Drivers: 1 - Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2 - Jenson Button (McLaren), 3 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren).
Q: Sebastian, your 15th consecutive front-row start of 2011 and continuing your 100 per cent pole record here. What a lap!
Sebastian Vettel: Yeah, what a qualifying!
To be honest, yesterday I went off in the free practice and damaged the wing, so it wasn’t ideal in the afternoon to prepare the car for today. I think we suffered a little bit from that this morning. In particular, where we were kind of coming back regarding the car balance but we were too slow. We sat down after the practice session this morning and fortunately got everything together and we were able to get everything, every single bit out of the car, which was crucial. There isn’t much between Jenson and myself. It was a tough qualifying but I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a long lap. You start off with this mega first sector. We come here, not for the first time, but still, every time is a challenge, especially in qualifying to really get it as good as you can. I had a bit of a wobble in sector one but then I made up for it in the second sector and we have been strong in the third sector, so, all in all, fantastic. Special thanks to the team, who just in time brought the front wing. Many regards also to the factory. I think without them I would not be sitting on pole position today, so I am very happy and very proud. We were able to extract everything we had today, which was just enough, so very happy.
Q: Jenson, second today and your first front-row start since Monaco. Championship contenders in P1 and P2. Well done.
Jenson Button: Thank you. It has been a pretty good weekend. As always, we all love driving around here. Suzuka is a phenomenal circuit. When you have got a car working around here it is a great feeling. Basically, I was just building up until Q3 and thought the last lap would have been enough but it was nine thousandths not good enough. There you go. I felt like I got everything out of the car. I got a little bit of oversteer on that last run but I think it was just because I was pushing that little bit more. Fair play to the whole team. To really fight the Red Bulls around here, on a circuit they have dominated at for the past couple of years is, I think, a great job by everyone. It is not P1, it is not perfect, but second is still pretty good and I think we can race well from there.
Q: Lewis, P3 today and it looked so good for pole all the way through that session but you just missed the cut on the chequered flag. How disappointed are you to have missed that cut? Do you think pole was in there for you?
Lewis Hamilton: I have to second what Jenson just said. The team have done a fantastic job to get us here and to be able to compete with the Red Bulls on this kind of circuit is pretty impressive. The car was feeling great. I felt I had a couple of tenths at least left. I had time. There were a couple of corners where I lost a bit of time on my first runs. I felt I was in a position to at least fight with these guys but it was a bit dangerous at the last corner where I had Mark (Webber) attacking me and I had Michael (Schumacher) down the outside. It was very, very strange and that’s really where we lost the lap.
Q: Sebastian, only Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost have more poles than you in a season now. Just one point left in it for you this season, how much are you looking forward to the race tomorrow?
SV: Well, regarding the point or no point, I am not really focusing on that. I had a lesson yesterday where I didn’t do a big mistake but for maybe just a little moment I wasn’t a 100 per cent focused and lost the car. It is a long race. It is a very challenging track around here, so I am looking forward to the race. We really love to come here. It is a special atmosphere. The Japanese fans are so passionate and so crazy and when we leave the hotel in the morning it is full of people and they are all screaming. It is generally a nice feeling to be part of that. As Jenson said, it is a long race. There are a lot of things that can happen. DRS this year can open chances to the whole grid so we will see where we are. But I am definitely looking forward to it. I think we had a good race car yesterday in the preparation so far, so it should be alright, but I am looking forward to the race and not for the point.
Q: Sebastian, fantastic. How much satisfaction do you get from that after the weekend you have had so far?
SV: A lot. It was a great qualifying for us, no doubt, especially as these guys looked so quick right from yesterday morning onwards. We were struggling a bit yesterday to set-up the car. I did a mistake in P1, which did not help. Lost the front wing, but the team did everything to bring it back and just in time it arrived and we got it for qualifying. It is the best way to say thank you in a way. Everyone did a very good job and without the team I would not be able to extract that today. Once you are in the car, you have got a new set of tyres on, you think you have got everything set up and you find yourself in Q3 - then you know it is between you, the car and the track. To be honest I enjoyed it a lot. I knew that after the first run of Q3 it was possible. The time Lewis set straight away was very strong and I knew that I should be able to be around 30.5, to do a lap around 30.5, if everything goes well. The start of the lap wasn’t that fantastic as in the first sector I lost a little bit, tried a bit too much. But then I was quite confident in sector two that I could make up for it. But first you have to do it. Then when I crossed the line it was very close. I saw on the screens around the track Lewis crossing the line and Mark crossing the line. Then you know, and then I got the radio call that we had just done it by nine thousandths-of-a-second, so I am very happy. It has been a great pleasure this afternoon, so I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Q: You give the impression that the team sent the front wing back to the UK?
SV: No, the nose that I had on the car yesterday morning you couldn’t really use it anymore. It was crashed. I shunted the car at the exit of turn eight and went straight into the barrier, so it wasn’t really helpful from my side. We got a new front wing out just in time. It wasn’t easy, but fortunately we did.
Q: You also talked about how, on these tyres, the car seems much more alive around this circuit. Does that make them more skittish, more difficult to control?
SV: I would say there is a fair difference to last year. I think everyone can feel that. We are faster overall, if you look only at the lap time, but we are making a lot of time up on the straights with the DRS system around here, which is quite powerful in qualifying. In cornering I think we are a little less strong than last year. One, because of the car and second, probably because of the tyres. But it should be an interesting race tomorrow as it is not that straightforward. Last year it was a one-stop race and once everyone has done their stop we race to the chequered flag, but this year it could be quite entertaining. I don’t think it is yet 100 per cent sure what the right strategy will be exactly. I think we will definitely see more than one stop that’s for sure.
Q: Jenson, very encouraging to see the team as competitive as they are, given that nine thousandths, but a little disappointed not to be on pole?
JB: Yeah, I think you have always got to be a little disappointed when it is that close. The weekend as a whole has been good. I think we turned up here with a good package and think we have honed it pretty well. I am happy that I have got a car underneath me that feels good. As Sebastian says, it does feel quite alive around here especially in Q3 when you are pushing it to the limit. I felt like it was a good lap. Possibly a little bit too much oversteer but I think I got everything out of the car, so to be nine thousandths off is disappointing but also a front-row start is not such a bad thing. I think we can have a good race tomorrow. There is a pretty long drag down to turn one so hopefully our KERS and starts will be working well.
Q: So you are very encouraged for tomorrow but what about the tyre situation? We saw a lot of tyre conservation?
JB: I really don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yesterday, people were running lots of different fuel loads when they were running longer runs. I hope they were anyway, and tyres don’t seem to last that long but hopefully it will be a different story tomorrow.
Q: Lewis, how disappointing was it to miss that last lap, as the team has been looking really good the whole weekend?
LH: Yeah, well it is what it is. We are third but we are still on the second row at least, so it is good enough.
Q: How about the long runs yesterday? How encouraged were you with that?
LH: Not massively. Same as always, but the car is competitive this weekend, clearly, which is great. But it is a shame we weren’t able to get our first pole position but that was an interesting situation at the end of my run.
Q: What about the degradation? Have you managed to lessen that?
LH: Yeah, the degradation here… it is a very fast circuit and the first sector, particularly, is quite tough on the tyres. But I think everyone is in the same boat and making the tyres last is going to be interesting. I think there is going to be a similar kind of strategy to what we have seen in the past.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frederic Ferret - L’Equipe) Lewis and Jenson, is there an explanation, something that you have been missing, which hasn’t allowed you to compete with Sebastian and Red Bull for the championship this year?
JB: Is there an explanation? He’s done a better job and Red Bull have done a better job than we have, basically. That’s it.
LH: We’ve not had the car - for the whole season - that we have now. We would have been able to compete a bit more if we had.
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) Qualifying has become a declining spectacle this season, I think we all admit that. I would like to know your opinions on having extra tyres allocated just for qualifying from 2012 onwards, so that we actually get all ten people running for a change. It’s been a declining spectacle.
JB: Has it?
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) We had three people sitting out last weekend, four people sitting it out this weekend, the number of people running has reduced all year.
JB: It’s different from where we are sitting, I think. When you’re fighting for pole, and it’s that close I think it’s a massive spectacle, having two different makes of car and engine, and two different drivers fighting it out and being that close in qualifying is phenomenal. To have that is great, I think it’s exciting.
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) But the tyres? How do you feel about increasing the allocation and having qualifying-only tyres for next year?
JB: Well, I think that’s the case, isn’t it?
SV: I think the bottom line is that even if we had more tyres… where do you get the points? You get them in the race, so even if you had more tyres, then the situation arises where tyre degradation is high, you will still - no matter how many sets…
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) If they were just for qualifying, or just for Q3…
SV: Yeah, obviously… I think the cars that didn’t go out twice or didn’t go out at all - I didn’t see it - obviously they used up their tyres beforehand, to make it to Q2 and then to Q3. For us it’s a bit different because we are in a lucky situation whereby the car is good enough, especially in first qualifying, on hard tyres, to usually get through. I don’t think we need a different type of tyre, I think we have enough stops in the race.
Q: (Dan Knutsen - National Speed Sport News) Lewis, you talked briefly about what happened up there with Mark and Michael; could you elaborate a bit on what happened?
LH: I prefer not to really. I think you could see it on the TV. I would have to watch the replay, but Jenson was in front of me. He slowed down to get his gap and I was coming up to the last corner, trying to make sure that I had a gap between me and him. It wasn’t that big and just as I was coming into the chicane I looked in my mirror and I saw Mark diving up the inside of me, and then I saw… I didn’t even see Michael but as I gave Mark room, Michael nearly crashed me on the left, so it was… quite dangerous.
Q: (Chihiro Hoshiba - Grand Prix Special Japan ) Sebastian, you have your official website in English and German. At this Grand Prix, you have a very special translation in Japanese of the English version. When did you decide to make this special edition for Japanese fans at the Japanese Grand Prix, and would you give me the beginning part of what you’re going to write in your diary today for Japanese fans?
SV: Well, it’s pretty easy to answer. You could look at their overalls, at my helmet and a couple of other things. Obviously there isn’t much we can do, but if there is a little bit, then things like that, we are all ready to try to give something back, try to help. I think it’s exceptional, the fans around here, the passion they have. I saw just before practice this morning three guys in the grandstand with cameras like we have on the rollhoops of our cars on their heads. The special thing about Japan and the Japanese fans is that it’s always different. I think most of us like that a lot and to see a disaster happening like at the beginning of the year is dreadful, and as I said, we try to give a little bit back and if we can put on a good show… today it was very close between Jenson and myself. For us, at least - maybe not for everyone - a good qualifying session and it’s some entertainment that we can give back and maybe put a smile on the people’s faces. That’s pretty simple to answer.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Jenson, we are used to seeing Seb sitting in the middle here at the pole position press conference, but you seem shocked. Was it a day that you thought you had your first pole of the year?
JB: You never go into qualifying thinking that it’s a done deal, and also, you never really know what’s happening in practice. I feel that I did a good job in practice, but you don’t know what fuel loads people are running or engine modes or what have you. You never get too carried away, but yeah, I was confident going into qualifying, that we could fight for pole at least and we did, but we just didn’t get it.
Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special) Lewis, can you talk us through how you missed out at the end there, because that was very close?
LH: I just explained to… you can see it, I don’t see the reason to explain it again.
JB: He arrived late.
Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado de Sao Paulo) Jenson and Lewis, do you think it will be hard to try to overtake Sebastian because he has very high speed here, he’s able to take the 130R using the DRS, but he has very high top speed, different to other circuits?
JB: I didn’t really notice that there was a big difference, but yes, it doesn’t help us, but then we have the DRS so that’s a big advantage and obviously us with DRS is more powerful than their top speed, even though they have a higher top speed without DRS. If we’re close enough and we’re quick enough, we will be able to overtake, I think, but it’s whether we are or not. I think we’re all excited about the race, I think it’s going to be a tough race for all of us with the tyres but we will do our best and I don’t think the top speed will be the biggest issue.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Seb, this is the last night before your second championship - it looks like. How are you gonna…
SV: I don’t see it like this. I’m happy if I wake up - like every morning - and then we have a very nice race tomorrow, which I’m looking forward to. We start from pole position so to achieve whatever you think we will or will not achieve tomorrow, we need to do our best and make sure we get that. It’s not to focus on that which you mentioned, it’s trying to focus on having a good race, trying to do (everything) as usual, in a way and be as excited, as aggressive, as alert as we usually have to be to finish the best or the highest up as we can in the race. So I’m looking forward to that.
Q: (Joris Fioriti - Agence France Presse) Jenson, you were first in the free practice sessions, you were really, really close to getting pole position. From what you know of the practice sessions, do you think you’re going to be faster than Sebastian tomorrow?
JB: If you look at our one lap pace in practice it was very good but if you look at our long runs, I think we were about 1.5s slower than these guys. Either they were running a different fuel load than us - yeah, I wish we had 200 kilos in the car - or we are seriously in trouble. Hopefully they were running less fuel than us, but as I said, however much fuel you ran yesterday, the consistency is very difficult with these tyres, especially with the softer of the two and it’s going to be a hard race tomorrow. I really haven’t got a clue at this point in time on how many pit stops it’s going to be: definitely more than one and probably definitely more than two so you are working towards three and four pit stops I think. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that goes. Hopefully our pit crew is strong at the moment. I think they are, they’ve looked good in the last couple of races and hopefully we’re better on the tyres tomorrow than we were yesterday.
Q: (Ted Kravitz - BBC Sport) Sebastian, your team boss didn’t expect you to be on pole today. Can you tell us why that was, whether you tailored the car specifically to look after the tyres in the race and how you turned it around?
SV: I think it’s pretty simple: we were not quick enough, we were not quick enough on one lap yesterday, in particular myself. I wasn’t quick enough this morning on one lap on lower fuel so yeah, we definitely weren’t taking it for granted to fight for pole and we weren’t sure whether we stood a chance because McLaren, in particular, looked very competitive. The focus was to make sure that we got everything out of ourselves, whether that’s pole position or not didn’t really matter that much. It was key to get everything out of the car, out of myself this afternoon which I think we did and we just got pole, so obviously it’s a nice reward - as I said, a lot of hard work put into it. As I said, the wing arrived just in time etc so everyone was giving 100 per cent and it’s a nice way to say thank you, but it’s not even half of the job, the race is coming tomorrow but for sure it gives us a big boost because we know… yesterday afternoon we have been pretty competitive on high fuel so we’re looking forward to the race, but as Jenson says, it’s going to be tricky. There will probably be three or four stops. It’s a long race, a lot of things can happen, your pace might be good at the beginning or it could be bad at the beginning and then turn around so we will see. We have to go with the tyres and see what we can do, but we are very happy for today.