1 – Max VERSTAPPEN (Red Bull Racing)
2 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)
3 – Carlos SAINZ (Ferrari)
(Conducted by Jenson Button)
Q: Max Verstappen, you are a Formula 1 World Champion?
Max VERSTAPPEN: It’s unbelievable. I mean, throughout the whole race I kept fighting and then of course that opportunity on the last, it’s incredible. I’m still having a cramp. But it’s insane. It’s insane. I don’t know what to say. These guys here, my team, and of course Honda, they deserve it. I love them so much. I really, really enjoy working with them, already since 2016, but this year has been incredible.
Q: Christian said with 10 laps to go that you might need a miracle to win this World Championship. You got your miracle.
MV: It happens. Yes, finally a bit of luck, for me. In saying that I also want to say a big thank you to Checo, I mean he was driving his heart out as well today. It was great teamwork and he is an amazing team-mate.
Q: You have given us the most exciting championship this year, yourself and Lewis. This year will go down in history as one of the best ever and you came out on top. Have you got a message for your team, for all your fans who are here supporting you?
MV: To my team, I think they know I love them and I hope we can do this for 10 or 15 years together. There’s no reason to change ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life. I hope they let me. Yeah, it’s insane. I’m so happy. Christian but also Helmut who trusted me to be in the team in 2016. Our goal was of course to win this championship and we have done that.
Q: Carlos, I’m not sure you expected a podium but I’m sure you will take it this weekend?
Carlos SAINZ: I’ll definitely take it yeah, especially after everything that unravelled in that race with that late safety car. We were in the right place at the right time all the time with a good pace and yeah, a podium to end a magic season, first season for me at Ferrari. P5 in the championship I think. I took it all today and definitely enjoyed it.
Q: You had the pace today. The car looked good and the pace looked very strong.
CS: I was very strong today. From qualifying yesterday, that I did a good lap and today going into the race already on the laps to the grid the car felt really good and I could put together a strong first stint, a strong stint on the Hard. With the Safety Car at the end the nerves were high but we managed to keep it together and I enjoyed it a lot.
Q: I have to ask you about Max and Lewis. Max coming out on top and becoming Formula 1 champion. What are your thoughts?
CS: I think whoever came on top today was going to deserve it. I think they are two great drivers at the peak of their careers, putting together a great show. Congratulations to both, especially for Max obviously after that mega win. Happy for him because we shared our first year together in Toro Rosso and to see him now be capable of winning a World Champion ship is also like a good thing for me and I look up to him.
Q: Lewis, it’s been an amazing season to watch for everyone, for the fans of Formula 1, whether you’re a Max fan or a Lewis fan, it’s been one of those seasons that’s gone down to the wire, to the last lap of the race. It didn’t go your way but you must be proud of what you have done this year?
Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, well firstly a big congratulations to Max and to his team. I think we did an amazing job this year. My team, everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, and here, have worked so hard this whole year. It has been the most difficult of seasons. I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be part of the journey with them. We gave it everything. This last part of the season we gave it absolutely everything and we never gave up and that’s the most important thing.
Q: You obviously started a little bit on the back foot at the start of the year, but as you said you guys worked together and had a very strong end to the season. It didn’t quite go your way, but I think we’ve seen the best Lewis Hamilton I’ve ever seen and you seem very confident in your ability to come back next year and fight for that crown again?
LH: Of course, I’ve been feeling good, feeling great in the car these last couple of months particularly at the end. If I’m honest, we are still in the pandemic and I just really wish to stay safe and have a good Christmas with all their families and we will see about next year.
Q: Max, many congratulations. We’re going to come on to the world title in a moment, in a separate press conference. So, first of all, the race, how do you begin to sum-up those 58 laps?
MV: Hectic. In the beginning of course, we were clearly lacking pace, but I just tried to stay with him as long as I could in whatever fashion. We just didn’t have the pace. Already the start wasn’t good, somehow but then yeah, it was just really difficult out there. I was, of course, a bit on my own. Checo then did an amazing job to try and keep Lewis behind, so then the gap was again reduced, so then we started over again but clearly, he was again pulling away. Then we tried something different with the VSC, but it didn’t really work out because clearly, we still didn’t have the pace – but then of course it all turned pretty crazy at the end with that Safety Car and that restart in the last lap.
Q: How were emotions in the cockpit at the end?
MV: Pretty crazy but also a massive cramp in my leg in that whole last lap. So I was behind Lewis going through Turn 2, 3 and I had a massive cramp, so I was like full-throttle but barely just having the force to push anymore, so I was happy that there was Turn 5 so I could brake and relax for a few seconds, and then back on it for the two long straights which is very, very painful – but of course for that last lap, you just bite through it but yeah, insane emotions afterwards.
Q: A couple of moments I’d like to pick out. First of all, that battle with Lewis on the opening lap, going into Turn 6.
MV: Yeah, I had a good run and I went for the inside. I didn’t even lock-up, I just made the corner, did my line and then, of course, he chose to use the escape route and basically gained an advantage by just staying in front by quite a bit. And nothing happened, so I just focused on myself and continued.
Q: Carlos, coming to you now, your fourth podium of the season, what a fantastic way to end the year.
CS: Yeah, it’s truly a great way to end a very positive first year in Ferrari for me. A very challenging year but in the end, it turned out to be a very strong one. A year that I’m quite proud of and yeah, to finish it with a podium that probably no-one will remember – I’ll add it to the collection – because of whatever was happening in front. But yeah, I enjoyed it a lot and put together everything that I have learned through this first year to put probably my strongest race in Ferrari together.
Q: It seems you’ve gotten stronger and stronger as the season’s progressed. Even out-qualifying a Mercedes here in Abu Dhabi. How much satisfaction does that give you?
CS: It definitely gives me satisfaction to finish the year stronger than I started. I think I also managed to start the year on a very good level, which was the biggest challenge, learning a new car. Then I had a lot of things to improve on my driving. On the starts, on the race management and then I would say this last third of the season I’ve been the Carlos that I wanted to be, and the Carlos of the two very strong years in McLaren, and this has given me the opportunity to be very good in qualifying again, and good in the races and yeah, consistent.
Q: You’re fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, ahead of your team-mate as well.
CS: Yeah. More symbolic than anything, because it’s not like finishing fifth, sixth or seventh in the Championship today would have changed my mood going into the winter break. But, it’s, yeah, another strong sign that this year was strong, that this year was positive for me, especially the way it finished in this last third, just gives me a lot of confidence going into 2022, for whatever happens and whatever car Ferrari and I have, we will go for it, because my confidence is high.
Q: And 2022, 98 days away.
CS: Yeah, not that many. A well-deserved break coming up because I’ve spent a lot of time this year in the factory. I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings, doing extra hours at the track, extra hours everywhere and I feel like I deserve a bit of a break. Still some important testing to do next week, to learn about the tyres and prepare 2022 – but then I think I deserve some time off.
Q: And a final one from me Carlos. Can we get a quick word on the job the guy on the right has done this year?
CS: Truly outstanding, truly amazing since the start of the year. I think Max has shown incredible pace, incredible raceability with probably the strongest driver. Lewis is a seven-times World Champion and to be fighting against him, at the level that he did, for me, whoever came out on top today would have deserved it because they’ve both driven to an incredible level. The fact that it’s Max and obviously after our first year in Formula One together, makes me feel proud of him and yeah, a bit melancholic about our first year in Formula 1, and to finally see him World Champion now, yeah, I look up to him in a good way, knowing that it’s possible to achieve your dream. And also, congrats to Red Bull, that is my old family that I came up to Formula 1 and I congratulate them and I hope that next year we can at least give them a good run for their money.
Q: FIA Formula One World Champion Max Verstappen. First of all, has that even begun to sink in yet?
MV: Slowly. Yeah, it’s been an incredible season, not only this race but incredible battles, coming into the season of course I had a feeling we might have a better shot at it, compared to the previous years basically – but to be sitting here right now, that’s an unbelievable achievement.
Q: How much have you enjoyed the battle with Lewis?
MV: Of course, in general, I think we have really enjoyed it. Of course, you know, we had our moments, but I think in a championship battle, that’s part of it. And now that the season is over, I think we can relax a little bit more about it – but it’s been tense. The competition, almost every race we have been pushing each other to the limit, within our cars as well. And I think that is just really nice to see.
Q: Ten victories. Can we talk through some highlights for you?
MV: Difficult. Quite a few. Monaco was very nice to win after the difficult times I had there, through myself but also just unlucky moments. Two wins in Austria, my home win in Zandvoort, and I think of course now at the end, just the crazy outcome of this race, of course, will definitely be a highlight.
Q: What about moments where it wasn’t going so well? Lowlights, you might say.
MV: Sitting in hospital the whole evening having checks, that was definitely the lowest point. Because you don’t want to be there. Baku was not nice. But those are the moments that make you a better driver, I think, at the end.
Q: Was there ever a moment when you thought that the task looks just too hard?
MV: Well, of course today it looked very difficult at some point – because we didn’t have the pace. I didn’t really see an opportunity to turn things around. But then of course, at the end with that Safety Car, we had that free stop, so we went for it, for softer tyres, and yeah, just an incredible last lap. Of course, I had more grip but I still had to go for it but yeah, we did.
Q: Max, when you think about the journey you’ve been on since you first started karting. It’s been incredible.
MV: It all flashes through your head now, especially with my Dad, travelling through all of Europe for that one goal, first was, of course, to be in Formula 1, to hope that you can win a race, and you hear the national anthem, but them of course the ultimate goal was the World Championship, which is very hard to achieve but now that happened. Yeah, it’s just insane – but also to have all my close family friends, my Dad, my manager, my girlfriend all here, that makes it extra special.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, a couple of questions about the race. You mentioned not getting a good start, I just wondered if you could talk us through what happened there. Did anything go wrong with the procedure? And then, when you were on your second set of Hards before the Safety Car, do you think you would have caught Lewis, had there been no Safety Car?
MV: The start itself was a bit poor. I dropped the clutch and there was just not a lot of grip. So, I don’t know why but suddenly I just saw Lewis shooting by, so very low grip and I don’t really understand why that was the case. So that was, of course, not ideal. And no, I wouldn’t have caught him. They just had too much pace in the car today, even for me with fresher tyres, it just didn’t look like it was going to happen.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Max, just wanted to ask you how you prepared for that final lap restart against Lewis. Mercedes have lodged a couple of protests, one of them does appear to be relating to overtaking Lewis, I think when you guys went side-by-side but how did you prepare for that restart and did you feel confident about being able to pass him on the last lap?
MV: Well, of course you try to react to what he’s doing, so I tried to be not too far away, of course and of course then I could see he was struggling quite a bit for the hard tyres to warm up and I had the grip, so I could stay relatively close and of course on the soft tyres, yeah, but on the first lap you could clearly see I had more grip but then, after Turn 5, two very long straights where you have a chance to come back and it was all pretty close between us.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Max, you said several times before the race that it would never change your life. Do you still agree with that view and how could your life change now?
MV: No, my life will not change now. I am, of course, very happy that I won the championship, that final achievement that I wanted in Formula 1 so everything else that comes now is a bonus.
Q: How are you going to celebrate?
MV: One drink. Ha!
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) Two questions to you, Max. Did you at any point think that this race was over?
MV: Ah, well, of course it didn’t look great but I always said to myself I’m just going to push until the end and I’m not going to look like it’s too easy out there and I think that also kept me within that range, where I couldn’t do a free stop under the safety car or whatever so in a way, I was just trying to push myself until the end.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) I’m wondering what do you make of the decision for one last lap of racing?
MV: Well, everything was clear so why would you then run another lap behind the safety car? It’s just when everything is clear you have to release the track so I think that’s a fair point from the race direction. Of course, now it worked for me but it can also work against me, I know that.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) I just wanted to pull up something you said earlier about the low moments – Silverstone and Baku – making you a better driver. I wondered if you could expand on that? Were there things that you reflect on after those incidents that you thought ‘I have to do things differently to come back stronger’?
MV: People also doubt ‘ah, you know with impact or whatever, you might doubt. There was also criticism and whatever. But I think what, again, these moments teach you is that you have to keep believing in yourself and in your own beliefs, you know, and be a strong person about it, that’s always works very well for me.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) You’ve won the title with a final lap overtake and notwithstanding the tyre advantage, it was still a mega pass on Lewis. I just wondered, given the way this championship has played out sometimes, the fact that there was a bit of controversy on the first lap, how happy are you that you were able to decide the title with an on-track pass and do it the way you did?
MV: Of course, I’m very happy with how everything turned out and also the tyres and everything went very smoothly. It was very cool of course, very hectic. Like I said, you know, I even had a cramp in the last lap, so it just summed up the whole season which is completely unpredictable and crazy throughout the whole year.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) I know it’s early, but how do you think you will look back on the quality of this season in the way that you’ve driven and the fact that you’re going to be part of what will go down as one of the greatest seasons ever? How will you reflect on all that?
MV: I think in general the quality has been very high, I think set by myself and Lewis of course. We have been pushing each other to the limit every single time. There have been quite some tough races, just physically also because you were just pushing like hard all the time, there was no lap to rest and throughout the whole weekend – qualifying, race – it was so important to always try and be perfect which is very high in Formula 1 to be perfect because there is always some… a little tiny lock-up can make the difference between P1 and P2 and in the championship that we had, that was massive so the level of focus required was very high.
Q: So has this battle taken you to new heights as a driver?
MV: New experiences and again, I learned more about myself in a positive way, luckily, but luckily you keep on improving, that’s for sure.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Max, we heard you in the race call Checo a legend for his moves against Lewis that allowed you to really close up. What did you make of that and how crucial was Checo’s role in helping you win today and win the championship?
MV: Yeah, I think without Checo I wouldn’t be sitting here right now because then they would have had a pit gap with the safety car and stuff so definitely Checo was driving incredibly today.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) Two questions; you had a long moment with your father, what was that like? And also, Christian was completely soaked, what’s his mood like?
MV: yeah, of course with my Dad it was very emotional. You know, growing up, working for that goal and then you’ve achieved it, that was just truly incredible. And besides that, Christian lost his voice so even myself, it’s all a bit tricky to talk but yeah, it was an incredible feeling for everyone.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Max, I just wanted to ask you a bit more about how important Sergio Perez has been. When he was watching you on the podium, you could see how proud he was with what you’ve achieved. It’s not always easy to have a teammate like that who you get so much support from. How important has he been for you on a personal level as well as on a driving level?
MV: I mean of course, when we started working together, it was always difficult to know exactly of course how it’s going to work out but very early on already, Checo is just an amazing human being, not only just to work with F1 but just a super-nice person, real family man as well and yeah, I have had a lot of good times with him and you could see he really means it and he means well and it’s very rare to have a teammate like that and again, it just showed today he was a team player and I really hope that we can continue this for a long time.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Max, again you seem very relaxed and focused. Did we see a glimpse of your inner personality during the celebrations because you seemed to… did you cry or did you break down or…?
MV: I was very emotional on the in-lap, that’s for sure. Yeah. When the visor’s closed, nobody can see you but of course, with all the celebrations it was just incredible, an incredible feeling.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, you’re the World Champion, it’s your title but obviously you’ve done it with Red Bull and you’ve done it with Honda and you seem to have such a close and genuinely warm relationship with both the team and ever since Honda have come into the team as well. What does that mean? How much extra satisfaction have you got from this, knowing that you’ve won it alongside people you seem to truly care about?
MV: Yeah, it’s incredible to be working with a team like this and together with Honda, you know, this was also their last race with us. It’s been an incredible journey together and this is what we were always working for and hoping for and for it to then end for them in the way it did is just insane so I’m incredibly happy, also, for them.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Does it add satisfaction that you’ve won your first title in a season like this against a driver like Lewis Hamilton?
MV: I have a lot of respect for Lewis but you know, I’m just very happy that I won in general because it’s been, of course, a very tough season fighting against Mercedes and Lewis but I don’t want to sound arrogant or whatever to say it’s a great satisfaction to win against him and I just have a lot of respect for him, as a driver and I know he’s an amazing driver in terms of what he has achieved but I’m just very happy that we won it.
Q: (Niharika Ghorpade – Sportskeeda) You have said in the past that one world title should be enough for you so will you come back fighting for more or is this one enough?
MV: No, of course I will continue driving but of course, in terms of achievements, I have achieved everything in Formula 1 now so everything that comes next is just a bonus.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Max, obviously it’s not what everyone, I’m sure, wanted but Mercedes have protested the result of this race, the championship ending with controversy. What is your reaction to what Mercedes have lodged legally?
MV: Not much really, to say about that. I think it also sums up a little bit the season.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Max, without trying to detract in any way from your achievements which are momentous, but the team had two objectives – a Drivers’ World Champion and team World Championship. You didn’t achieve the latter one. How do you feel about that for the team?
MV: I think even when you talk to the team, they really wanted me to win this championship, but over the whole season we were not the quickest. So, then it’s natural that you can’t win the team championship. But we gave it all you know, we can’t be disappointed about anything because we really maximized a lot of our results. Like I said, we gave it all, and of course in the team championship we came up short but we won the Drivers’.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, you’ve been so focused on this I would imagine that you have never really let yourself get carried away with thinking about what it would feel like to be world champion. I just wondered with the way it played out today, we had a crazier finish than even in 2008 I think, so what do you think about that because obviously that seems to have layered in even more emotion. We saw the outburst from you and the team, it just seems like an explosion of feeling at the very end?
MV: Yeah, it was. For me, 2008 is difficult to comment about because I was not involved. I was only 11 years old I think. It was insane. I didn’t see it coming and then you have that opportunity on the last lap. Yeah, insane, and incredible feeling for everyone in the team.