that is good. Now we have to see the race pace tomorrow.

And a couple of tenths today between yourself and Max out front. When you look back and you go into the data, can you see how that might be possible? It looked really close until that point.
CL: Oh, yeah. I mean, in Q2, I think I did a 0.1, which was more or less the lap time that Max did in Q3. So it was there in the car. I think we lost a little bit the rhythm with the used set of C3 in Q3. Then you have to re-adapt to the new tyres, and I lost a little bit there, but all in all, it's been a positive qualifying.

And from the end of last year, you're very used to starting alongside Max at the front, both of you qualifying so well. What can we expect from Ferrari in the race? It wasn't necessarily a strong point last year. Are you confident you can take the fight to him?
CL: I'm confident we did a step forward, but we have to wait and see tomorrow how much of a step forward we did. We really think that Red Bull is still ahead by quite a bit in the race. I mean, so we'll see. But if there's an opportunity, as always, I'll go for it and we'll see what happens tomorrow.

All right. Well done, Charles.
CL: Thank you. Thank you very much.

George, Russell, well done. Top three to start the year. You've got to be pleased with that for Mercedes after where you've been the start of the last couple of seasons. Looks like a big step forward.
George Russell: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody at the factory have done an amazing job to give Lewis and I a car that we feel much happier with, a base that we can build upon. But ultimately, you know, Max is still out there in front. We've still got some catching up to do. But I think when we look at our qualifying performances of the last two years in Bahrain and our race pace, starting P3 for tomorrow is a great place.

Yeah, it looks a big step forward. Even from last week, people were saying the race pace was strong for the Mercedes, but the qualifying pace may be a bit of a weakness. You look like you've turned that round in the space of a week. Has there been a lot of work gone in in between testing here and racing here?
GR: Yeah, huge amount of work. We've had some really great drivers back at base doing the work on the simulator. Lewis and I have been back on the simulator as well, you know, fine-tuning the set-up, making some improvements. Time will tell tomorrow if we've obviously made a big step forward in single lap in the qualifying pace. We hope we haven't compromised the race pace at all. I think it'll be a close fight between everybody other than Max.

What's the goal then? A podium or dreaming of the win?
GR: I think obviously Red Bull is so strong at the moment. Max is doing a really great job. He's got the new tyres as well. I think if there's an opportunity to take the lead, we'll go for it. But ultimately, I think the race is, for all of us, is for second. But as I said, nobody knows. It's the first race of the season. So excited to be back. And let's hope for some craziness.

Press Conference

Max, the speculation and rumour of testing is all over and here you are again, on pole. Just how good does that feel and how was that session for you?
MV: Testing was very good but then it was very windy so far, I think this weekend, and it was just a bit more difficult to get the balance of the car together and yeah it was just continuous work all the way to qualifying. and I do think that we made some good improvements on the car and I think that made us then do the lap in qualifying.

You made quite a jump on that second run of Q3, where did you find the time?
MV: I just had a bit more grip somehow. The first run, it just didn't really feel that great. The tyres never really switched on. And then on the final lap, yeah, it just felt better from Turn 1.

And Max, there's been so much talk about the gap between Red Bull and Ferrari. Just what do you make of the distance between you and Charles, just under 0.3 of a second?
MV: I think it was just a very tight qualifying and I think it was just also very tricky conditions with the wind this whole weekend. So, yeah, if you can get the lap together immediately, you can find one, one-and-a half-tenths in a corner. And I think it was just good for us in Q2, Q3, especially Q3, I would say. It all just improved a little bit more. But yeah, I think throughout the whole of qualifying, you could see the gaps were super close and I think you never really knew who was going to be on pole heading into Q3. So I think that was very exciting to see.

So 57 laps tomorrow. Just how much of a step into the unknown is the first race of the season?
MV: I mean, we have done quite a few long runs now, to the point where you almost get bored of it. Yeah, I'm confident that we have a good race car, but I think also what you saw already yesterday in the long runs, the gaps are small and it's about attention to detail and that will make the difference also tomorrow.

Do you feel it's closer than it was here last year?
MV: It feels like it, because all the way until qualifying I didn't have a good feeling, where last year I think it was a bit better, we were a bit stronger throughout the whole weekend. So yeah, we'll see how that will evolve.

Very well done. Thank you, Max. Charles, coming to you. Very well done to you as well. How was the lap?
CL: The car felt good. The last lap wasn't the best lap I've done. I think the best lap was in Q2, where I put everything I wanted in that lap. In Q3, I didn't really find the grip straight away out of the box, which was a bit strange, so we'll look at that. And yeah, having a scrubbed set also at the beginning of Q3, I think, put us a little bit on the back foot, because the track is evolving and it's a bit more difficult to read how much front flap you need to put for that last run. And there I think we lost a little bit the rhythm.

Tell us about the decision to run the new tyres earlier in the session?
CL: I'm not really happy about it, but it's something we'll discuss with the team. I thought there was quite a lot of margin, but obviously being the first qualifying of the year, the team didn't want to risk it. So we had to run again with another new soft, which again, it puts us a little bit on the back foot for the rest of qualifying.

So on the back foot, do you feel that you could have been closer to Max in Q3 if you'd had two new sets? And what is your reaction to that, just under three tenths?
CL: I mean, if we could have done lots of things, but at the end we are P2 and three tenths off. I think it's closer than what it looks on the timesheet. But this is a good thing. We were expecting Red Bull to have a bit more margin than what there was today. So we are a bit closer than what we thought, but the biggest question mark is obviously tomorrow in the race. And I'm pretty sure they have a bit more margin than what we've seen today. But again, let's wait and see.

But the messaging from Ferrari is that you have made progress with the longer runs. That is still the case?
CL: Yeah, the feeling is much better compared to last year. Last year, whenever we had used tyres, the car would become very, very difficult to drive. The balance would be completely out of place compared to the short runs. This year, we are a bit more... I mean, we are in the right window now in the long runs. So it feels quite a lot better. It helps us to be more consistent. However, again, for the competitiveness, we'll see tomorrow.

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