Today's press conference with Cyril Abiteboul, Mattia Binotto, Christian Horner and Toto Wolff.
The world of Formula One is still reeling from the news that FIA Director of Formula One Charlie Whiting passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning. Some of the drivers gave us their thoughts yesterday, and I'd like to get your memories of Charlie as well, starting with you Toto?
Toto Wolff: It was a total shock when we received the news yesterday. You see somebody every day and the day before and then he's gone, and it reminds us what is important in life. We are all going at an incredible pace from race to race and then it can get you like this. But Charlie was an unbelievable person. If you are in that position over so many years and then year and years and you still don't make a lot of enemies that shows your character. He was always well balanced. You could seek him for guidance. He would always, when it was difficult within the regulation to really get down to the bottom and interpret certain things, he would give you a common-sense answer that you could work with and he was just a reference point that will be dearly missed. There is a huge whole at the moment that needs to be filled but for us the person, Charlie, who strolls in for a coffee and was just a decent man and I'm really sorry for his family in these terrible times.
Q: Thank you. And Mattia?
Mattia Binotto: For my side, I can only join the words of Toto. Charlie was an incredible person, very great. It's a huge loss for the entire sport and a huge loss to Formula 1. I think we should thanks him for the entire contribution he did to the safety in F1. I think it's something we will remember. Certainly, he was such a great person, as Toto said it's quite incredible from one day to another and I think it's how precious is the life. But all great memories; a fantastic guy.
Q: Thank you. Christian?
Christian Horner: It's a huge shock for everybody. Obviously I've been working with him for 20 years now and to get the news yesterday, first of all it's disbelief. Charlie was one of the good guys. He was a racer. That was his background. When you spoke to him about his days at Brabham, working for Bernie, there was always a smile on his face. He knew all the tricks in the book and that made him the ideal guy to become poacher turned gamekeeper when he took on the role with the FIA. And he handled that role, a tremendously difficult role, with great balance and diplomacy in some incredibly difficult situations. He was one of those guys who went under the radar but what he contributed was enormous, from a safety point of view, from what the sport is today. I think there is a huge debt of gratitude owed to Charlie for what Formula One is today, the safety, the lives that his actions actually saved, you know the way these cars are now and the safety record that they now have. It's a huge loss to Formula One, a tragic loss to his family and friends and for his young children as well. All our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.
Q: Thank you. And Cyril?
Cyril Abiteboul: It's difficult to add. It's clearly a shock. I think the paddock went silent yesterday when the news started to spread. It's a strange thing to learn such a thing to learn such a thing at that moment, in the paddock, where unfortunately or fortunately the show needs to go on. It's just amazing what he has been able to experience, the 20 years of evolution of Formula One. Just remember what Formula One was 20 years ago and yet he has been capable of staying on top of the all tricks, loopholes, hideys, constructive interpretation of the regulations with a balanced judgement and integrity and being capable of frankly avoiding... or making sure that all the ships would stay in Formula One, despite all the risks associated with interpretation of the regulations and showing that you can conciliate being quiet and balance and authoritative. And no one would challenge his authority. It's a huge loss but indeed the show must go on.
Q: Thank you. If I could stay with Cyril, we've had winter testing, we've just had the first free practice session of 2019. Just give us a progress report on Renault and in particular how Daniel Ricciardo is bedding in?
CA: There's been the winter, there's been pre-season testing and there is FP1 and first I'd like to remove FP1 from the answer because it was a bit of a scrappy session with some reprogramming that took away precious lap time, as we had to test a number of items, so obviously our lap time was not really representative. Anyway, there won't be any lying or explanation on Saturday, so let's wait for Saturday and Sunday. The progress report is that we know we have a huge gap ahead in our attempt to reach the top three, which has to be the mid-term target and in 2021 fight for wins. We are on that journey. So much has been done; so much needs to be done. Good progress in particular on the engine side and Enstone is still completing its transformation and is striving to build a chassis that can win some races in the years to come. Daniel - fantastic addition to the team. In summary, he's inside what he looks from the outside and he's already making a fantastic contribution to the team.
Q: Thank you. Christian, same question to you really. How's progress with the Red Bull Racing Honda package?
Christian Horner: Yeah, it's been a promising winter. It's been interesting working with Honda. It's been extremely collaborative. Obviously performance is difficult to read in pre-season testing, but reliability has been strong. I think we turn up here in Melbourne hopeful of a competitive season ahead of us. But it's only really when everybody pulls their pants down tomorrow in qualifying that you see where we're at.
Q: And a few words on Pierre Gasly?
CH: Yeah, he's another product of the Red Bull Junior Programme, as Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz. He's another exciting young product that we've invested in as a junior driver and he's in the seat because of the promise that he has shown. Obviously he's settling in. He's going to needs a little bit of time to get up to speed but he's a very quick racing driver and we have high expectations of him in the future.
Q: Thank you Christian. Mattia, you were the pacesetters in winter testing. How confident are you coming to this first race?
Mattia Binotto: Not confident at all. I think that winter testing is not qualifying, it's not a racing environment, you never know what the others arte running. Very difficult to assess the performance. I think we simply focused on ourselves, we had eight intense days, very little time to prepare for Melbourne. By the time you finish the testing the cars are ready to be shipped directly to Melbourne, so I think it's really by here that we start understanding who is the fastest. I think our challengers are very strong. These guys on my left have won the last championships and they are still somehow the team to beat. So honestly I think on our side we can only focus on ourselves, step by step try to improve and try to be as fast as we can.
Q: Mattia, can you tell us a little bit about your new role, you've been promoted to team principal over the winter. How much time do you dedicate to technical matters now?
MB: I think technical matters are still probably the highest priority. The car needs to be fast and the rest will follow somehow. Obviously it's still my main focus. It's still let me say anyway, it's the main focus of a team. I think the technical is where you've got the main of your activities and where you are putting your efforts. It's true that there are a few more things to be done and to deal with but technical is still the main priority.
Q: Thanks. Toto, it was pretty difficult to read Mercedes' programme in winter testing. What's your summary?
Toto Wolff: Yeah, also difficult to read for us. We hit the road and it wasn't great. Then we brought a substantial upgrade package to the second test and slowly but surely started to understand and learn and put the dots together and at the end it was a quite decent end of testing. But like Mattia says, the teams were, lap time wise, very close together, but very few kilograms of fuel can make you look very good or less good. That's why, pants down on Saturday, that's the first real benchmarking this year.
Q: Well Lewis was in very confident mood in the press conference yesterday and fastest in FP1 as well. What about Valtteri? What sort of form do you see in him?
TW: Valtteri had a decent first session today. We tried a few things on his car and the absolute lap time would have been quicker if he had pushed for a quicker lap time. He came back very strong from the winter, did some rallying, rediscovered the joy of driving. I heard that yesterday he said that he got drunk a few times, to forget, so it's a good start. And I expect Valtteri to be the strongest this year, the strongest Valtteri we have seen.
Questions From The Floor
Q: (Jonathan McEvoy - Daily Mail) Toto, Lewis does various things, has various distractions, as some call them, or hobbies that he's involved in. Sky diving and things like that, does that put the wind up you? Do you have any rules and regulations? Do you need to speak to him, or do you just say: "Lewis, just get on with it."
TW: Well, of course, I'm always worried, and we had a laugh last year because I couldn't get hold of him and couldn't get hold of my chief strategist and one of the race engineers - and found out they were racing motorbikes in Jerez and nobody would pick up the phone. And then they were a bit apologetic. But Lewis is not an 18 or 19 year old young man any more. He's a five-time World Champion. He knows exactly what works for him and what doesn't. All these activities, in my experience, are not a negative distraction but on the other hand something that he enjoys that he enjoys doing. Some things are just a hobby: like sports; others are more of a passion, like the fashion business and every time he's able to decompress from motor racing, he comes back stronger. We mustn't be judgemental. Some people go on a meditation seminar to India. Others do Sky-diving. Others are out for the ladies. Let's accept how everybody is. He is justified and has shown that he is one of the best out there.
Check out our Friday gallery from Melbourne, here.