The clock is ticking down on the 2021 Formula One season, and the always-competitive Red Bull Racing has once again found a competitive edge against the powerhouse Mercedes team. Jalopnik had a chance to sit down with drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix to talk Championships and the highlights of 2021.
(Full Disclosure: We chatted with Red Bull during an ExxonMobil event. We had about 10 minutes in the midst of a press scrum, and I did my best to make the most of it.)
Elizabeth Blackstock: I just want to start off by saying thank you for taking the time to chat. Can you tell me a little bit about how significantly something like Exxon’s motor oil impacts a complex power unit, like the ones that are used in Formula One?
Max Verstappen: Well, at the end of the day, it’s all about performance. So everything needs to work together to get the best out of it. And I think over the years, ExxonMobil has shown that they are really good at what they do. And I’m of course, very happy that they are part of our team. And again, this year, they gave us new fuels and oils and to always find more and more performance is very, very important also in Formula One. And it’s hard to explain a lap time exactly. But yeah, it’s been a really interesting and eyeopening partnership so far with how much is possible still to this day.
EB: Mm-hmm.Where do you think that partnership has really come in handy this year?
MV: Pure performance. Trying to make the engine last longer, but also give it more performance.These things are super important nowadays.
EB: Max, this has been your best shot at a world championship yet in your career. And it’s been frankly, astounding to watch. What’s your mindset like coming into these last few races of the season?
MV: The same as always. I mean, I’m pretty chilled, pretty relaxed, so I’m just looking forward to every single weekend to try and do the best I can. And of course, leading the championship is great, but I know the gap is very small and a lot of things can happen. So we just have to try to do the best we can every single weekend as a team. And then we’ll see where we end up.
EB: Where do you think you’re going to excel this weekend at Circuit of the Americas?
MV: I don’t know. I mean, it’s been a really good track for them as well. So at the moment it’s a bit difficult to see. I think we first have to start practice and find out how competitive we are in the first place.
EB: And what do you think you as a driver, where do you see your competitive strengths when compared to other... Your competition, people like Lewis Hamilton.
MV: I think as a driver, first of all, you always have to believe that you are the better driver. But yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really focus on what his strong points are or... I think from my side, I just tried to be always as consistent as I can be, Try not to have off days and just focus on the driving itself. I mean, it’s difficult to say where you’re good at. You have to be pretty decent at everything. Otherwise, you don’t make it to Formula One in the first place.
EB: You’ve talked a lot this year kind of about how you’re not the kind of person who is going to concede or act polite if it’s not necessary, but also that you’re not kind of going out of your way to be aggressive. How does that kind of translate to your racing philosophy and the way you’ve been handling these stressful kind of battles this year with Hamilton and to maintain your points leads?
MV: Just to be honest, I’ve done... So far, it’s sometimes we’ve had some hard battles. Sometimes, of course it was a bit easier, but because I know, you race hard but fair at the end of the day. I think that’s the most important, I think over the whole season we have done pretty well.
EB: So far, what’s been the best moment of your season, do you think?
MV: People always say, of course winning Monaco, that’s, I think something to tick off. So I’m very happy that I did that, but then also the races we had, for example, in Austria, they were very, very strong. But then winning a race like in France, with only one and a half laps to go, to go for the lead. You were, when you are hunting down the other driver, this can be really enjoyable. Winning at home. In Zandvoort. You know, these are special moments.
EB: Thank you. Sergio, this is your first year with Red Bull. How have you managed this transition to a competitive team?
Sergio Perez: Yeah, it’s been really enjoyable, working with a new team, new people, learning a new way of driving a car in Formula One, different power unit as well from Mercedes to Honda. And it’s been a lot of changes, but it’s been really enjoyable and very challenging, in my area.
EB: What do you think has been the most challenging part of this transition?
SP: Yeah, I think adapting to the new car, to a new way of driving and it’s been so different to what I’ve been used to. That’s been the most challenging and with very limited time on track. And that made it a bit more tricky.
EB: And I imagine there’s probably a fair bit of pressure that comes when you make that big switch. How have you managed your own personal expectations?
SP: Yeah, obviously you expect more. I was expecting a lot more, but it’s what it is. I have to keep working, still six races to go on and my season can look very different from now, from six races on. So I just have to keep delivering and pushing as hard as possible.
EB: What do you think is going to be, what do you think you need to work on the most these last few races?
SP: I think qualifying. Get qualifying right and then we can be there in the race in the mix.
EB: Mm-hmm. And Sergio, I just wanted to kind of touch base with you on the ExxonMobil partnership. It’s so important and crucial to have this performance. How has that been in your experience? How has this partnership kind of impacted your driving?
SP: Yeah, it’s been... Obviously they’re very important partner on us. They have helped us a lot with our lability and extending our lives on gearboxes, on engines. And that’s something fundamental, you know? I mean, it impacts directly on the results.
EB: For both of you, I’m from Texas. So I have to ask, what are your favorite parts of coming to Austin?
SP: The food. The food is really good, the beef, very special. And just in general, I love this part of the world. I’m very familiar, you know, I come a lot to Texas, so I’m very familiar. I really enjoy being in this part of the world.
EB: What about you, Max?
MV: Yes, its been a few years that we’ve been racing here and I always enjoy coming to Austin. It’s a really cool city, good foods, good racetrack, good atmosphere in general. And, yeah, it’s just a bit different to Europe and it’s good to get out of your European comfort zone and you go to America and it’s all a bit different and bigger and... Bigger, better, you have a lot more space in general, but I like it. It’s different and that’s what I think in general, traveling all over the world is very interesting for.
EB: Yeah. And what do you think adding another American race with Miami next year? Like how do you think that will change Formula One?
MV: I think it will just mainly change Formula One maybe here in America a bit more, that people understand a bit more what F1 is about and get more fans run around. So that’s, I think also a very important step for Formula One.
EB: Mm-hmm. Those were the questions I had for you guys today. Thank you so much for taking the time and good luck to both of you this weekend.