Following the passing of three-time Formula One World Champion Niki Lauda this week, we asked all of the drivers yesterday for their memories and thoughts of Niki. We'd like to start in the same fashion with you today please. Cyril, is we could start with you: your thoughts and memories of Niki?
Cyril Abiteboul: It's another sad news for the Formula One community. Frankly, I had not a lot of interaction with Niki, but clearly he was one of the role models that form our youth and the reason we are admiring Formula One - for the fantastic animal that you come across in life. He was a model of resilience. He was taking the fighting spirit very, very hard and impressive what he managed to do over his career. Any meeting with him was kind of fun. You never knew what could happen. He will be another person badly missed in Formula One.
Christian Horner: It's a huge loss for Formula One - the whole paddock. Obviously for Mercedes where he was so active as well. I think it was a shock for everyone. Obviously he's not been in great health for the last pretty much 12 months. He was an iconic person. What he achieved in the sport was phenomenal. Just the most remarkable story. You only have to watch the movie, which I think is a pretty decent representation of actually what happened and the fight back that he had, which obviously happened prior to my really understanding of who he was. When I really came across him, he was working as a commentator, quite an outspoken commentator at that time, and he managed to where all these hats, commentating for RTL, running the Mercedes team as their chairman. He was just a larger than life character, obviously as an Austrian, and us an Austrian team, he spent a lot of time with us, particularly Helmut Marko, a very close friend of his, as they pretty much had grown up together. We'll certainly miss the breakfast where he would come, pretty much every morning and Helmut and he would be like the two old guys in the Muppet Show, Waldorf and Statler I think it was, and they'd basically be commenting on all aspects of life, none of what I'm going to repeat here, that's for sure - but his openness, his sense of humour, his ability to say "how did you screw that up?" something "was rubbish" - or complement you when you'd done well. He was a great guy, a great personality and he'll be very, very sadly missed.
Claire, your thoughts?
Claire Williams: I obviously had the pleasure of knowing Niki through our relationship with Mercedes. I can't profess to knowing him extremely well but everything that he's achieved in motorsport is extraordinary and, as Christian said, watching that film really demonstrates exactly the kind of character that he was. Latterly, working with him in the Strategy Group meetings, he was always the voice of reason. When Niki talked, people listened. Personally, we always had a bit of a joke about my single status. I think I probably wouldn't have got married as quickly as I have if Niki wasn't pressuring my husband into proposing - so that will always be a nice memory for me. The sport has lost an icon, hasn't it. Our thoughts go out to his family.
Zak Brown: Yes, I echo what everyone has said before me. He was an absolute legend of the sport. A loss for all of us. Never met anyone who didn't like Niki. He was a real likeable guy, a real racer, had a strong opinion and when you look at what he came back from , that's a real inspiration. I think not many would have been as brave as he was - not only to come back, but to go on, win World Championships. He won his last World Championship with McLaren. So, a lot of people in our factory, Mansour Ojjeh, one of our owners, were was super-close to Niki, so it feels like we lost a member of our family and, of course, the whole racing community has. Just wish his family the best and just grateful to have the fond memories here in Formula One forever.
Andrew Green: Unfortunately I never had the honour to work with Niki. He was the background to my youth when I was watching Formula One. He was a big part of it. Some very big images from back then, and part of why I got into the sport. What he did from then until now is just incredible. He's a real icon and will be sorely missed.
We'll now turn our focus to this current season. Christian, we'll start with you. For Red Bull it's been a consistent start to the year. Max Verstappen in the top four at every race and this is usually a race that you target victory at. After the way FP1 has gone, is that a realistic target for you again this weekend?
CH: I think it's been a strong start to the year after the engine change over the winter. I think we've been very consistent, we've had two podium positions, we've finished in fourth place every other grand prix. Obviously, having introduced some upgrades in Barcelona, you ought to try to optimise those and Monte Carlos has always represented a track that we've performed well at. We've had an encouraging first practice but I think having seen Mercedes' performance, particularly in the slow speed sector of Barcelona, they are absolutely the stand-out favourites for this event, so if we can get anywhere near them, and put a little bit of pressure on that, that would certainly be our target going in to the weekend.
Cyril, you've got last year's Monaco Grand Prix winner driving for you this season - but currently sitting eighth in the Constructors' Championship. Were you expecting to be a little bit higher at this stage of the season?
CA: Yeah, of course, I think you can even say that it's not the season start that we wanted, that we were ambitioning working for and advertised. It takes clearly a reaction from all of us. In my opinion obviously there has been a collection of issues, not excuse, but issues over the first five races that do not reflect the ambition, the level of our drivers, the level of the team. So it's up to us to react and come up with clear answers to the different issues. We hope to see those answers starting to kick off with this weekend. Indeed, we have last year's grand prix winner. It just creates another obligation to come up with the best possible car at this point of our journey.
Claire, the start to the season probably not gone the way Williams would have envisaged either - but since the start of the year you've had better qualifying performance in Barcelona and then the test, working on some new ideas. Do you feel like there are shoots of recovery now? Are you starting that rebuilding process?
CW: Yeah, you say it wasn't the start to the season that we envisaged - but I think we anticipated what was coming. Yeah, I definitely feel that we can see some light at the end of the tunnel now and I think probably just from the time sheets and the last race in Barcelona, we demonstrated that we are closing that gap. It may be slow but we all know that it takes time to bring performance to your car. There's definitely a lot of good work going on back at the factory that people may not necessarily be seeing yet. The aero team are doing a great job finding performance in the tunnel and we're going to be bringing that to races over the coming weeks and months with a package coming mid-way through the season that we will hope will bring some significant performance to us. Yes, there are definitely signs of improvement. I think there's a certain positivity in the team at the moment. Morale is still pretty good, and that's all we can ask of everyone: just fighting hard, not giving up and keep on brining performance to the car.
And Zak. I'm sure you'll be facing questions about last weekend's events in Indianapolis from the floor but focusing on Formula One right now, McLaren actually extended its advantage in fourth in the Constructors' Championship in Barcelona. Would you say that's actually ahead of expectations for this season?
ZB: It's early in the season and the midfield is so tight, I think the swing can swing at any one race. We're pleased that we're sitting forth in the Championship. We think that's realistically, on our road to recovery, about as much as we're going to be able to realistically achieve. So we will fight hard to retain that position, and those behind us are going to fight hard, of course, to knock us out of fourth, and we've got a long way to go, so I think anything can happen - but I'm really pleased with all the effort everyone at McLaren has put together. We had a better winter testing, and certainly have built a better race car. Drivers are doing an excellent job, we're quick on pit stops now, so you can feel the team's coming together. We have Andreas Seidl now and James Key who've joined, so I feel I've got all the right players on the field, so to speak and now we just need to put our head down and execute.
Andrew, if we look at Racing Point, that's one of the teams looking to close down McLaren. You introduced a new upgrade package in Barcelona - but it looked like a tough weekend for you. So, what worked with the update and what still needs to be optimised?
AG: Yeah, we were sort-of anticipating Barcelona was going to be a tough race for us. It has been, it's been part of the DNA of the car for while, which is something we're actively working on back at the factory. From what we see the upgrades did what they were supposed to do. I think we were quite content. We've got a route forwards and the car is evolving quite quickly and it will do over the next half a dozen races. We think we've got a good direction to go in - it just takes time. Like Clare said: you can't change cars overnight, these things do take some time to evolve in the factory and come to the track. We're happy with the route we're going in. Are we happy with where we are now? No. But we can see that we're going in the right direction.
Questions From The Floor
(Scott Mitchell - Autosport) Claire, in the build-up to this week you announced Jamie Chadwick as a development driver. You explained that it will involve simulator responsibilities to begin with. Is there a plan - or a hope - to give her on-track opportunities or the opportunity for that partnership to maybe evolve in the future?
CW: Like you say, we're delighted that Jamie's joined the team. She's obviously part of the W Series Championship this year. She won the first event and then she had a good run in Zolder last weekend. We announced her on Monday, she's going to be doing simulator work, as you said. Full immersion in the factory, working with the engineers to support her campaign this year and to just help... well it all goes to promoting women in motorsport. Doing this for her is hopefully going to elevate her competitiveness. At the moment it is reserved to simulator work and then coming to a few races with us to see the team trackside and how we operate in F1. There are no plans at the moment to put her in an F1 car at this stage.
Check out our Thursday gallery from Monaco, here.