Lewis, a frustrating qualifying session for you. Can you explain what happened?
I just struggled with the car. I was fighting the whole time but I just had no grip. I couldn’t go any faster because the tyres were cold. I just couldn’t get the tyres to work for some reason. I tried everything but it was like the tyres were cold. We’ve been struggling with the tyre temperatures in Sochi. This is a little bit like that. The car was great in FP1 and then it got different. Obviously Valtteri didn’t have these particular struggles today. I’m definitely a bit confused but we’ll put together and hopefully Valtteri will get some good points tomorrow. This weekend has been a very weird scenario with our car. We’ve been in an unexpected unknown area. But I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Onwards and upwards.
What would have been possible without the yellow flag?
I think I would have struggled. I was giving everything I could on that last lap but then Vandoorne crashed. I couldn’t believe that this happened. That lap may have just got me into the top 10 and then I probably would have struggled to get into the top 5 with the pace that I had. But it was great to see that Valtteri was able to extract this performance out of the car. Now we just have to figure out why I wasn’t able to do the same.
What can you do over night before the race?
There is nothing you can do to the car. I’m right in the middle of the pack. It will be a real struggle just to get into the points tomorrow but that has to be the aim for me. I’ll do everything I can to get higher up but it will be very tough for sure.
Do you worry about the start?
To be honest it is difficult to get into the top 10 anyway so it is not really a concern. I think tomorrow I will have to take some big risks. I have nothing to lose from where I am. I’ll give everything I can to get into the points but if I’m not in the top 10 at some stage it might be sensible to save the engine. Monaco is terrible if you are as far back as I am. I’ll try to stay out of trouble and try to get some points that would be good damage limitation.
Lewis had such a difficult time in Qualifying. How was it for you?
It was tricky. We were definitely struggling to get the car nice to drive this weekend. It was better in qualifying but not quite as good as the Ferrari. In the end it was extremely close. It is a shame that we missed the pole by a few hundreds of a second. I think there was no more in it. I’m happy with my lap. It was my best lap here in Monaco ever. We did expect Ferrari to be very quick today. We had seen that we were struggling more than them especially with the setup of the car. It was a bit of an issue getting it driveable. I was getting more comfortable with the car during the qualifying. It was not an easy car to drive but I felt more and more confident during the qualifying. This way I could extract more and more out of the car and the last lap was mega. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately it was not quite enough to beat Ferrari.
Did you expect that Ferrari would be faster than you on this track?
Coming into the weekend it was quite difficult to know. During the practice sessions we saw that the Ferrari was very quick. Their car seems to be very driveable and stable and more in the window regarding setup and tyres. Going into qualifying we thought we would be at least two tenths behind them but I’m glad the gap was so small. It’s a shame it was just four hundreds of a second. It is nice to just be a few hundreds of a second away from Ferrari but it also is a bit annoying. Ferrari was stronger all weekend. Now we have to do something better if we want to win.
Are you looking forward to the race tomorrow?
I expect a long race as always here. In Monaco a lot can happen during the race even though it’s difficult to overtake here. But it is a race full of opportunities every single time so many things can happen. I’m going into tomorrow thinking it is possible to win.
Do you think your race pace is better than your qualifying pace?
I think it is similar. It should be close to Ferrari. But again overtaking is nearly impossible at this track so we need to do something different with the strategy or try something at the start. These are our options. In Monaco it’s also always a bit of a gamble with the safety car. If we get everything right we might get some opportunities. We’re going into the race thinking we can win this race. But Ferrari has both of their cars on the front row so for the moment they have the upper hand.
What information can you share with Lewis to help him a bit for the race?
We always share everything. We try to help both drivers. Lewis got unlucky with the traffic but we will try to do everything we can.
Is it the plan for you to get in front of the two Ferraris to help Lewis in the World Championship?
I’m not thinking about helping Lewis in the World Championship. I’m trying to win the race for myself and the team.
After a fantastic scrap in Q3, the top three were covered by just 0.045s, as Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first pole since 2008.
“This weekend has been a bit tricky for us,” said Valteri. “We started well in FP1 before getting a bit lost with the set-up in FP2. Then it was difficult to get a lap together in Qualifying as well. It takes two to three laps to build the temperature up and find the right balance and feel for the car.
“It was very close today but Ferrari seems to have the upper hand here – they were very strong this afternoon. Of course it would be nice to start on the front row but anything is possible from P3 on the grid.
“It’s difficult to overtake here but it’s definitely a race of opportunity. Tomorrow is Monaco, where anything can happen.”
Team-mate Lewis struggled for grip throughout Qualifying and was forced to watch the top 10 shootout from the side-lines after being unable to complete a lap that would have put him into Q3 owing to yellow flags as Stoffel Vandoorne crashed out at the Swimming Pool.
“I really struggled with the car today and I just don’t think the opportunity was quite there for me,” said Lewis. “It was a little bit unfortunate with the yellow flag, but it doesn’t really matter now if I could have gone faster. I think that lap may have just got me into the top 10 but I would have struggled to make it into the top five with the pace that I had.
“Valtteri didn’t have any struggles today so I’m a bit confused and I can’t pinpoint the problem at the moment. I’m feeling pretty deflated right now but I’ll try again tomorrow. It’s great that Valtteri extracted a good lap. We just need to identify why I wasn’t able to be up there too. Onwards and upwards.”
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff is expecting a long afternoon on Sunday, but insists that the Silver Arrows are not out of the fight just yet.
“Two very different qualifying results today for Lewis and Valtteri,” said Toto. “With Lewis, you could see even from the TV pictures that he was struggling with the car and nearly lost it a couple of times in qualifying.
“We don’t know at the moment what went wrong: we took a false turn with the set-up on Thursday and, since then, although we tried to retrace our steps, we never got it back on track for him. Of course he was unfortunate with the yellow flag for Vandoorne in Q2, as he was on course to make it through the session, but the car never felt good for him after FP1 and that made it tough to put together the laps.
“Tomorrow’s race will clearly be a case of damage limitation for him and trying to maximise his points score; but he will fight to the last lap.
“For Valtteri, it was quite a different outcome. The result he achieved didn’t look possible for much of the session but he really pulled out a fantastic lap on the final run in Q3 – and came just a few thousandths shy of a place on the front row. Ferrari are clearly in the driving seat for tomorrow but we will be in the hunt, too.”
It was admittedly a rough day for the Silver Arrows, but Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Technical Director James Allison still believes that the team is in with a shout of a good result come race day.
“That was an excellent lap from Valtteri who wrung every last drop of performance out of the car this afternoon and gave us a fighting chance in the race with a P3 grid position,” said James.
“Clearly we have a significant job of work on our hands to understand why the car was so difficult to drive for Lewis – and to figure out what we can do with the limited adjustments we can make, and the slightly greater freedom in race strategy, to recover as good a result as possible tomorrow.”
The Silver Arrows will be back on track on Sunday, as the lights go out for the most famous race of them all, the Monaco Grand Prix!
Lewis topped a busy opening session on Thursday, racking up 40 laps and clocking a 1:13.425s to go fastest of all, 0.196s clear of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari in P2.
But Lewis could not replicate his pace from the morning into the second session, ending the day in eighth, over a second adrift of Vettel’s pacesetting Ferrari.
“We didn’t have the greatest day today,” said Lewis. “Practice one was actually really good and we were quickest, but then in second practice we just struggled to extract the grip from the tyres and we were sliding around a lot.
“I’m not sure why the tyres weren’t working but the difference between the two sessions was night and day. We’ve got some work to do ahead of Saturday that’s for sure but I’m confident the team can work it out.
“Monaco is always amazing to drive, but this is definitely the best car I’ve driven around here. Ferrari are very quick again and Red Bull are also looking good this weekend. We’re looking forward to a real fight on Saturday.”
Valtteri traded fastest times with Lewis in the morning, ending the session in P3, just behind Vettel. But like Lewis, the Finn had a tougher afternoon, managing just 10th on the leaderboard.
“Practice two was difficult and we struggled with the pace over one lap,” said the Finn. “We made some changes between practice one and practice two but we clearly went in the wrong direction – that’s why both of us were struggling.
“When the car isn’t quite right you lose a lot of time in Monaco. We tried to go back with the set-up and it felt better but by that point we’d already put a lot of laps into the tyres. At least we’ve learned what not to do with the set-up here.
“It’s a shame but we have a full day tomorrow to analyse everything and come back stronger on Saturday. It will be close again at the top I’m sure.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Technical Director James Allison expects the team to bounce back on Saturday in time for qualifying.
“After a very positive morning session with both cars and drivers, the afternoon proved more difficult and we clearly took a step in the wrong direction with the car set-up over the break,” said James.
“We will have a good think about it tomorrow in order to put things right for Saturday. But I think we can be encouraged by the pace and consistency that we were able to demonstrate in FP1.”
The Silver Arrows will be back on track on Saturday… We’ll be making the most of Friday, hitting up the best spots that from Valtteri and Lewis’ driver tour guide! They are Monaco locals after all.