Belgian GP post race press conference
28 August, 2011
Aug.28 (FIA) Post-Belgian Grand Prix press conference featuring the top three drivers on the day at Spa-Francorchamps: winner Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), second placed Mark Webber and Jenson Button (McLaren).
Q: Sebastian, congratulations on your first Belgian Grand Prix victory. A comfortable victory, but how comfortable was it given the concern before and in the early stages of the race as to how long you could make the soft tyre last?
Sebastian Vettel: Yeah, I mean we had a lot of concerns going into the race after the damage we had on the tyres from qualifying, so we weren’t quite sure. We took quite a lot of risk. We had reason to be confident that it should be fine, but if you never really know and there is no-one walking up and down in the paddock giving you a guarantee. We didn’t feel too comfortable and both of us stopped fairly early, I think right at the beginning of the race. The main target was to see how the tyres were after a couple of laps and to go from there really. Not thinking too much about the outcome, but surprisingly the pace was very, very good in the race. I was feeling very comfortable in the car and without too much effort in the beginning I was able to keep up with the guys and get back into the lead. So half-way through the race, after the safety car, it was crucial to get back into the lead, jump Fernando (Alonso), pass him and build a gap that made it more comfortable towards the end of the race. But it was more management than usual, but I have to say the car worked brilliantly and I think compared to previous years we were very competitive so I am very, very happy with the result and very happy with the race. How we managed the tyres in particular so we need to learn from that and yeah, head down to the next race.
Q: Mark, a great recovery after a slow getaway at the start.
Mark Webber: Yeah, the start was shocking. Dropped the lever and had anti-stall immediately. I think Seb also had a very close call as well through the anti-stall, so that was a very disappointing way to start the grand prix. On the back foot from there knowing, as Seb said, that we were going to stop pretty early, as our tyres were badly damaged after qualifying, so we needed to get rid of that set quite early. When I was back in the pack I saw (Bruno) Senna and a few guys in turn one smashing each other up, so it was important to get away from that scene with everything still intact and that was the case. We made the first stop, had a bit of a fight with Fernando. He had very good grip on the option initially on his stint and then I could stay with him for a very, very long stint on the prime tyre. The tyre was completely finished at the end but that gave us track position back. We had a bit of a stuff-up on the radio. I was supposed to pit when Seb did with the safety car but we had a completely blocked radio. I was asking three times in the Bus Stop, ‘do you want me to stop, do you want me to stop’ and gave them the radio back but I heard nothing. Stayed out, saw Fernando stayed out, so a little bit of confusion but all in all the way the team handled all the problems we had yesterday, overnight and this morning credit to Adrian (Newey) and all his crew – all the guys on the floor, Christian (Horner) as well. It was not an easy grand prix for those guys on the pit wall today watching the two drivers out there. It was reasonably sensitive for them so in the end we got a good result. I would have loved to have had a normal grand prix but still an enjoyable race and got a good result.
Q: Jenson, has to be an enjoyable race to go from 13th to third. Talk us through a dramatic start and a dramatic end.
Jenson Button: Yeah, I think if I’d stayed in 13th after the start it would have been a lot easier to challenge these guys but it was mayhem. Turn one I think it was caused by the cars at the front getting a poor start. Turn one I think (Paul) di Resta hit my rear wing or we made contact and damaged the rear wing, so half the rear-wing end plate was gone. Then, driving after turn one to Eau Rouge, somebody’s front wing blew off and went through my front wing and took the wing mirror off, which was a bit scary. Then I was really struggling for grip. The front wing was damaged and the guys said ‘we know it is but keep going until we get to lap five’. We did. We came in and changed the front wing, put option tyres on and did the rest of the race on options. A fun race, lots of good overtaking, really enjoyed it out there today, but you are always going to say ‘what could have been’. But all in all, a good finish to get on the podium. It is good to finish here after Seb drove into me last year and we didn’t finish.
Q: Sebastian, no problems driving into anyone this year. Mark touched on what a difficult race it was to make the strategy calls but Red Bull got it right for yourself there. Did the safety car come out at the right time for you and allow you to pit at that moment?
SV: Well I would say yes and no. Obviously, we could get the stop and not lose too much. But on the other hand I think I was six or seven seconds in the lead at the time, so we lost the lead and lost that gap that we had. I don’t think it made a big difference at the end. Fortunately, with the new regulations we have there are very few possibilities that someone gains a big advantage, but all in all, I agree with Jenson: it is good to finish the race and not to crash this year. When I came close to him I was going to target to pass him at the long straight, not into the chicane so just to make sure, but it was a really fun race with plenty of overtaking due to the strategy we both had to go through. A lot of cars we had to overtake, but the car was fantastic, the pace was there and that’s why we are sitting up here now.
Q: Mark, you mentioned the problems with the radio. Did that compromise your race from a victory point of view. Had you been able to come in when you wanted to, was the win on?
MW: It is hard to say. If I could have obviously had a fight with Seb through the middle part of that race I would have. I don’t even know how it would have come out, how close I was behind him or whatever. I probably would have been behind Nico (Rosberg) or whatever. I don’t even know how it would have rolled out after that safety car. But it was probably the better way for us to finish the race by pitting at that safety car but we didn’t know how good the prime tyre was going to be. I need to look at it. It was a problem we had with the safety car. They wanted me to pit but we didn’t so we had to make it work by staying out and going very, very long and in the end it wasn’t a disaster either. That’s what happened.
Q: Jenson, not a disaster for you this race but for your team not the best weekend given the strides you’ve made in the development race before Spa. To see a Red Bull one-two must be disappointing?
JB: Yeah, very. All weekend the car has felt great. For me the balance here has been phenomenal in wet, dry, intermediate conditions. It felt like we’d made a step forward since Hungary, so to just come away with a third is disappointing but then you have got to take everything else into account. The misunderstanding yesterday in qualifying, and also these guys were very fast and they did a very good job. Who knows what would have happened if we had qualified well, but all we do know is that these guys got more points than us today, so hopefully in two weeks we can turn it around.
Q: Sebastian, just having a look at your previous best results here. It hasn’t been the best circuit for you, so what does it mean for you to win here?
SV: A lot. It is a very nice circuit. I enjoyed every lap today. We had a bit on from a management point of view, managing the tyres in particular, it wasn’t easy in that regard, but the car was fantastic to drive. If the car does what you want it to do then this place is really fun. It is nice to have these fast corners and if you feel confident in the car it is even more fun. Every lap was enjoyable. Pretty entertaining race and with the strategy to come in very early a lot of passes that I had to make. Don’t want to complain. It all worked fantastically well and the pace was great so it was good for both of us to finish like that.
Q: Mark touched on your start. Did you have a problem?
SV: Yeah, big time. I think Mark nearly stalled or had to pull the clutch again and I was just about to pull it. Released the clutch and the revs went really low and I thought the engine nearly died. For a moment it was quite, quite critical. I then seemed to recover, caught a lot of wheel slip. I was waiting for Lewis (Hamilton) to get past but I think his start wasn’t very good either. Then there was a bit of trouble into turn one. Nico was very close. I was taking a very aggressive approach down to Eau Rouge but still it was enough. The tow, today, in general was very powerful so we saw a lot of manoeuvres after Eau Rouge and he was able to take the lead. Yeah, quite busy initially.
Q: You held the lead on four separate occasions during the race. That’s how much it swung to and fro.
SV: Yeah, it was pretty busy in the beginning. We knew that the main concern was the tyres straight away. We knew that we wouldn’t stay out for a very long time. I think Mark pitted before I did. I was in the front so could control the pace a little bit more. Then was fighting my way back to the same group. It was a bit funny as I had just pitted and then caught them up again so I had to pass Nico one more time before he went in. That manoeuvre was quite good fun. The outside of Blanchimont. I think it was very fair from both of us and he gave me enough room so it was nice. In the beginning it was quite entertaining with a lot of cars to go through and you don;t want to lose a lot of time.
Q: Were you worried about the tyres blistering again?
SV: Yes, for sure. As I said, it was our main concern going into the race. We had reason to be confident. The alternative would have been to change the set-up and start from the pit-lane. Maybe it would have been a completely different race. We took that risk. We had as much confidence as we could get before the race. We had some long discussions straight after qualifying, yesterday night and this morning. Now we are sitting here it all went well and we finished one-two but it wasn’t an easy decision to make and not an easy race especially at the beginning to manage. You are driving into the unknown. No-one has really had a lot of laps around here, in particular on Friday with the conditions so everyone was a bit in the same boat. Those 10 cars in qualifying got a little bit of an idea. For some it turned out to be a problem, for others not, but I think with the race now happy no-one suffered any further damage on the tyre. I saw basically that the cars I passed and also people who thought they might not run into any problems they had the same problems as we did so we need to learn from that and see for the next races.
Q: Mark, you must have been worried with that long stint you did but presumably the tyres held out?
MW: Yeah, I think it is a team result today. Probably one of our best results ever as a team. Pretty stressful last night, pretty stressful this morning. We are not just talking about blisters, we are talking about unknown characteristics of what the tyre might do, so it was handled well from our team’s perspective. Putting the drivers right in the discussions to understand how we could get through grand prix as safe as possible. I was giving them feedback on how the tyres looked. It was a long stint given the misunderstanding with the pit-stop around the safety car, so we had to commit to going very, very long on that set of tyres. I had a very, very big vibration on them, which is not unusual but that cleared up when I put the fresh set on. The main thing we were interested in was looking at the fronts on the inside shoulder. My set after qualifying were in a very bad way so we had to get rid of those very quickly, but my race was pretty heavily compromised after I got rid of the first clutch at the start and got the anti-stall instantaneously. I thought I’d got passed by about 30 cars but got to turn one and most of them had hit each other, which was good and I came out the other side. I thought some of them would have been a bit more patient given they are in a good position and they haven’t qualified there before but it turned out no so that was god for me. The car was very, very good after that. Had a reasonable fight with Fernando. Then at the end we just brought the car home. Once I’d caught Fernando it was clear I had a pace advantage over him and got the car to the end.
Q: You were bringing it pretty quickly to the end?
MW: Well it is an enjoyable track. You always love driving here. The car was performing well. I was keeping an eye on the tyres myself and they looked fine. It is always enjoyable to drive here. It would have been nice to keep driving. That’s the way it is around here, it is a beautiful track so, anyway, second was a good result considering what we had to go through.
Q: Jenson, this track actually hasn’t been very kind to you in the past, this is your fourth finish here, but a very good finish, I would say
SV: One (non-finish) is down to me!
JB: Yeah, I think third is my best result here. For me, the race was a lot of fun. The first lap was pretty messy, as Mark said, a lot of guys in fifth, sixth, seventh got together and then it was just mayhem for all of us behind, because there were just bits flying everywhere. At turn one, I think Paul [di Resta] or [Adrian] Sutil hit my rear wing so I had half my rear wing endplate missing on one side which isn’t good for downforce. And then as I exited the corner, there were bits flying everywhere. Someone’s front wing went through my front wing and ripped one of the mirrors off as well, so it was a pretty messy first lap. I was radioing to the team saying ‘I’ve got a lot of damage, I need to come in.’ They said ‘you can’t because you will be in so much traffic, just keep pushing.’ I did so for five laps and they said ‘pit and we’ll go to options.’ We ran the option for the rest of the race. The balance was pretty good but there was low grip out there because of the rear wing damage that I had. It was tough but also a lot of fun. Passing people into the last chicane round the outside was very enjoyable but we can always say what could have been if we didn’t have a misunderstanding yesterday – without swearing. Yeah, we’ve had very good pace all weekend; the car’s working very well and I think that, as a team, if we had got everything together, we probably would have had a much better result but this is the way it is. These guys did a better job and we’ve got to look forward to Monza, because we have a very strong package. For me, this is the best the car has felt all year but we didn’t get the best out of it.
Q: Third in 2005, incidentally.
JB: Yeah, I started 13th that year or something like that, I think[qualified ninth, started eighth]. It would be nice to qualify at the front and we had the pace to do that but it didn’t happen. I had a fun race, it will be one of those races that I will look back on and say that it was enjoyable, I had a lot of overtaking. It’s not very often you overtake two cars round the outside into turn one and at the same time, so it was enjoyable.
Q: How did you get by Alonso at the end?
JB: At that point of the race, it was reasonably easy. I could tow up to him on the straight, there was no one in front of him and I could do him with DRS, as I did with a couple of cars, but it wasn’t easy at the beginning of the race because everybody had DRS open so you had to overtake normally which was more fun, overtaking normally into the last chicane and into turn one. There was the time that I passed one of the Renaults and a Sauber. I went down the outside of both of them and overtook them both, but the problem was, heading down the hill to Eau Rouge, they both used DRS, so coming out of Eau Rouge, I had a car either side of me and into Les Combes was a lot of fun, but I stayed in front.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Mike Doodson – Honorary) Congratulations for providing a really thrilling race today and I think you all had some very exciting passes, but the one that I think got our imagination going was Mark going down the hill, no DRS and taking it straight to Alonso. Could you tell us about that and whether it was just a moment’s inspiration or had you calculated it all?
MW: Well, you don’t have much time to get the calculator out at that point, mate, so I think most of the race I was still charged with frustration from the start, so when I came out behind Fernando, obviously we were very, very close going down into Eau Rouge and I knew Fernando would have been using some KERS so I was using some KERS as well. I got a tow, obviously, and then I thought if I can get to the inside then I might have the line but obviously both of us are very experienced, we both don’t give much too easily, so it was a good battle and very, very rewarding that it worked out OK, but it takes two guys doing a good job to get all that right obviously, so it’s more rewarding when you can do it with someone like Fernando because he’s a world-class driver and he knows when enough is enough. Obviously my attitude might have been a bit different with someone else, let’s say, but in the end, it worked out for me today but in Monza, maybe it’s his turn to do it to me. I was breathing in at the bottom, I got in and I looked in the mirror at the top and I saw he was still in… well, he had no choice, obviously in the end he had to… one of us had to lift and I had a slightly better line and it was he who had to lift.
Q: (Vincent Marre – Sports Zeitung) Sebastian, it’s your first win here at Spa. According to great champions, winning here and at tracks like Suzuka is memorable. How do you feel about that today?
SV: Yeah, definitely. I’m very proud. I think all drivers love coming here, it’s a fantastic circuit and as I said, even driving on your own it is fun. Racing each other it’s even more fun and I think it was a very exciting race for us. Obviously you had to manage the tyres, going into the race wasn’t easy, but then it turned out the pace was very good and we went through some people, so it was crucial and a fun race, so I think it was one of the best we have had this year. I definitely enjoyed every single lap and obviously, in the end, we found ourselves in quite a comfortable position, not needing to push a hundred percent every lap any more, so all in all, it was a great race for us.
Q: (James Allen – Financial Times) Mark, you were saying this was a great team effort. Obviously you spent most of the race on the medium tyre which is not what one would have thought, going into the weekend. How much were you feeding the information back, because it’s basically a research exercise for both of you during the course of the race?
MW: First of all, I think the reason the communication was probably higher than it needed to be at other venues was because there was no running on Friday, obviously, so we were in a new situation in this Grand Prix putting the tyres on the limit for lap after lap after lap which we didn’t get to do on Friday. When I was sitting behind the safety car I was really pissed off, I was on the wrong tyre and out of position. I thought that the options were going to be much much stronger. I still don’t think they were a disaster but the prime, the medium worked very well. All I could do was give the information, keep pushing, for sure those tyres weren’t going to go anywhere for me and that’s generally the case when we make a pit stop, one’s tyres are pretty tired. So, as you say, it was a bit on an experiment, more so than at most grands prix this year because it’s pretty rare you get such limited running into the grand prix, so that was the case why there was a lot of nerves going in on many fronts.
Q: (James Allen – Financial Times) Sebastian, you’d had two stops by lap 15 already, you were obviously trying to save a stop with that third set, why did it behave so differently do you think?
SV: We obviously decided to pit for the second time when the safety car came out. I think at that stage there was a bit of science going on. Obviously we were all very keen to find out the shape of the tyres, even after only a couple of laps, so we decided to pit. At that stage, I think the safety car didn’t necessarily help us, but it gave us a window to pit but as I said, earlier, we were in the lead by six or seven seconds so I lost that but got another idea about the tyres and then it was clear that… in an ideal world, we split the rest of the race more or less in two. The soft tyre was the quicker tyre so we tried to get as many laps as we could out of it, before we changed to a medium. From there onwards, we just controlled the pace and brought the car to the chequered flag, but that was the reason why we did so many laps on the third set of tyres.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Sebastian and Mark, is the fantastic performance of your car here related to the nature of the track, which probably suits your car, or the upgrade you did during the break, that you faced McLaren and Ferrari again in the same conditions?
SV: Difficult question. I think in the past we were always quick here in sector two where there are no straights and a lot of corners. The thing that stands out this year is that we were quite competitive in sector one and sector three, where we have more straights. Also in the race, I think our straightline speed was quite good and made it possible to attack and overtake people easier than in previous years. Obviously we tried to improve the car race by race, as much as we can. Now we’ve had a bit of a break, which I think was good for us to go through a couple of things. Generally this weekend I think it was considerably cooler than at the beginning of the season, so all in all, it seems that we made a good step and we were very competitive here which I think is mostly down to the fact that we were competitive in sector one and sector three, unlike the previous years.
MW: Seb’s completely right but there was a bit of nerves for us coming here, to be honest, because of like you say, a little bit of history and also on the tracks where we were very strong in previous years we were not as comfortable this year: Silverstone, for example and maybe a little bit of Budapest and places like that. The guys have been working incredibly hard over the break when they could, understood the car very well and brought a lot of upgrades. As you know in this game, talk is cheap and results are better, so we’ve done a good job. The team keeps pushing very, very hard. We have brilliant rivals and that’s why we have to respond all the time. It’s why I said it’s a pretty special result for our team today considering what we went through, and also the venue we’re at.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Motor und Sport) Sebastian, is it possible that the safety car helped you in a way because you could bring in the tyre a little bit smoother and by doing so could delay the blistering process and then how was it to drive with blisters? Is there anything you can do about it, can you ease up the life of the tyre?
SV: I think that in that regard it helped us as much as it helped other people – Fernando, who was in the lead to give his tyres a break, which allowed him to make his set last longer. I think it was the same, in a way. Obviously I was able to conserve the peak of the tyre and use it a bit longer afterwards but as I say, others gained some advantage and could cool down the tyres a bit as well. Yes, pretty scary to go around with blistering issues. Obviously, after a while… in qualifying we couldn’t really see it from the inside of the car but in the race we definitely could. It’s not very comfortable, especially on the way down to Eau Rouge and then through Blanchimont, when you really look at the tyre and it doesn’t look like being in great shape. You feel quite a lot of vibrations. If you ask anybody on the grid, we all suffered the same kind of problems. As I said, I followed Nico at some stage at the end of his first stint and he had the same problem on the front left. Science, but it’s not really the idea, because it’s driving into the unknown and it’s not comfortable for us, because in the end we sit in the car. That’s one of the main things we were thinking about before going into the race.
Q: (Marco dell’Innocenti – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Sebastian, I imagine that you will answer that there is still a long way to go and there are still a lot of races, but, nevertheless…
SV: Then don’t ask!
Q: (Marco dell’Innocenti – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Because that’s the answer? At this stage, are you more confident of taking the title or not?
SV: I’ve got more points than after the last race, as Jenson just said. Of course I’m very happy with today’s result and I know that it’s very important to finish ahead of those guys and anybody else, so it brought us closer to our final target, but it’s still a long way and if you just look at last year, yes, by this time it might have been looking different but if you look at how quickly things can change, if you are out in two races and someone else is having a good couple of races, it could change so all we do is try to get the optimum every time, like today. It was tricky race, as I said, for tyre management but when the chance is there to win, we go for it. When I was driving around, passing people around the outside here and there, then I don’t think about the Championship. If I think there’s room to overtake, I go for it. If the risk is too high, then naturally I think you shouldn’t do it. I think I’ve done it in the past when it didn’t work, as Jenson can tell you, so it’s not necessary to take that risk.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Sebastian, you have now won on all the world’s greatest circuits; which win is the most rewarding after the chequered flag, and which one was the most difficult to achieve?
SV: It’s difficult to say. I think Germany is still missing. Every year I go there and we are quite confident, but so far it hasn’t worked, so we will see in the next couple of years. For now, I’m very proud of the races I have won. Obviously this one is a very important one. I also remember from a Finnish point of view this one meant a lot to Kimi (Raikkonen) in the past. It’s nice to join those guys and it’s one of the nicest tracks we have, with some of the best corners, alongside Suzuka which I like a lot. Yeah, it’s hard to say, but I think I’m very happy I got a nice trophy today and a good chunk of points, so I can’t complain.