The atypical Monaco Grand Prix officially starts on Wednesday with the usual driver’s press conference.
All the presents thoughts obviously go out to Niki Lauda, a legend of Motorsport, a true hero who lived two times, who sadly passed away two days ago.
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes driver and currently second in the Championship standings, has worked close to Lauda in the past three years.
“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.” Said the Finn driver. “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.”
Daniel Ricciardo, winner of the 2018 Monaco GP, also remembered Lauda. “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.”
Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Robert Kubica also remembered the F1 legend, despite they never worked with him, he was always a big presence in the Paddock, always humble, generous, available for a good chat as the kind man he was and as he will always be remembered.
Despite the shocking news, the show must go on in the glamorous Monaco. The GP is the most historic one on the calendar and will also be the first one as a Ferrari driver for local hero Charles Leclerc.
“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.” Said the Monegasque, who also feel the pressure of a troubled situation in the red garage, as the Prancing Horse team still can’t score a victory this season. “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.” Charles Leclerc had the chance to achieve his first victory in Bahrain, but an issue forced him to slow down and he had to settle for a third place, his first podium finish after all.
Ferrari claims that the Barcelona GP and the following tyres tests cleared all doubts about what was not working on the SF90.
“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.”
“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.” Added the Monegasque.
Rain is expected to fall on the street circuit during Saturday’s qualifying: this element can maybe mix the starting grid, giving the F1 fans some surprises after five consecutive Mercedes’ one- twos finishes.
“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.” Leclerc continue, as his home fans would love to see him win his first race during his home GP. Himself, as a young boy, had the privilege to watch this unique GP from home, dreaming to be one of the legendary drivers out there. Now he is, and the young Ferrari driver is ready for every scenario. “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.”
Rain would be nice to mix the grid cards not just for Leclerc, but for the last Monaco GP winner too.
Daniel Ricciardo won the 2018 edition of the Monaco GP, taking the win as a revenge for the one he lost in 2016. Ricciardo’s chance to repeat himself are lower, considering the actual situation of his team, Renault, but the Honey Badger his famous for his smile.
“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.” Said the Aussie to the journalists parterre. “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.”
The situations for the Aussie changed a lot, as he left one of the three top team at the end of last season, to join one who could only grow from there. A constructor team, who has already won in the past. As of today, Daniel’s results are very far from the ones he was used to.
“There’s still certainly a process. 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, 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.”
Au contraire, Max Vestappen stayed in Red Bull, putting all his faith the marriage with the Japanes manufacturer Honda, a partnership who has gifted him with two podium finishes this season.
Monaco is usually a track where the aerodynamic body of the Red Bull, born from Newey’s genius, gives his best and always stands out. Proof are Ricciardo performances in 2016 and 2018. Last year Verstappen hit the street circuit’s barriers, but the Dutch man expects a completely different weekend for him.
“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.”
“I really enjoy working with them.” He added about the Japanese manufacturer Honda. “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.”
The most important session is still Quali.
“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.” Added Verstappen.
The man who has scored most Pole Position during this season is Valtteri Bottas, despite he lost the victory in the last two GPs. His starting issues are fixed, so Saturday will be fundamental to him as well.
“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.”
Bottas wasn’t expected to be in the Press Conference room today. He actually replaced his team mate Lewis Hamilton, who skipped the session because of Niki Lauda’s death.
Mercedes will hit the Principality track with a tribute on his livery, a little Mercedes symbol colored in red s a tribute to the F1 star.
Last, but not the least, Robert Kubica hopes to achieve something more with his Williams. The Grove team is facing a lot of issues, but the Pole drivers hopes that such a unique track like Monaco can give him some special opportunities to shine.
“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.”