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FIA post-race press conference – 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix


DRIVERS

1 – Sergio PÉREZ (Red Bull Racing), 2 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing), 3 – Charles LECLERC (Ferrari)

TRACK INTERVIEWS

(Conducted by Damon Hill)

Q: Charles, long, hard race. You got pole position, but you knew you couldn’t keep up with the pace of the Red Bulls. But a valiant effort. How do you feel about it?

Charles LECLERC: Yeah, I mean, they are in another league once it comes to the race. So, the really good lap managed to put us in front, but then over 51 laps it was just not possible. They have so much more pace than we do in race pace. So yeah, as I said yesterday, I think they found something that we didn’t yet. And that’s where our focus is at the moment. Everybody’s working flat out to try and understand what we can do in the races, especially to just get more performance.

Q: Do you feel like you’ve closed the gap, that Ferrari are getting at least a little closer to the Red Bulls?

CL: Honestly, the feeling is a little bit better, but when I see the gap – and I’m pretty sure that when you have this type of gap you’re probably not pushing 100% – so yeah, we don’t really know how much we have closed the gap. The feeling is a little bit better, but again also the Aston Martin was really quick today. So we still have a lot of work.

Q: Otherwise, a lonely race. You got a little bit of pressure there from Fernando at the end. The old fox, he doesn’t leave you alone does he?

CL: Yeah, no, he was pushing. I knew what his intentions were at the beginning, because he always does that – trying to keep the tyres at the beginning of the stint and pushing at the end. So I tried to do the same. And at the end, it was close, but not enough for Fernando today.

Q: Max, well, you got the long race you wanted, but perhaps not the result that you wanted. You got very unlucky with the Safety Car. But other than that, the pace of Sergio, were you not able to catch him? How did it go?

Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, I think of course, the Safety Car was a bit unlucky, then I had to push again. I tried to stay very close, to try and get into the DRS. But I think the tyres were overheating a bit because of that, of course, trying to follow. But also the balance. I was struggling to be really consistent. So I was playing around with the tools a little bit. And I think once I got that sorted, I would say the last 10 laps were actually quite good again, but just a little bit too late but I think a lot of things learned again throughout the race and, of course, at the end of the day a good team result.

Q: And it’s also good for the championship, isn’t it? I mean, you know, the gap has closed a little bit between you and Sergio, so it’s going to be tense for the rest of the season?

MV: I don’t know. I mean, we know it’s a very long season. And like I said, a lot of things are learned again. I mean, Baku is again, quite different to Miami, and Miami is going to be, again, very different to the other tracks we go to. But yeah, you keep learning, you know. It can never be perfect all the time. I think they’re always days that you can learn.

Q: A tiring race? We saw you actually touch the tyres a couple of times, I think?

MV: Yeah, a few times we hit the wall, around the lap. So we were of course pushing, but that’s also part of a street circuit.

Q: Well done and good luck for the next one. Sergio, now, I think you’re now officially the only person who has won two Baku Grands Prix.

Sergio PÉREZ: Two and a half!

Q: Congratulations, what a fantastic drive. We just mentioned to Max that you got a little bit of a break there with the Safety Car. You stayed out, Max was just coming in at the wrong time.

SP: Yeah, it really worked out today for us. We managed to stay in the DRS train and we managed to keep the pressure on Max. Yeah, I think we had better deg on that first stint. I think it was looking good from that side. Then the Safety Car came and bunched everyone up. So it was, again, another race on the Hard tyres.

Q: There is clearly not much between you, the pace between you and Max on this circuit. I mean, it could have been different if you’d come out behind. Do you think if you come out from behind Max, you could have raced him to the end? Or was it always going to be a stalemate?

SP: I think it was very close between us. I mean, we pushed to the maximum today. I mean, we both clipped the wall a few times. We were both pushing out there. The way Max pushed me through all the race was really hard, but we managed to keep him under control.

Q: Yeah, it was great, because your team came on to you and said ‘what was going on at Turn 15’ and you were keeping it quiet. But you hit the wall on the right.

SP: Really hard! I had a little bit of luck, especially with that front right, that it didn’t blow up.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Checo, very well done to you. Sprint victory yesterday, winner of the Grand Prix today. What a weekend for you.

SP: Yeah, it was a great weekend overall, you know. We delivered when we had to. It was a lot of pressure. I felt that with this format it puts a lot of stress on the drivers, on the engineers, the mechanics. So the way we delivered over the weekend was great. Yesterday, we executed a good race. But I think today, the way we pushed each other, Max and myself, pretty much from lap one onwards, once we got Charles, it was basically a race between us from the start to the end. I think that first stint was a big key to my race today.

Q: It was a very intense battle, similar to Saudi in many ways. How did it feel in the cockpit?

SP: Very intense, you know. The first stint was super intense, just making sure I stayed in that DRS. And then once I was in the DRS, just pushing Max to make sure that he used his tyres and I think that was one of the keys. But then once we were on the Hard compound, it was really hard, you know, to keep Max behind, because I knew that as soon as he would get DRS then that’s it, really. So just to keep him behind the DRS was a massive challenge. And we were pushing each other massively. We really gave it all, lap after lap. And I’m really happy to come away with this victory.

Q: Can we talk through a couple of the key moments? First of all, your overtake on Charles early in the race?

SP: Yeah, that was key, you know, because once Max got by I knew that it was really important not to lose too much time with Charles, because if I were to lose too much time with Max then it will be really difficult to catch him. Luckily, I managed to spend just a lap behind Charles. And once I was able to clear him then lap by lap I got into the DRS from Max and that really made my race. Once I was in his DRS, it was about time to overtake him, but he obviously pitted. And then we got the Safety Car, so I got a bit lucky there.

Q: Also, in terms of luck, you clipped the wall in Turn 15 late in the race? How did that affect the handling of the car, if at all?

SP: It actually helped me! I was struggling with the front end, so somehow I picked up a bit of front end. So something to see, but no, in all honesty, I was quite concerned, because the paranoia starts and you start to look at the tyre and I was looking at the tyre and my engineer asked me what happened on 15 and I’m like, ‘wait, I’m just looking that everything is OK with the tyre’, so yeah, it was one of those moments where you drop a bit of concentration and in this place you cannot really, it doesn’t matter where you are in the race, you cannot lose your concentration at all.

Q: Checo, this has been your best ever start to a Grand Prix season – two wins from four and you’re now just six points behind your team-mate. How do you view the bigger picture of the season now?

SP: Well, I think it’s a long year ahead, you know. I really believe that we are in the fight. I think without the problems we had in the qualifying in Melbourne, we should be a lot closer. So, it’s important not to have those problems ever again and to minimise the problems, because I think at the end of the day, it’s just very important to make sure that whenever we cannot win, finish second and it’s still a good day still.

Q: Max, this was the 81st podium of your Formula 1 career, surpassing Ayrton Senna’s total of 80. How do you reflect on the race and the weekend as a whole?

MV: Well, I think the weekend in general, a bit messy, but I think that can be expected with this format. But the race today, I think the first stint, probably I could have been a little bit more aggressive with the way I was using my tyres. I think I was just too careful. And that’s why, you know, Checo was still quite close to me. And then of course, we made the call to pit. I mean, I saw that there was a car stopped, I thought he maybe just locked-up. In hindsight, I mean, I can’t see that but yeah, it’s something to review. I mean, clearly you could see there was one wheel damaged and it looked like he was not going to drive that anyway back to the pits, even if he would have reversed, so something to look at, because of course that then did hurt my race after that. Then after the Safety Car, I tried to put the pressure on Checo, to try and get into that DRS. I think one time, I was pretty close to getting it. But it was just hanging in there, really close, trying to really catch-up probably damage my tyres a bit too much early on for such a long stint. So, then at one point, I just settled-in, tried to do a little bit my own thing, to not damage the tyres completely to the end. But it was just very difficult to have a good balance, entry to mid-corner. And a lot of the lap time here is about entry-to-mid corner, to get that right. And I was just struggling with oversteer then understeer. So, the whole race, I was just trying a lot of things on my steering wheel to try and get a bit of a better feeling, balance in the car. And I actually think that I found a good compromise towards the end of the race because I think my last 10 laps were a lot stronger. And I felt a lot happier with the car, how everything was behaving. So, I think all in all, I can be quite pleased with second. I mean, of course you always want to win, right? But I think sometimes you need these kinds of weekends to learn and have a better understanding of the car. Of what the car needs to go faster. And sometimes on the street circuit like this, it really comes out. Like, sometimes these kinds of things might get a bit masked on a normal track because of downforce and just the general behaviour of a car. So, maybe this was a good day, you know, to go forward.

Q: Sounds like there were quite a few set-up issues for you. Do you think if you’d had a second free practice session, when you could have done some long runs, that would have made a difference?

MV: I don’t know. I mean, these kinds of things, normally you don’t really changed a lot from FP1 to FP2, but as maybe just a general operation, or what needs to change to go a little bit faster. I mean, we have these different tyres this year compared to last year, so maybe that influences a bit the behaviour. But, like I said, good learning day.

Q: Max, final one for me. What’s your analysis of the relative pace of the cars at the front end? Do you think Ferrari have got closer to you guys here?

MV: I think our car is pretty quick. I mean, I don’t know, I think we finished 20 seconds ahead? I don’t know what it was, something like that. So I think definitely we have the quickest race car. For sure we were pushing but the cars behind us were also pushing. It’s not like they’re just relaxing, so yeah, we will of course keep on trying to improve the car because it’s still a long season, a lot of different tracks coming up. But I think it was still a positive weekend for us.

Q: Charles coming to you, two poles this weekend, do you feel that you’ve got closer to Red Bull?

CL: Got closer, maybe a little bit, but still very far behind in race pace at least, and I also think that we also behind Aston Martin in terms of race pace. So, we really need to work on that because for now, over one lap, taking a bit more risk, of course I did also two great laps I think, in Qualifying, which helped us to be in front, but then, over 51 laps race, there is not much we can do more. So today, we’ve optimised absolutely everything. The thing we should be happy about after a weekend like this is that we’ve maximised every session. I don’t think we could have done anything better in any of those sessions. So that is a positive – but still a lot of work to do in terms of race pace.

Q: And if you compare the opening 17 laps today, to the sprint yesterday, how was the car?

CL: At the end, it’s the same car. I managed it differently but actually the outcome doesn’t change, whether I lose time at the beginning because I need to be careful of my tyres, and then I push, I basically lost the time I had lost at the end of the stint yesterday, at the beginning now. So, yeah, I think we’ve done absolutely everything. We’ve tried everything, but the bottom line is that we are just not quick enough.

Q: With six laps to go you set the fastest lap. How much were you managing the tyres up to that point in the race?

CL: Well, we have to with our car otherwise we kill them, and then we cannot get them back and then this has a big influence on our performance. So, I think we did the perfect management today. But again, as I said, we are just not quick enough. Whether we lack at the beginning of the stint, or at the end of the stint, this we can change but yeah, we just don’t have enough performance for now.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Sönke Sievers – FAZ) Max, question to you, please. You said before the Safety Car came out you already saw De Vries’ car was standing there. And you were not sure if he could keep going. But as I got you, you would have expected the team to overview the situation, and to expect the Safety Car to come out. And this is why you say you need to review it together with the team?

MV: Yeah, I mean, I could see the car stopping but, I mean, you see it on the screen, you cannot look into detail if every wheel is connected to the car properly. I mean, of course, the team has bit more overview to that. But like I said, we’ll look into that if there was anything we could have done different. But I also don’t know when the exact call came to pit, right? So yeah, it’s difficult to say at the moment.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) There was a complaint… Many of the drivers said that maybe the shortening DRS straight is the reason why a lot of the performance was compromised. Do you think there was a need to shorten that DRS straight on this track, and that would have made the racing more entertaining if they had stuck to the initial layout?

SP: I feel this year certainly has become a little bit harder, because they say that they’re collecting the data from last year. But somehow, I feel these cars are generating a bit more downforce and by generating that little more downforce, the car behind struggles a little bit more to follow. So in my opinion, it wasn’t the right thing to shorten up the DRS, because it’s getting harder to overtake than last year already in itself so it’s something we should review.

MV: Yeah, like Checo said, I think the more downforce we generate – and that, of course, will always be every year – if you keep the rules the same it will be harder to pass. And I think also, because of the weight of the cars we have nowadays, because they’re quite heavy, in the low speed it’s a bit harder to follow because as soon as you have a tiny moment with that weight, it becomes a bigger slide, it’s harder on the tyres so you overheat the tyres more. And also with these new type of cars, you have to run them super stiff whereas I remember like 2015 or ‘16, you could do it sometimes a few different lines, you could run a kerb because the cars were quite – well, not soft – but it’s still a lot softer than what we run now. And you could do a few different kinds of techniques and lines but that is really, really hard nowadays because the cars just don’t allow it.

CL: Nothing to add.

Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Max, we heard you talking about some differential/engine braking issues during the race. Would you be able to just quickly explain what that felt like behind the wheel and what you’re able to do to alleviate that?

MV: They were not issues. There was not a problem with it. I’m probably operating them a bit differently to Checo. And like I said, maybe I’m not using the correct settings with these new tyres and probably it was a little bit more highlighted on a street circuit where there’s a lot of confidence needed on entry to mid-corner and that balance really needs to be as close to perfection basically. So yeah, I was just struggling a lot with that today at the beginning and then I was trying a few things. Sometimes, of course I didn’t get it right but then towards the end I think I found – let’s say – the right settings from entry- to mid- to exit and also the team was helping me a bit and I had a few questions. So a few things to review for the upcoming races, what we can do better operationally, but again, sometimes you have weekends where you don’t need to touch the car, everything is perfect and it’s a rocket ship and we still have a rocket ship but still to fine tune basically so far this year, I think.

Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Max, Sergio’s only six points behind you now, so how big a threat is he to you to winning this, your third World Championship this year? And I guess to both Sergio and Max, do you think it’s going to be difficult to maintain your relationship given that you’re going to be the only two drivers fighting for the championship this year?

MV: We clearly have the fastest car at the moment but I’ve been in this position before and it’s about consistency. We all know that. It’s a very long season, a lot of different tracks are coming up I think. So far this year we have been at tracks which are a bit stop-starty, not the full-on racetracks. There are few really fast corners and fast straights out there, which I probably also seem to enjoy a little bit more. But clearly, you know, Checo this year has really been on it, he’s been really performing well and that’s great to see. He’s feeling more and more confident in the car and for the team as well, we are really enjoying it. And I think Checo and I, we’re having a good time, and we jumped out of the car… And that’s also what is very important: you need to acknowledge and also appreciate when somebody has done a great job. And that’s exactly what happened today. And we will continue fighting for the rest of the season but that’s normal, we have done that our whole life.

SP: Yeah, I think there is a very high level of respect between Max and myself, and the whole team. The level we are operating at, we’re pushing each other really hard, we obviously want to beat each other, I want to win the championship as much as Max wants but there is a lot of respect between us. And I feel in a way, we’re very similar in the way we approach or think about the sport so I do not believe he will change. We will be fighting each other like we did today, as much and as hard as we possibly can. But I think with a very high level of respect to us and to our team.

Q: (Aynur Mehdiyeva – Azerbaijan television) Sergio, after an intense race in Baku, how do you feel yourself? Do you feel yourself more motivated to fight for the championship this season?

SP: Well, it doesn’t really change anything to be honest. As I say, I only regret the problems we had in Melbourne, that really made us lose a lot of points. But other than that, we have to win the races that we can, and when not, we have to score as many points as possible, because if we don’t do that, then there is no way that we will be able to fight for the championship. So it’s a very long way ahead. There are a lot of races coming up, a lot of different moments, but we have to make sure that when we are able to win a race, we have to make sure we grab it with both hands.

Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) To both Red Bull drivers: four races into this season, at some point…. You’ve mentioned it many times before that it’s important to take points and get as many as you can. But are you worried about the wind tunnel penalty and other teams out-developing you at any time when your development slows down or is that not a concern at all?

MV: I think that’s why we have to make sure that we keep developing really well at the moment. And, you know, when that time comes that you know we are going to feel that penalty, hopefully we still have a big enough gap to compensate. But that’s why also now it’s very important to score all these kinds of results.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) I’ve got a question for each of you. Max, first of all to you: just on the timing of the pitstop we heard you complaining about some problems, I think maybe it was with tyres, just before that on a radio message. What was that what led you into the pit stop? Were you struggling with your tyres and decided that or was there another reason? Checo, people talked about Saudi being your best ever drive. This one looked pretty perfect from the outside. Would you say this one has surpassed it? And Charles, how does it feel to finally get your season going after two such strong pole positions and following a difficult start to the season?

MV: Yeah, I was not entirely happy with the balance but also in hindsight, I was probably not pushing it enough initially in some corners. But that should never be the indication that if there is a car stopped to just pit because you know that if there is a safety car, then you lose even more time by then staying out. So like I said, there are a few things to look at but again, I always know that the team tries to do the best thing and maybe just today we got unlucky.

SP: Well, I think Jeddah, here, they’ve been two strong weekends for me when I’ve been pushed by Max pretty much from beginning to end. Also, I’ve done very good races like… I remember Singapore was also when I was pushed by Charles extremely hard. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say this is my best ever race. I think it was just a very, very good race where I pushed from the start to the end without mistakes and I think always when you do that, you believe that you can beat anyone. So it’s just about keeping it up throughout the season.

CL: Yeah, happy is probably not the word. It’s good to finally score some points as I’ve said many times this weekend, I don’t think that the six points we had coming here was really representative of our true performance. But of course, we are lacking a lot of performance compared to the Red Bull guys and also to the Astons in the race, but we deserve more points. So it’s good to finally have those points. But now we just need to work extremely hard in order to be fighting with those guys again in the race.



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