Lewis, a fantastic lap, clearly, and what a great way to start a new season.
Lewis HAMILTON: Yes, it’s an incredible feeling to be back here and to get off to such a good start. I think this is mine and Jenson’s first one-two – I believe at least – in qualifying, so it’s fantastic to start the season this way. I’m massively proud of the team, working incredibly hard as every year they do, but just to see that it’s never-give-up and this is the result of that.
Jenson, very close between the two of you, just over a tenth of a second, but this tells us it’s going to be quite a competitive season.
Jenson BUTTON: It does. I think, first of all, congratulations to Lewis and the whole team. I think we have done a very good job this winter and I think we have proved that today. It is only the beginning and obviously the lights haven’t gone out yet but this is a great first result for us on a Saturday and yeah, it’s looking like it’s going to be a very exciting season. We were so close through all the qualifying sessions but Lewis had the upper hand. I tried my best but it wasn’t quite enough.
Romain, welcome back to Formula One and a fantastic performance for you. Third on the grid: what does this say about you and the Lotus F1 team?
Romain GROSJEAN: Well, fantastic job from everybody. It’s really nice to be back in Formula One and I enjoyed the time. Winter testing went pretty well and today I’m very proud to be part of this experience with Lotus. I think a few people believed in me the first time and today I’m back, well, almost to the top, and I’m very proud to be with those guys here and hope we can keep going that way all season long and then it will be a very nice story.
Back to you Lewis, a tough race obviously always here at Albert Park. What are going to be the keys to tomorrow’s race and do you expect more of a threat in the race, from Mercedes and Red Bull in particular?
LH: I think it’s going to be incredibly tough, a very intense race. Obviously, looking after the tyres is going to be key as it always is and getting off to a good start, seeing what the strategies are like, and obviously the safety car is at all times a thing. The team need to be on point and so do me and Jenson, so we’ll make sure we do that.
Lewis, that’s got to be a good start?
LH: Yeah, it’s a fantastic feeling. It’s great to back here and it’s just an incredible start to the season. But of course, tomorrow’s the important day and we have a lot to look forward to. But just a tremendous job from the team to get us to this point. We’ve had a couple of tough years but just never seemed to give up. It’s just good to be here, as I said.
And yesterday you said how you were focused on dry running, knowing that the weather was going to be better for the next two days and that’s paid off I guess?
LH: To some extent, yeah. There was no disadvantage or advantage for me going into the wet yesterday but it was just to focus on the dry set up and get that as close to perfection as I could. My lap was a good lap, obviously. The second time I tried to brake 10 metres later at turn one, but it didn’t work. But fortunately, my first lap was good enough.
It was particularly good in sector three: you were half a second faster than anyone else apart from Mark Webber there. Was that something you were concentrating on?
LH: Yeah, that’s something I focused on for a lot of the run. On one of the runs I got held up by Michael, but otherwise I was just trying to improve in that sector because all the others were OK. But there’s always time you can find everywhere. Jenson did a fantastic job, he was very, very closely behind me. As always, keeping me on my toes.
Jenson, a two-time winner here. What are your thoughts about tomorrow?
JB: First of all, I’m going to echo what Lewis said: the team have done a fantastic job this winter. We knew that we had to have a good winter. It was something we were lacking the previous two years and we definitely did have that. Very happy to be here, in top three or the top two, on the front row, and hopefully we can race well from here tomorrow. I was actually a bit surprised by the gap back to the Red Bulls and some of the other teams but, yeah, we’ll definitely take that. The last two days have been good for us, just chipping away at the car and finding little bits here and there and it’s been a good couple of days and good start to the season.
What have your learned about the tyres here that is going to make a big difference in the race itself – concentrating on the softer tyre perhaps?
JB: I ran on the soft tyres yesterday. I think a lot of people ran the harder tyre, the medium, but I ran on the soft and it worked pretty well. I was quite surprised by the consistency of the tyre. I think we found that when we came here last year after winter testing, the tyres weren’t lasting very long but we came here and it was a circuit where we had very good degradation – some cars even one-stopped. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those tough races where degradation is a massive issue. I think that’ll be more next weekend.
Romain, it’s not a dream. You’re OK. You don’t have to pinch yourself. A fantastic debut here. Absolutely extraordinary. What are your thoughts?
RG: Well, I think: never give up. That’s the lesson. Today, I’m very happy to be here, very proud as well to be here. A few people believed in me at the toughest time and today I think they were with me in the car. I’m proud to be part of the Lotus team and the atmosphere and the experience can be very good and I think. We have been working pretty well during the winter, trying to do our best. As I said, I’m very happy to be with this team and I think they are working very hard for us and we are trying to make the best of everything we can. It’s not a dream; we did it. We can be proud of it and tomorrow we’ll keep working to improve ourselves, trying to get the best result as possible during the race and then in the next races as well.
Where do you think the car has been particularly good around here?
RG: I think it’s a little bit everywhere. I think sector three. I think a little bit myself coming as well. I’m discovering the track, this morning in completely dry conditions. I think the car is pretty good everywhere. We are trying to improve it every time and if we can manage to bring some more pieces every race maybe we can in between these two guys or maybe at the front. That would be the goal.
A lot of people would say that you’ve had a pretty tough learning curve here at this circuit. It was wet yesterday and yet here you are third on the grid. Do you always learn circuits really quickly?
RG: Normally yes, I do learn quickly but I think when we get everything at the factory I think it’s even easier. My engineer did a fantastic job for me, he’s trying to help me as much as he can and Formula One is tough, I have many things to think about and to do, during a qualifying lap and in the race and everything – but it went pretty well and I think there is some more to come.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Question to all of you: have you been surprised by the lack of pace of the Red Bull? And a special one for Lewis: your first start in 2007 was a little bit tricky. Do you have advice for Romain?
LH: Tough one. I think we’re all probably surprised… I myself always thought that the Lotus was going to be quick this weekend which they are and of course, I’m surprised that we are so fast. I knew that we would be competitive this weekend but I didn’t really know what to expect, in terms of how close people would be, but I’m pleasantly surprised. As for Grosjean, he knows what to do. He’s got great experience and I’m sure tomorrow he will do his utmost best.
JB: I think everybody’s answered that one already. I think we did a very good job of getting the best out of ourselves this weekend. I think we haven’t really made any mistakes. I don’t know what Red Bull have been up to. Sebastian obviously took a trip into the gravel this morning, which wouldn’t have helped their preparations. But Red Bull haven’t lost it. They’re still going to be competitive and we can never forget that but at the moment, we’re going to enjoy this moment and go out tomorrow and hopefully have a great race.
RG: It’s great but I’m sure Red Bull will work very hard and come back quickly, but we have to improve ourselves every time and we have seen that some teams are better than others. We didn’t know too much what to expect about the winter testing and after this morning. I was more confident than my engineer before qualifying. ‘Ah, it should be fine,’ but at the end, we are here and they will back for sure. We have to keep fighting and not resting.
Q: (Mike Doodson – Honorary) Lewis, you just said that you expected the Renault to be quick. I wondered if either you or Jenson had got close enough to Romain and the Lotus, either in testing or here, to know where it is strong?
LH: There wasn’t a time during testing that I was ever behind either of them, so I have no idea where they are quick, but they are clearly very very fast and have great downforce. Were you?
JB: Maybe, but I don’t know. My memory is not that good.
RG: Everybody is trying to avoid everybody in testing.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Lewis, 20th pole of your career, I don’t know if you remember them all, but how does this one compare to some of the others, in particular, given the turbulent 2011 you endured last season?
LH: Yeah, I still can’t believe that I’ve had so many pole positions. For me, every one has been special and particularly this one. To come straight into the season and start off so well through qualifying – we’ve still got a day ahead of us – but it’s a fantastic feeling and of course, with the tough couple of years past, it’s definitely good a way to start off on the right foot.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis and Jenson, you’ve both won this race in the year when you won the championship, are such statistics important or not important? What do you have to do tomorrow to win the race?
JB: Beat these guys. I don’t know what to expect. We can go through as many simulations as we want and the opinions of the race that we want. All I know is that we have made the race a little bit easier for ourselves compared to the Red Bulls. Last year it was the other way around and it was more of a difficult race because they were starting on the front row, but this year it’s the other way around. I’m happy with where we are, but tomorrow is again a very different day. We will stay positive. Obviously we’re doing everything and doing everything right and making sure that we don’t make mistakes overnight and get the right balance for tomorrow in the race.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) To all of you: we saw a beautiful battle between McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes and Red Bull here in qualifying. Do you think this is the picture of the championship or is it a particularity of the track?
JB: I think those are the four teams that after testing… you didn’t know which order they were in but those were the four teams that you would say were putting in good laps in testing, so yes, I think we expected those four teams but you never know the gap between those teams and as you said, through qualifying, in Q1, Q2, Q3, it was all mixed up. It’s good to see; good that we ended up near the front in the important one.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Motor und Sport) The first race is normally the one with the most question marks. Yesterday you had little running the dry, today it was just one practice session. Was it enough to answer all the questions for the race, Lewis or Jenson?
LH: We could always do with more time on the track and more running, but I think everyone is in the same boat generally. So we have to really rely on the data and the information that we got on the tyres in our long runs in the winter testing and at Barcelona in particular. Hopefully that will put us in good stead for tomorrow, but it’s going to be an interesting race for sure. Don’t know what these tyres are going to do but they don’t seem too bad.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Romain, how does it feel to lead 1-0 against Kimi after the first qualifying (session)?
RG: Well, you know when you start qualifying you’re fighting against 23 other guys and everybody starts qualifying thinking he will fight for pole position and to achieve that you have to beat everybody.