Valtteri Bottas stepped in as a late replacement for his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton who was excused from media duties.
Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen and Robert Kubica were the drivers in attendance – here’s what they had to say ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix.
This week motorsport lost one of its greats when three-time Formula 1 World Champion Niki Lauda passed away. Valtteri, you worked with Niki at Mercedes over the last few years, what did he mean to you?
Valtteri BOTTAS: Obviously really, really shocking news to start the week. For sure, he meant a lot to me but for every single team member of ours, in the race team and at the factory, and he was a big part of the Mercedes family. He was a massive motivation for everyone, for myself ass well, for sure, as a driver because of everything he achieved and with the difficult career he had, and all the comebacks and everything. But also as a person, it’s been great, and never forget many, many good moments, and for sure it’s not nice in terms of mindset for the weekend but I’m sure as a team we can turn it into a strength and respect Niki by going flat out on track and bringing a good result.
Q: Thank you. Robert, if I could ask you for your memories of Niki Lauda? You’ve been around Formula 1 for a long time.
Robert KUBICA: As Valtteri said it’s shocking news. He wrote a big chunk of the story of this sport, not only as a driver but as a person. I never had the opportunity to work with him but definitely he was a big racer and all of us will miss him. At least my personal hopes were to meet him back in the paddock but unfortunately this will not happen. That’s unfortunately part of life.
Q: Thanks. Max, we saw a message from you yesterday on social media. Any thoughts to share about Niki?
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, of course. Niki was a legend of the sport. He achieved a lot in his career, but also after his career he was also a very generous and funny guy as well. Of course, I’ve never really worked with him, but with the chats we had, he’s been a great guy and for sure it’s a big loss to Formula 1, so all thoughts go out to his family right now.
Q: Thank you. Daniel, Niki was in and out of the Red Bull motorhome a lot when you were there. Any memories of Niki that you have?
Daniel RICCIARDO: Only good ones, for sure. Any interaction I had with him, any brief chats, or just pleasantries, just a kind man. Most of the world that follows motorsport knows him as the racer, for sure, and everything he went through, which was astonishing to say the least. But my personal moments with him were always kind. For a few years we were competitors but, yeah, never a bad thing to say. As the guys just touched on, thinking of his family. The legacy he leaves is pretty amazing and for sure we remember these good things.
Q: Thank you. Charles, two of Niki’s championships came with Ferrari, what does he mean to you?
Charles LECLERC: Well, I didn’t have too many chances to speak to Niki, but the very few times I have been speaking with him he has been extremely nice to me and was always very disponible… is that the right word?
CL: Available, yes, sorry. And also very humble for what he achieved. He’s a great example for the sport in general and he will be missed a lot.
Q: Thank you. If we look ahead to this weekend now, Charles we’ll stay with you. This is your second time racing at home in Formula 1, but the first time racing here with Ferrari, so it must be a very special weekend for you?
CL: Yeah, a home grand prix is always a special weekend and even more this weekend, obviously, coming here in full red with Ferrari and also with the chance to have a very good result, so we will push. Obviously we’ve had a difficult start to the season. The low-speed corners weren’t great in Barcelona, but normally Monaco is pretty different. We will try to turn things round. It’s not going to be easy but we will give it everything.
Q: Valtteri, you’ve never actually been on the podium, but with the start to the season Mercedes have enjoyed there must be a big opportunity to change that this weekend?
VB: Yeah, I’ve not had great races here, but targeting to change that. It’s been a very promising beginning of the year for us as a team. But we also have to remember that Monaco is a unique circuit and it needs different kinds of things from the car to be quick and in the past few years we have been struggling a little bit and we have not had the quickest car here, even though we have been quick on other tracks. So, for that we are a little bit cautious but also very motivated to change that and to be performing here as well. For me, for sure it’s maybe a tiny bit similar feeling to Charles, you know, living here, it’s really unique, and it would be an amazing weekend to do well.
Q: Max, Red Bull traditionally have gone well in Monaco. Are you able to threaten both Mercedes and Ferrari this weekend, do you think?
MV: I think we get into this weekend seeing Mercedes clearly as the favourite. I don’t think we are as good as we were last year. But we will find out. I’m confident that we can fight for a podium, but we have to find out what step of the podium.
Q: Daniel, Max mentioned last year. You won that race and you obviously have great memories of that but what is realistic for you to target this season?
DR: I don’t know yet. I’m certainly still coming as excited as I always do. When I say coming here, I also live here, but it’s still different coming here for the race or being here for the race. The circuit transforms and there’s a different feeling in the air. I don’t know, the whole atmosphere is pretty unreal. So yeah, I’ll see where we’re at tomorrow… Yeah, tomorrow’s practice. It’s Thursday here; that’s a bit different as well. But yeah, obviously quietly confident and excited and optimistic that we can do something good.
Q: Thank you. Robert, Williams has had quite a tricky car so far this season, but is Monaco still a race you look forward to as a driver?
Robert KUBICA: Oh yeah. Monaco has always been very special and approaching… coming back here after a long break the feeling in the past was that the track was pretty narrow but with current F1 cars it will be even more narrow than it was in the past, because the cars are much bigger, much wider. So looking forward, it’s always a special feeling going through those streets and driving an F1 car. But definitely our car is struggling and normally here whenever you struggle, you struggle even more. But there’s always something; this track is different; it’s unique, so hopefully it will suit better our car.
Q: Thank you. Just a final topic before we open this to the floor. This weekend is the third FIA Volunteers Weekend, celebrating those who give up their time to support motorsport events. Just wondered if I could get a message from each of you about the importance of volunteers in motorsport. Robert if we can start with you?
RK: Yeah, definitely. I think most us don’t realize how many people are involved to organize this show, in every single aspect, not only on track but off track to help. Definitely we need those people and I would like to thank them. They are normally very passionate people and we need those people more than anyone else.
MV: Yeah, it’s great to see that there are so many people out there who are so passionate about the sport and actually willing to risk their lives as well for us. I think it’s great and I just hope that we all have a great and safe weekend.
Q: And Charles?
CL: Yeah, as Max said, it’s great to see so many people that are passionate about the sport and what they are doing for the sport. I came to see them, especially the marshals training for this grand prix, which was very impressive. They are putting a lot of time into it and they are doing these things extremely seriously, so it was a great experience to see them preparing the grand prix and hopefully we’ll have a safe and good weekend.
Q: Thank you. And Valtteri?
VB: Yeah, for sure, without them the event would not be possible. I’m lucky to know a couple of them and they have explained to me what it includes and how much actually they work for it and all the training and everything and they are so passionate about racing, so from my side, hat’s off to them.
Q: Thank you. And finally, Daniel?
DR: This is a race where I feel they always stand out – how quick they are able to collect a car or move on, so that our session can be as little or less disrupted as possible, if that’s the right English, I don’t know. They’re pretty awesome. They do have pretty good here seats as well, probably the best seats in the house! But all jokes aside, it’s good that they get the recognition as well, because it’s easily dismissed at times, so hat’s off the them and we appreciate it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) Charles, the drivers that live here say when it’s not the race week, they can walk around, nobody stops them. Now you’re a famous Ferrari driver, I see your photo and poster all over time. How is it now, going around town, not on the race weekend?
CL: To be honest, I think there are drivers more famous than me living in Monaco. For sure, I’m Monegasque, so it’s a little bit different. Also, in Monaco, they are quite used to it, so all year around, they don’t stop you that much in the city. When it comes to grand prix time, it’s a bit harder to go around Monaco because there’s a lot of strangers coming here for the grand prix and obviously they want to have pictures, etc., During the year it’s quite OK. But yeah, it’s great to have a weekend at home. It’s a city that I’ve been growing up in and yeah, it’s a huge honour for me to be driving in these streets. It’s actually pretty weird because these are the same streets – I’ve said this story quite a lot of times – but it’s the same streets I’ve taken on the bus going to school when I was five or six years old. To take them in a Formula One car feels special.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Charles, after five races, Bahrain stands out as the obvious highlight for Ferrari in terms of performance. Now that you’ve had a couple of tests to dig into what’s holding you back at other races, does Bahrain feels like a one-off, or do you have a better understanding of what’s stopping you from hitting those peaks at other tracks as well?
CL: I think during testing we understood a few things. Not enough, obviously, to be at the level of these guys, or Mercedes – but we understand a few things. I think we gained a little bit of time. Not enough: we need to keep working, we need to try and understand what was the main issue but the engineers are working on that.
Q: (George Boulton – The Sun) Question for Valtteri. We’ve heard how much of a great character Niki was. Could you reveal your funniest story of having worked with him so closely?
VB: He was always funny. Full of a good sense of humour and so direct. He always said whatever he thinks, how things are. He didn’t take different routes, he always said things directly. So that made for some funny situations sometimes in meetings and stuff – but I will say the best thing that will stand in my mind is that he was always there when I had a good result, to congratulation, and you could always see he was truly happy. But the main thing was, when I had some bad races, and difficult times, he was still always available to speak about anything, and really supportive – because he has the experience himself, as a racer, in life and racing that there will be setbacks and you can really improve from those. In that sense, that’s been massive motivation for me and will stay in my mind.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – globoesporte.com) To Max. You’ve taken part in four editions of this grand prix and your best result is fifth in 2017. Now, with many people saying you are in the best moment as a driver, does it disturb you, to think to enjoy your moment, to change your history in this grand prix?
MV: I’ve done four, hopefully I’ll do another 20, so I have a lot of chances to do a good result.
Q: (Andrew Frankel – Forza) Max, some of us are old enough to have been to Zandvoort many, many years ago and obviously we’re terribly excited we’re going back to Zandvoort. Will the new track be very different from the existing one?
MV: I think in general the layout will be pretty similar but some corners might be a bit banked, a bit shorter, a bit more space. The track itself won’t be changed a lot. It’s good to see that the track is coming back on the calendar after so many years. It’s very close to the beach, so you can also chill at the beach after the races if you would like – but as a driver it’s a really cool track to drive. I just hope we can also have a really good fight instead of just following each other throughout the race – but we’ll find out.
Q: (inaudible) Question to Robert. You’re coming here in a difficult situation but you’ve been here many times before – you won the Monaco Kart Cup twice, you’ve been on the podium in Formula One twice, you’ve been leading the Monte Carlo Rally. You won some super stages – so what are your best memories from Monte Carlo?
RK: As you say, Monaco has been always pretty good for me from a very young ago, so yeah. Actually probably the first time I have been racing here was 1998, in karting, and probably this was one of the great days. But definitely finishing on the podium in an F1 car in the F1 race also stands up. I would say those two – but at the same time, also Rally is something special – but we shouldn’t be speaking about rally here, I think. There are more F1 fans and more F1 journalists than rally.
Q: (Lennart Boemhof – Volksrant) Question to all drivers. Last year Daniel set a lap record here. With the cars getting faster each year, is it getting harder to race here in Monaco? Is the circuit getting harder?
DR: Last year was pretty easy!
But is it getting harder?
DR: For some! Ah, it’s all good. We also grow with the cars. I think any car, if you’re pushing any car on the limit, it feels fast, whether it’s a 1m10 or a 1m20s. So, I look back at the onboard lap of last year and I see places where I think ‘ah, could be quicker here’ – so it’s never fast enough.
VB: Yeah, every year with the cars getting faster, it gets even more intense – but like Daniel said, we get used to the cars, and the speed and, in the end, we would prefer to go still a lot quicker – but for sure it’s quick, and it’s going to be fun.
CL: I’ve only driven once here in Formula One, so from Formula 2 it was a huge step up and it really felt extremely quick. To be honest, in no other places do I have a similar feeling that I have here in qualifying. I think to be so close to the walls and also, it’s a bit like a karting track, you have no rest, and this just feels amazing. Then in the race, of course it’s quite difficult to overtake. Overall, the quali lap is just the best moment of the weekend for me, as a driver.
Max, has it got more difficult as the cars have got quicker?
MV: I would say easier – because you have more grip, compared to 2015-16 where the car was just sliding around a lot more. The only thing is, if you want to overtake with these wide cars, it’s almost impossible – because if the guy just stays in the middle, you can’t really do a lot – but I guess that’s why you have to make sure you do well in quali.
Robert, are you expecting a very different challenge this weekend?
RK: I’m expecting a unique experience. Definitely it will not be easy but it is never easy when you are trying to bring whatever car you drive to the limit. As everybody mentioned, the more grip you have, the faster you go – but also it makes things more simple in some ways. But still, it’s always a very challenge track.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Valtteri, you’re obviously replacing Lewis today for this press conference. How is he, have you had a chance to have a chat with him today?
VB: Yeah, I saw him today. Everything was normal. I just got a request from our marketing team to be in the press conference. So that’s all I know really. He seemed OK.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Daniel, when you were here last year, obviously it was a pretty strong performance from you all weekend. You made your mark and I guess this is a slightly different situation coming here twelve months later. Renault’s been very honest about the performance so far. When you joined the team, you were very realistic and said that you weren’t expecting to fight for wins this year but five races in, how would you assess… or your feelings with the move so far and what are the changes in the background to try and improve the team’s fortunes?
DR: Yeah, it’s been a… there’s still certainly a process. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by anything. Obviously we would have hoped for better results than what we’ve currently got and we all want that and we’re all honest enough to admit that but as you’ve said, I didn’t really… it would have been nice to get a few more seventh places as opposed to struggling for the top tens. Yeah, we didn’t expect to be in podium contention or anything, certainly not at this stage, but I still see what I saw when I signed as far as the input that everyone’s having and the infrastructure is still going up. Motivation certainly hasn’t dipped, by any means. It’s going to take a bit more time but I’m certainly trying as well and doing everything I can. I feel that also, everything that I’ve put in has really been taken on board and the team is certainly willing to grow and learn. I’m not saying it’s all me but at least my input has been quite positive, I think. I’m enjoying it, I really am. Obviously I would love to get better results but as an environment I am enjoying it so hopefully a special weekend here and that will kick things off nicely.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – Associated Press) A couple of years ago, when Alonso made his Indy debut, F1 was extremely impressed with how well he did. Obviously you will know that he failed to qualify for this year. How much of a surprise is that to you and perhaps it shows that the difficulty was a bit underestimated? Two or three drivers? Perhaps Daniel, Valtteri and Robert?
DR: Personally, because I’ve never done it – driven an IndyCar or been on an oval – I never really had an expectation for Alonso. I didn’t know how easy or difficult it would be. Obviously I had confidence that he would be able to hop in and be relatively competitive, because I think he’s obviously a very very good driver and very capable and still very motivated and driven, so I think that showed in 2017, was it? But I guess, as well, this year it looks like obviously you need… you’ve got to be a good driver but set-up and all those things at those margins is so important. I don’t know the ins and outs but everything needs to work right and that’s the thing with race cars, it’s a love-hate relationship. Obviously this year for him was more of a hate one. It’s sad to see; obviously, as part of the F1 family, we want to see him do well but yeah, for reasons I honestly couldn’t understand or explain… I’m not in that world.
VB: I can’t say that much because I didn’t really follow… for sure I heard that they didn’t qualify and there was some issue with some of the test days and stuff like this but to be honest, before that I didn’t even know it was happening.
RK: Not a lot to add, I would say. I would never comment on something that I don’t know enough information. Looking at the classification it’s too easy to arrive at the wrong assumptions or conclusions. Fernando, we know what a great driver he is and he showed two years ago that he was fighting there and even winning on debut. This year it didn’t work but there is not a lot to say.
Q: (Maximilian Werdl – Mannheimer Morgen) Mr Leclerc, after the hard start for Ferrari, how would you describe the atmosphere in the team?
CL: Quite calm, I think. We are all working extremely hard. Obviously the engineers are trying to understand and trying to push the team forward but overall I think we are all quite calm which is needed. We obviously want to improve so everyone is pushing very hard, as I’ve said but I think the most important thing is that the serenity in the team doesn’t change which it doesn’t for now.
Q: (Pierre van Vliet – F1i) Charles, do you think that rain can maybe help you in fighting Mercedes and Red Bull this weekend and if so, how big are your chances to win your very first Grand Prix at home?
CL: Obviously Monaco is already quite a lottery in the dry so I think in the rain it will add a little bit more of that so it can go in either way but it should be exciting if it rains. Whether it will help us or not I don’t really know but yeah, I would like it to rain, actually, for qualifying to change things a little bit. In Monaco we don’t see rain very often, so it would be nice.
Q: (Daniel Ortelli – F1 Only) Max, how surprised are you by the level of performance of your Honda engine since the beginning of the season, and do you think it’s a good engine for this track – although it’s not an engine track?
MV: I’m not really surprised, because it was all just targeted and they delivered what they promised so just a continuous process which is going really well and I really enjoy working with them. They really take it all very seriously and they are very professional so I’m always working with a big smile on my face and of course, we know that we still have to improve but from both sides, not just the engine side. We are working very closely together to try and do that and of course this track is normally a little bit more competitive for us.
Q: (George Boulton – The Sun) Charles, growing up in these streets, what were your memories of watching it with your friends and probably being the most popular man in Monaco this weekend? How are your feelings and pressures coming into this?
CL: My first memory of the Grand Prix – I was probably about four, something like this. I always kept this image in my head: I was at a friend’s apartment, out of turn one, playing with the small cars, watching the Grand Prix at the same time – I think Michael was at Ferrari – obviously watching the red cars more than the others and yeah, just enjoying and dreaming of being there one day. Yeah, as I’ve said before, it feels great to be at home.
Q: (Arjan Schouten – AD Sportswereld) Max, a year ago, here in Monaco, I think it was the location – and correct me if I’m wrong – of your last personal mistake. With everybody speaking about you, they always say ‘after that, he became more mature.’ How do you see that yourself?
MV: Well, I think not only after that, I think in general, it’s life. I’m getting older, general life experience but yes, sometimes you have to make mistakes to become a better driver and so this was one of them.
Q: (Luis Vasconcelos – Formula Press) Valtteri, you lost, at the start, the last two pole positions and here it’s clearly a place where nobody wants to a lose a place at the start. Have you got to the bottom of what went wrong in Barcelona and well, and what has been done to prevent a repetition of that?
VB: Yeah, for sure, we went through all the details and things to improve from my side and the team’s side as usual and yeah, we can see the cause of it. For sure, that clutch physically is out from the pool but also there were things on the control side in that unfortunate moment which being on the grip limit allowed some hesitation and variation on the clutch torque. We’ve done changes to prevent that. Hopefully it will not happen again and we move on.