Lewis, first of all congratulations – victory in front of your adoring home fans! Your fifth win of the season too – equalling your 2008 World Championship year and matching Sir Jackie Stewart on 27 career Grand Prix wins! How are you feeling?
It’s very mixed at the moment. Just to see the support we have – to see everyone cheering us on throughout the whole race… I mean, we’ve got the greatest fans here. It’s the fans that really spurred me on – thank you so much!
The celebrations after the race were extraordinary! What were your emotions on the slowing down lap?
It’s difficult to really explain the feelings. The team have just done an incredible job. Coming into this weekend with the developments and improvements to our car, then with my engineers who work so close to me – regardless of how well we do. They’re so supportive and having that good team of people around you really makes a difference. I did a few doughnuts, so I hope it didn’t do anything to the gearbox! I know how much the fans love it here and it was really important to try and do at least one, so fingers crossed it should be OK.
Over the radio at the end of the race you said to the crew “I’m sorry about yesterday” – how did you overcome that setback in qualifying?
Yesterday was a really difficult day. Obviously you never think a situation like that will come up the way it did and I went away feeling terrible for the fans. There’s so much support here, I felt that I had let them down – and not only them, but the team and myself. Coming back today, trying to turn that serious emptiness and negativity into a positive was really my priority. The support has been incredible this weekend. Just thinking of the history of this circuit, the great drivers that have won in the past, leading last year and not being able to see it through… I just feel very, very grateful for the opportunity.
Niki suggested that, in some ways, yesterday was a good thing because it gave you a motivation and a hunger that perhaps you would not otherwise have had. Would you agree with that?
I’ve had five wins now and I think my hunger is on a par with any other year that I’ve ever raced in – but yesterday was a real kick in the balls. I really had to pick myself up, pull up my socks and get on it. If I want to win this World Championship, I can’t have situations like yesterday. The last two races I’ve easily had the pace to be on pole and I’ve not put it there. I’ve made it much harder for myself but now I’m going to try to rectify that for the future.
We had a fairly long delay after the first lap incident. When that happens after such a great start, what are you thinking?
Everyone works so hard in preparation for the race, then you get in the car, do the start, gain the momentum and the race stops. I went back to my room and was just relaxing, making sure I was having plenty of fluids and trying not to think of anything else. It isn’t easy but I managed to get back in the right mindset.
As ever, the battle was very close between you and your team-mate. What were your emotions when you saw him pull over?
At the beginning he got quite a good gap and I just tried to look after the tyres. But after that first phase I started really utilising them and was catching him on the harder compound. I couldn’t believe I had that kind of pace! You never want to see a team-mate fall behind, we want to keep getting those one-two finishes, but at the end of the day I really needed this result so I’m very grateful for it.
Do you believe that without his problem you would have been able to pass Nico?
I honestly feel that I had the pace today. I was catching Nico in the first stint and was able to extend my first stint longer than ever before. I was feeling pretty comfortable. Of course, you never want to win like that with a team-mate to falling away. I was looking forward to a wheel-to-wheel battle but I’m sure we’ll get many in the future.
The Championship battle has now closed right up again after race nine of nineteen… does that give you renewed motivation?
I assume I’m four points behind now…. but I think this weekend really just showed that you should never give up. Yesterday wasn’t a case of giving up – I just didn’t think I could do the lap and was really shocked that the last sector was so fast – but coming here today I was focused. I had my family with me, plus the incredible support from the fans – as I said, that just spurred me on and I really couldn't have done it without them.
Nico has discussed momentum and how it comes and goes – do you think this can be a turning point in your season?
I came into this weekend saying it would great to really have that. I thought the fans could be the wind in my sails to really change the direction and gain the momentum. Now I’ve got the win and got the points back that I’ve been chasing all year. It’s been very, very difficult. I was speaking last night about how tough it is psychologically – something similar to tennis players when they’re two sets down. It’s so hard to get your mind in gear – to get yourself back and not lose points from then on. The pressure is high, but I really feel that now I can just focus on the next part of the season.
Does this victory effectively put things back to square one in the Championship for you?
I’ll draw a line under that last nine races and now it’s attack mode – utilising the pace I showed today and utilising the car’s pace. There are still some things we need to improve on. People talk about pit stops but I wasn’t too worried about the time lost there today as I knew the next one would be better. I’ve been working on my position so that I don’t lose so much time and that will help. Qualifying is the main thing, really. Getting myself back to my normal qualifying mode will be a big plus.
Would you consider this victory one of your greatest, and how does it compare to 2008?
It doesn’t compare to 2008 – it’s a different time and a different experience. But it’s still just as special. Obviously, 2008 was a much trickier race in a sense of being a completely wet track with everyone aquaplaning, getting soaking wet… it’s a different kind of experience to that one. I felt I earned it today, though. From the start I made some good manoeuvres and I really felt that I had the pace on Nico – I really was hunting him down like never before. I was really happy with the balance of the car too – even though I didn’t do the long run in P2. It’s my second home Grand Prix win and I’m very privileged to have even just had the one, so I feel very humble to be up here today.