(Conducted by Naomi Schiff)
Q: Good luck tomorrow and enjoy it out there. Thank you. George, congratulations, tough weekend, with only one practice session on a track that a lot of the teams don’t have a lot of data on. How tricky was it for you out there today?
George RUSSELL: Yeah, it was a really tricky day for everybody. It was new tarmac, it was really slippery, super windy here, so all the sand is blowing onto the track. And we went out in qualifying and the lap times were just immense compared to what we were doing this morning. So that was good, fun, really happy to be P3 (sic). This is a bit better than we expected.
Q: Tomorrow we’ll have a better idea of what the race pace is going to look like. But, you know, looking forward to Sunday, what do you think is going to be possible from where you’re starting?
GR: Yeah, I mean, Lando and the McLarens are really quick at the moment. We obviously know Red Bull and Max are in a league of their own. But our fight at the moment is with Ferrari to secure P2 in the Constructors’ Championship, we need to be consistent and go from there.
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Q: George, coming to you. Many congratulations, a second front-row start in the last three races for you. The pace of the car was good. Has that come as a bit of a surprise this weekend?
GR: Yeah, I think it’s been interesting, the second half of the season. The quali pace has been really quite exceptional compared to the start of this year. And I’m feeling really confident in the car. But this weekend, we definitely weren’t expecting to be lining up P2 and P3 on the grid for Sunday. So that is a real pleasant surprise. Of course, Lando was ahead of us and his marginal off wasn’t the different for his pace advantage. So, we know that we’re half a step behind McLaren. But equally, our fight is with Ferrari at the moment. That’s our aim for the remainder of the season. And we just need to secure as many points as possible to seal that off.
Q: But what about the fight with McLaren here? Oscar Piastri is going to be starting sixth. Lando, back in 10th. Do you think you’ve got the pace to beat them?
GR: Yeah, definitely. I think we see that the pace converges a little bit come Sunday. Lando was exceptionally fast in Suzuka, so he’s really going to be the biggest threat. But there’s no reason why we can’t both fight for a podium. But there’s a lot of unknowns. We don’t know how the tyre degradation is going to be, the tyre wear, if it’s a one-stop or two-stop. And the track is just constantly changing. And you know, the very first lap in qualifying was, I think, two seconds quicker than the quickest lap in FP1, which was probably the biggest jump I think I’ve ever experienced in Formula 1, so we don’t know what tomorrow and Sunday are going to bring.
Q: You were fifth fastest in Q1 this evening. You were fifth fastest in Q2. Did you find something? Did you make a jump in Q3 relative to where you’d been earlier in the session?
GR: I think in Q1 I actually made a mistake on my lap. I lost three tenths, so I think I could have been right up there in the top three. Q2 I ran the used tyre. [Coughs] God, I don’t know what’s going on at the moment . [Coughs] Yeah, stay hydrated! And yeah, in Q2 it was the used tyres, so I think P5 was a strong result. So, it was no big surprise to be sort of fighting for the top three in Q3.
Q: On Sunday, can you do anything about the man in the middle?
GR: Probably waving him goodbye, I think, after Turn 1. Max has done an exceptional job. He deserves to be champion this year. Of course, you know, Formula 1, we love the competition, but we can’t take anything away from what he and Red Bull have done. And we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and raise our game into next year and give them a challenge.
Q: Lewis, many congratulations. Good to see you in P3. As the others have said it was a tricky session. How difficult was it to navigate, from your point of view?
Lewis HAMILTON: No more difficult than any other qualifying session. They’re always difficult. Yeah, it was obviously a bit windy today. But otherwise, pretty straightforward.
Q: You were fastest in Q2. So the inherent pace of the car was there. Same question that I asked George, really. Were you surprised by the pace you had here in Qatar?
LH: Absolutely. I mean, it’s always confusing, because obviously in P1 [sic], you now I was nearly out of Q1, sorry. Which is incredibly frustrating in that moment. But then we get into Q2 and all of a sudden, we’re right up there. So it’s very, very strange. But it’s great for all the team for us to be up there. And George did a great job today. So for us to be so close, it’s pretty awesome. I mean, for me, it was a relatively average qualifying session, Q1 and Q3 particularly. Yeah, if I was able to find that, put together the lap that I did in… That came too early, in Q2. I wish I had that for Q3.
Q: Can you just talk us through Q1? That must have been a nervous moment for you. What was going on?
LH: Yeah, just timing. We left the garage a little bit too late. We didn’t get to finish our lap on the medium. And we came in and I think just a bit out of sync, and then just couldn’t put it put it back together. It was quite tricky out there. And there’s a lot of traffic. So when you come to the end of the lap, you had to back up a lot. But generally, I was really grateful to get through.
Q: And looking ahead to the race on Sunday. Where’s your battle?
LH: With everyone around me.
Q: Not the man in the middle. But I mean, I suppose, specifically…
LH: No, I’m battling the guy to the right of me for sure. I think, yeah, I’ll give it everything to try and fight him. Maybe like George said, maybe he will just disappear like he does in most of the other races, but maybe we’ll be able to fight.
Q: What about this battle with Sergio Pérez for P2 in the championship. He’s starting the race back in 13th. Is that on your mind as you go into the race?
LH: No, I’m trying to win the race. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting against.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) To both Mercedes drivers, Max has had a margin of half a second in the last weekend and this weekend in qualifying. It seems to be a recurring theme. Do you think that kind of gap can be recovered over the winter given the head start Red Bull have with their ‘24 challenger?
GR: Yeah, I believe so. I think when we look at our car we see a number of flaws in it. It’s not like we’re looking at it scratching our head thinking where can we improve it? We think there’s loads of places that we can improve it. We’ve made some really good findings recently with regards to the aero of the car and some of the bits and pieces on the car, which is looking very promising. But we can never promise what we’re going to deliver over the winter in terms of a result, because it’s a relative game. We can only focus on ourselves. But I’m extremely confident in my team. Very confident in the decision-makers and the direction we’re heading, that we’ve made some really great learnings. And we won’t trip up and make a mistake as we have done these past few seasons.
Q: Lewis, are you confident that you can close the gap to Red Bull over the winter?
LH: I have 100% faith in the guys, the team back in the factory working away on it. And who knows? I mean, we don’t know where they are or where they’re progressing to. I think we just have to focus on our job and not necessarily so focused on necessarily closing that gap. It’s going to be what it is. By the time we get to the first race, hopefully it is closed.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) To both Mercedes drivers. The trend in 2023, it seems, is for a slower start into the weekend. And then getting faster and faster throughout. Is there any sort of different approach to this weekend that you guys have come out of the block flying?
GR: I think it’s just learning and experience. I think we found ourselves off the pace at the start of this year, a long way behind where we wanted to be. We were trying many different things with the car. And I think now, probably these last five races, the set-up of the car has been relatively, much the same set-up every race we go to. So, we know what the car needs to maximise its performance. And I think that helps the consistency we build upon it. And that’s also given us good direction into next year. So I think that’s a big factor of it.
LH: Nothing more to add to that to be honest.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) George, from here and Austria you’ve had no track limits at all. If you could just talk us through what maybe you’re doing differently to make sure you don’t get these infringements. And to the other two, I guess, are the track limit starting to get a bit silly now? We didn’t know who was in third place for the race and Lewis it’s great to see you, but it was a surprise. Could you just talk us through your thoughts on that?
GR: Yeah, not too sure. I can’t really speak for the others, just it’s very challenging out there. You’ve got to be very, very precise. We’re talking sort of millimetres sometimes. I’ve had no track limits but two races ago I crashed into the wall and lost a podium, so you know. Yeah, exactly. That was a small track limits there. So yeah, I’m not too sure, maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know but definitely it’s a bit frustrating when we go to great circuits like this, this is a really great circuit, but then it’s so difficult to know where that limit is, where the edge is, and we need to find a better solution for the future.
LH: Yeah, I think the new kerbs are great. When I went around the track yesterday on the scooter, I thought the kerbs looked quite big. But I think they’re actually really good. And as Max said, I think when you go beyond the highest point of the kerb, you lose time. I don’t feel like at this track we need to have track limits. It’s something that was brought in… The new stewards brough in a couple of years ago. Lando should be up here. I think we need to maybe take these kerbs as a good learning, we can take these kerbs to a bunch of other tracks because obviously MotoGP are fine with these kerbs and we can have these in, like, Austria, for example. And as I said, when you go beyond them… You should be able to utilise them as much as possible, but when you go beyond them, you lose time. So it shouldn’t be the white line necessarily. But anyways, it’s not for me to decide.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Another question to George, please. Ahead of that last run in Q3, we saw you sat in the pit lane for quite a long time as you were talking to the team. I’m just wondering, could you explain what is the thinking there? Are you trying to leave a gap to the car ahead? Is it about tyre prep? What’s the process?
GR: Yeah, I think when you’re in the pit lane, and you’re lined up behind all of these cars, you can’t actually see how many cars there are in front of you. And we’re all looking for a five to seven-second gap. And if you’re lined up behind, obviously 10 cars, that’s 50 seconds at least that you have to wait. And you know, some circuits, you want to get those tyres in the right window and it adds inconsistency. So, I don’t really know what the future holds. Obviously, everybody wants to get out on track and get their lap in. But equally you need to get that gap. I think what the FIA have done recently with the set time limit between the safety guidelines is definitely positive, while allowing us to take that gap in the pit lane. But it is sometimes a bit of a stressful moment. When you are sat there for literally a minute. You don’t know if you can make the flag, what’s going to happen, what’s happening to the tyres. So that’s just the challenge.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) A question for Lewis. I just wondered if you could just please clarify your stance on the difference between Andretti and an 11th team, which one you’re for and against? I think I saw you go on Twitter. Just to sort of fill in some gaps there.
LH: Yeah, well, I mean, firstly, it wasn’t that I support Andretti. I think from a driver’s perspective, it’s exciting to potentially see more cars. And then the idea of an 11th team… You know, we have over 2,000 people in our team. So that’s, that’s a huge amount of jobs. But we have to make sure that the criteria, which is quite strict is really respected. And I feel like we need to amend the criteria actually, and make sure that there’s an opportunity for real impact, really making sure that if there is a new team, they have to be diverse. They have to perhaps create an opportunity for a female driver to come through. And it has to be diverse from the top up. At the moment, it’s all white owners. And there’s a real lack of diversity from the top down. It’s all male, and that needs to change. So yeah, that was just that’s my thought. But I really do have 100% faith in Stefano, who I’ve known for a long, long time. I think what he’s doing at the top, there’s no one that could do a better job than him. And I know that he will make the right decision. Moving forward, he’s a racer, and he’s passionate about the growth of the sport, so happy to leave it in his capable hands.