Q: Many congratulations to the top three finishers of the FIA Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. In third place, George Russell. In second place, Sergio Pérez. And taking the fourth win of his Formula 1 career and his second of the 2022 campaign, our winner Charles Leclerc. Charles, what a remarkable day for you and for Ferrari. First up, were you surprised by your level of dominance today?
CL: I think we were all surprised by our pace. Yes, because I mean, on the medium, already, towards the end of the stint, we were extremely strong, we managed those tyres extremely well. We didn’t have too much graining, so yeah, the pace was very strong. And then on the hard, we probably expected Red Bull to be a bit closer in terms of pace, but also there we seem to have the upper hand. And yeah, after qualifying and FP2, we didn’t see that performance difference between us and Red Bull. So it was a very good surprise.
Q: Now, you looked to have it pretty much under control throughout. But there was one nervous moment, at least for us watching. And that came at one of the restarts. So just talk us through what happened there?
CL: Yeah, I tried to prepare the last corner as much as possible, staying on the left, but I actually took quite a bit of old rubber and I just couldn’t turn for the last corner. So I lost so much. And then we were side-by-side with Max for the first corner, I managed to stay in the lead and then it got much better with the tyres and then we could pull a gap to have a bit more margin.
Q: Now Charles, two wins and a second place from the opening three races. You’re now 34 points ahead in the World Championship. And you’re heading to one of Ferrari’s home races next, can you imagine the level of excitement at Imola in two weekends’ time?
CL: Oh, yeah, I can imagine it, but I don’t want to think about it too much. Because it’s still very early in the season. Obviously, it’s good to be in the lead of the championship, I think I lead by 37 or 34 points. 34 – it’s OK. Thirty-four points is always good to take wherever you are in the calendar but, yeah, I don’t want to focus too much on the championship for now. Italy will be incredible, but we need to approach the race weekend, just like we approached the first three weekends. I think it’s extremely important not to put on ourself extra pressure and not try to overdo things. Because we are working, I think, as a team extremely well since the beginning of the season and yeah, we just need to keep doing our job, just like we did in the first three weekends.
Q: Checo, coming to you now, given the pace of Ferrari this afternoon, it seems second was the maximum for you today. Would you agree with that assessment?
SP: Yes, certainly. I think Ferrari was super strong today. We couldn’t match them at any point. I think it’s the first weekend that they are a step ahead. I think we’ve been really close in qualifying Shin brace. Even yesterday, I think we were a bit close in qualifying and race, even yesterday, it felt like we were a bit closer than we’ve shown. But yeah, today, they were on another level. I think we also were a bit too poor with our balance. We took a bit of the wrong directions with the car. So, I think there is good analysis to be done. We run the two cars a bit different. So, I think there is a good analysis to do. I’m sure we will learn a lot from this weekend because… yeah, we seem to be a bit harder on the tyres than Ferrari.
Q: Now, we saw a wonderful scrap between you and Lewis Hamilton at one point on the lap. Do you think the new layout here at Albert Park promoted overtaking? Do you think it was better than it was last time we were here in 2019?
SP: Well, it was a shame they took the DRS out because I think the racing could have been a bit better with it. But yeah, it was nice. I think it’s always nice to battle Lewis. It’s always very hard racing with him – but fair.
Q: George, coming to you now. It was a brilliant race from you today. Well done. But how much of a surprise is this third place?
GR: I think it’s credit to the team back at Brackley and Brixworth because obviously we want more performance and we are a step behind Ferrari and Red Bull in terms of pace, but you’ve got to be there at the end if you want to pick up the points, and that’s what we’ve done on a number of occasions now. And I mean, this weekend we were the fifth fastest team behind these two guys and obviously McLaren and Alpine. And currently standing P3 on the podium and P2 in the Championship is pretty crazy.
Q: Well, looking at the pace of the car next, how much progress have you made with it this weekend?
GR: I’d love to say we’ve made a lot of progress but I think we’ve got to look at the lap times and we haven’t closed the gap at all to these guys to the right of me. And we know we’ve got a lot of work to do but I have faith that we can get there. We know the potential is in the car. And we’ve got a lot of work to do to extract that performance. It won’t happen overnight; it won’t happen in the next race, but I do think in time we will get there. So, for the time being, if we keep picking up these results, it’s keeping us in the mix.
Q: And just quickly, tell us what you were thinking when you saw the Safety Car come out for Sebastian Vettel’s stricken car.
GR: What was I thinking? I was thinking ‘Happy Days’, to be honest! No, we obviously had a bit of fortune there – but that’s part of the game, part of the sport. Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it doesn’t. And yeah, I’ve been on both ends a number of times before and it’s just part of motor sport.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Charles please. Particularly at the start of the race, it looked like the porpoising, the bouncing was quite severe. And then the restart with Max, the first restart that is, how was it from your point of view? And was it an issue across the race? Thanks.
CL: Actually, it was… I mean, I don’t know why, but I am not very sensitive to it. And it looks extremely bad on the on-boards. Of course, I feel it. But yeah, it doesn’t disturb me too much in terms of performance, just for Turn 9, maybe a little bit, because it’s just tricky. It’s bouncing a lot. But it’s definitely something we want to tackle because it doesn’t help us for consistency, especially sometimes once you have bouncing in a corner, it can be a problem. So, we need to work on that. But today, it wasn’t an issue. Or, I couldn’t have gone faster if I didn’t have the bouncing. For the restart, it was a bit tricky, because I had it before Turn 1. So, you’re never as confident to just brake extremely hard for Turn 1. But everything went well. It was just not so… yeah, not so comfortable to do 58 laps like this.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) George, how important is it for you to get that first Mercedes podium, done and out of the way? And also, you’ve finished ahead of Lewis in two of the three races. Again, how important is that to you? How much of a confidence booster is that, so you’re also ahead of him in the Championship?
GR: Yeah, I think. These small things in the scheme of things don’t mean a lot really. Obviously, everybody wants to finish ahead of their teammate, but Lewis and I have no interest in battling it out for P5, P6. And we want to work together, to claw that gap back. So, there’s no hard feelings if he’s ahead of me, there’s no hard feelings if I’m ahead of him, and we’re not too concerned about that at the moment. So it’s quite a strange feeling for me, to be honest, because we have such high expectations from all of us. Whereas you know, previously, in my first couple of years that was everything. Because we weren’t really fighting for points, we weren’t fighting for much, that was the only satisfaction you could get, is your results based on your teammate. But here we have a bigger picture. And the long game we need to play is to catch these guys up because we’re here to win.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe) Charles, you’re the 26th driver in Formula 1 history to create a Grand Chelem – which is pole position, fastest lap, lead every lap. Do you care about those things? Does it mean anything to you?
CL: Not really. At the end what matters is that I crossed the finish line first at the end, then obviously it’s always nicer and it shows how good of a job we’ve done until now, especially this weekend, with a statistic like this. But yeah, it doesn’t matter to me that much.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) A question to Checo this time please. Checo, we saw you slide off at one point late in the race at the penultimate corner, Max seemed to struggle there on occasion throughout the weekend, as well. Why was that corner so difficult? And was it just a set-up issue for Red Bull that was causing the problem?
SP: I think it is part of our issue. I think Sector Three is really weak for us. And we have to do a lot of compromises for that, which really affect us throughout the circuit. So yeah, it shows in that corner particularly… We are very sensitive, and it’s really easy to get it wrong.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Charles, this is the first time you’ve had a properly competitive car, and that you’ve been able to show to even those people who hadn’t seen before, just how good you are. How are you approaching the season and how does that make you feel? And on the team side, Ferrari have been caught short on development before; how much focus is there on making sure that you keep pace with Red Bull given what sort of opportunity seems to be before you?
CL: Yeah, obviously, I’ve been in this situation in the junior categories but then to be in this situation in Formula 1 means a lot, and especially after the last few years, and especially with a team like Ferrari. So it feels incredible. Obviously, the mindset is a bit different compared to the last two years because now I know that underneath me I’ve got a car that is capable of winning and I don’t really have to overdo things or to do something extremely special and spectacular to actually get one or two positions because I know that it’s in the car and I just have to do the job. So the mindset is a little bit different this year. And then to keep up with Red Bull in terms of development is going to be difficult, but yeah, it’s the same team that did this car, that will work on the development for this year’s car, so I am confident. There is no reason for us to be on the backfoot because we’ve done a great job, or the guys at Maranello have done a great job, building up this car for this year. There are some developments coming and I’m confident that it will go in the right direction. So yeah, I wouldn’t focus too much on the others. I think we need to focus on ourselves. Since the last two years, I really see a jump in the way we’ve analysed every weekend in the way we have identified also our weaknesses and how quick we were to react to try and get better in the places where we were struggling. So yeah, I am confident that the team can do a great job with development this year.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) George, are you surprised to find yourself second in the championship? And do you know if Mercedes have any upgrades or developments planned that will mean you can stay there, fighting with these two guys on your right?
GR: Yeah, I think pleasantly surprised to be P2 in the championship but I think it’s… as I said before… It’s credit due to the team for giving us so far, a very reliable car and we’ve got to be there at the end to capitalise from these results. It’s definitely not based on pace but I think it’s been a respectable start to the season in terms of how we’ve managed to optimise our lack of performance. And I think every race we’ve done, we have truly maximised the result possible. I don’t think we could have achieved a higher result at any of the circuits as a team and that is, I guess, a silver lining. But unfortunately, there’s nothing substantial in the pipeline anytime soon. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take a number of races. I think there’ll be little things, there’ll be incremental steps but we recognise that our rivals are going to be doing the same so it may not be clear to the outside world that we’ve made progress because Ferrari and Red Bull are going to be making progress as well.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Charles, Max was very critical of the speed of the safety car and said there was no grip at the restart. Did you feel it was going at a problematic pace?
TCL: To be honest it always feels too slow in the car because with those Formula 1 cars, we have so much grip and it’s very, very difficult, especially on the compound we were all on, which was the hards. I was struggling massively to put some temperature in them so I also struggled. Then, to be honest, I wanted to complain, but then I checked how much the safety car was sliding in the corner and I don’t think there was anything more that he could give so I didn’t want to push too much pressure. And yeah, it’s the way it is. But yeah, for sure with the cars that we have now it’s very difficult to keep the temperatures in the tyres behind the safety car.
GR: We don’t have the issue with the Mercedes AMG safety car. On a serious note the Mercedes AMG is like five seconds a lot quicker than the Aston Martin safety car, which is pretty substantial.
CL: We need to put a Ferrari so it’s then five seconds quicker…
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) George, could you just talk us through what happened when Checo passed you? We heard you had that radio message about tyre management being more important for position? Was that a factor in your defence? And also, what were you thinking when Lewis was charging up behind you at the end?
GR: Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult when we’re in a podium spot and I want to do everything I can to keep the faster car behind but ultimately, we needed to manage that tyre and the management was worse, or the front left tyre was worse in the last corner and I can’t manage it through there because it will just open it up to Checo behind, especially with their straight line speed. So I really wanted to push it further but I recognised that we probably would have just fell off a cliff if I went even harder. And the Red Bull was just too quick for us today. And then obviously, yeah, I knew Lewis wasn’t going to make it easy for me. He never gives up and he was pushing flat out until the end, but I think it was well managed and was always able to stay out of the DRS detection, so yeah, once Checo got past it was pretty cruised until the end.
Q: (Tobias Hussey – Australian Radio Networks) Sergio, Red Bull has had three race-ending mechanical failures in three races. Are you at all concerned about the fragility of this car?
SP: It’s certainly a concern. We’ve lost a lot of points already in these first three races that in the end can make a huge difference in the championship. So we are obviously aware of it. All the team back home in Milton Keynes, here, are working flat out to try to come up with solutions. We don’t know exactly the issue on Max’s today. So yeah, we will see and I’m sure we will turn things around and hopefully we can start again from zero when we go back to Europe.