Lewis, congratulations, what a victory! What were your emotions climbing up onto that top step?
Well, first of all, a big congratulations to the team. They said that they wanted a one-two and we got it. What a great crowd we had at Monza too – it was amazing to see. The whole start / finish straight was completely filled with fans. I didn’t get the chance to say it really out on the podium but the fans were amazing all weekend. Those guys make the race, so thank you so much to them for the support. I’ve gone through difficult times there – from 2007 when I was racing against Fernando and obviously we were racing the Ferraris – but I’ve really felt a real growth in the support that I’ve had there over the years. It’s such a beautiful nation. When you go there the weather’s always good, the track’s incredible and there’s nowhere you go and you see the whole straight – which is one of the longest of the whole season and completely full of fans creating a great atmosphere. In terms of me, I came to Monza to do a job and I did it, so I’m happy with that.
It wasn’t an easy ride though… talk us through the start?
At the start there’s a button that you press which engages the launch sequence and for the formation lap it didn’t work. I thought “no problem, I’ll just put it on for the race” and then when I got to the grid I put it on and again it didn’t work. It was strange – I’ve never really had that happen before. Anyway, I tried to pull away as fast as possible. The RPM was all over the place and fortunately I managed to not lose too many places. We never practice a start like that where you don’t have the launch sequence engaged – we always practice in a launch sequence to optimise it. I had no idea really what I was supposed to do, so I just floored it and hoped for the best.
What was going through your mind at that point?
I think when you’re preparing for the race you generally do everything near enough the same – but you have to be prepared for the unexpected. I’m quite grateful that I didn’t lose it, I didn’t end up crashing at the first corner, I didn’t end up touching anyone, I didn’t end up locking, or anything like that. There’s a button which engages a system that helps you control the RPM. When that doesn’t engage the RPM just goes all over the place, so you’re not able to get a correct launch. I don’t know what the problem was but the guys will investigate it and we’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m just grateful that I was able to not lose too many places and then recover from it.
And from there?
After that I had a good battle with Felipe. Then my engineer said that I should stay back – but from experience I knew that it wasn’t the way forward, so I chose another route. The car felt good and it was the closest I had been at that point. From the previous stint I knew – when I was behind the others and behind Nico – that if I got closer on the older tyres it would be hard to stay with them. I knew that the only chance would be at the start, so I took it. I didn’t ignore the team’s orders – I have a great relationship with my engineer and he’s constantly in touch with me throughout the race and really guiding me. If I’m losing a bit of time here or there, he’s telling me so that I know how to correct it. They want to win just as much as me, so they’re just trying to guide me to what they think is the best race. But, at the end of the day, I was the one out there and I had to really decide OK: I can back off here and keep the tyres but the calculation might be better the other way. I knew that if I applied the pressure, an opportunity would eventually come.
We heard a lot about tyre degradation during the race – did you have any issues?
I didn’t have any problems really. I was in traffic for a while – behind a couple of cars – and the grip didn’t feel good at the time. It was the same when I was behind Nico and losing downforce through the high speed corners – but then as soon as he pitted the car was quick again, so I think the tyre could have gone even further. To be honest, the tyres were really good. It was generally really easy in terms of doing a one-stop. There was really only one risk and that was if you locked up – which is generally why you saw drivers going straight on at the first corner, because they didn’t want to try and make the corner and have to convert to a two-stop which would be much slower. The thought is that if you get a lock, you let off the brake and go straight. That’s what Nico would have done twice and that’s what other people would have done. It’s such a cool track but, to create more racing, more pit stops would have been good with a softer tyre which was a bit more of a challenge because the tyres we had were really easy to generally look after.
Has recovering those seven points come as a relief after the last few races? Do you have renewed confidence in your Championship charge?
Well, I’ve generally felt like I’ve always been in good shape and I came to Monza with a positive attitude. I guess the cool thing about the race was that I had another problem and managed to pull through it. I’m still looking for one of those weekends where we don’t have any troubles but, again, all the experiences I’ve had have prepared me for it. Clearly I had the pace on everyone and I felt that way all weekend. So, I’m going to make sure that’s the case moving forwards.