Today's press conference with Mattia Binotto, Toto Wolff and Laurent Rossi.
Q: Mattia, can we start with you please. What is it about Charles Leclerc and his home race? A very frustrating start to the weekend for him with that gearbox problem.
Mattia Binotto: At first, I think enjoyable, exciting, I think it's important for him, he knows very well the city, very well the streets and knows that he can drive very well around that layout. Last year we didn't race here, the year before, we had somehow, let me say, a problem or an issue, a bad choice in quali that put him out of the top ten in quali. So, it was frustrating in the past and he knows that being back here this weekend he can try to do certainly better. I think it's important to support him to his best, to our best, so that he can have a good weekend. The start, as you said, not exactly what we were hoping for. He had a gearbox problem very soon in the session, so he had to stop and that's a shame - because certainly in Monaco it's important to build the confidence and the more you can drive, the better it is. So certainly, he had missed an entire session - but he knows as well there is an entire history before quali and for him it will be important to get the experience he is missing from the morning.
Q: Mattia, looking at the positives, Charles has qualified brilliantly this year, fourth in three of the four races. What kind of opportunity does this race present him?
MB: I think Charles is very strong in quali. He has always been very strong and he has performed very well at the start of the season during the quali. Here again it will be important because, again, we know how important is quali in Monaco, for the entire race and the race result. So, at least he can try to do as good as he did in the first races, of course, and eventually, let's see, whatever he can do on track. I think driver ability is very important. As we said, he's very, very strong in quali.
Q: It's been a strong start for Ferrari as well this weekend, now just five points from McLaren in the Constructors' Championship. Would you have believed it after winter testing?
MB: It was for us important, I think, to show that our capacity of developing and addressing weaknesses and, when coming to Bahrain for winter testing, I think the car behaved at least as we were hoping and expecting and that was, let me say, the first good result, and after Bahrain we knew we had a car that was certainly better than last year, which was a minimum objective. We knew that somehow we could have done well during the races but we know as well that Bahrain is a very specific circuit and I think we said we should first wait for five races in the season to understand our true potential - but I think that the car is behaving consistently since the first start. The entire team as well. I think the team is dealing well through the race weekends. Solid race weekends from the pit crew, from engineering. We had some difficult events, difficult races, like in Imola with the wet race - but not only Imola. I think that overall in terms of strategy, pit-stops, overall I think it has been a solid start to the season and for that we are pretty happy.
Q: Toto, coming to you next, if someone had told you during winter testing that you'd win three of the opening four races, would you have believed it?
Toto Wolff: No, probably not. We were lacking pace in Bahrain and then somehow we were just clinging on with our fingertips in Bahrain with the right strategy and then Max running off the track - but obviously that could have been his race. And then it just continued. So we need to take that, and I'm very happy about that.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about how you've done it? How have you made the progress?
TW: I think it's just churning away. Looking at the data, trying to analyse. We have a completely new tyre that everybody needs to get on top of it. We needed to tune our car differently than in the past years but certainly the kind of gaps and advantages we had last year has vanished but that's also good. I think we're enjoying the ride.
Q: Let's throw it forward to this weekend. Do you think, Red Bull Racing, is this their biggest threat of the year?
TW: I wouldn't discount any other teams. We've seen the Ferraris have been pretty strong. Carlos was always there, right up, and Charles didn't even run so the Ferraris have been very strong. Red Bull definitely, that has been their track, they have a lot of downforce, so we expect them too - but the McLarens have always come when it matters in qualifying. So yeah, everything can do well here.
Q: Laurent, coming to you now. While we're talking progess, how pleased are you with things down at Alpine?
Laurent Rossi: Well, I'm quite pleased because we started at a rather lower position than expected. Expected in terms of where we want to be. We want to carry on with the momentum from last year. We knew we would start a bit low because we had problems this winter in the wind tunnel, so it was a matter of catching up. And that's what we did. The team put in a brilliant effort here, they've been adding downforce and tenths of seconds throughout the races and it's been noticed. We've been picking up the pace, which is good. At the moment we're in a good spot in terms of qualifying most of the time. On the race pace, we're more in-line with our natural pace, which is natural position if you will, which is, like, mid-rank. We don't stop here. We'll carry-on improving the car for a little bit, so I'm pretty pleased here.
Q: Can we have a word on the drivers? Is it a surprise that your young charger is leading the way?
LR: I'm not surprised by it - if you mean Esteban - I'm not surprised at all. Esteban, we knew, is extremely talented. He's been racing against all of the drivers, most of the drivers, when he was young - younger, he's still young - and he's always consistently beating them, most of the time. So, I knew he had a lot of talent. It's the second year he starts having good references in the team. We also made some modifications to his own team, and also to the way we build-up the weekends. The race weekends and the qualifications, so it shows. The guy has talent, so it shows. I think he is where he should be - which is good.
Q: And Laurent, in a month's time, we're going to be at Paul Ricard. Can we just get your thoughts on having the French Grand Prix this year? How important is it that it's there, even though it's been moved - and do you have anything special planned for that weekend?
LR: Yeah. Anything special planned? I'll keep it as a surprise. All the more so we need to make sure this can still happen because moving it forward was not necessarily anticipated. It's an important grand prix, it's the national one, it has a lot of meaning for the brand, for the Alpine brand beyond the F1 realm. That said, for us, it's just another date on the calendar and we need to perform the same way as we do in Baku before and Austria after.
Questions From The Floor
Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport, via email) Laurent, Toto was asked about Esteban Ocon's future in Spain and he said that it would be up to you and Esteban to decide how to continue before Mercedes would have an involvement. Are you looking to sew-up Esteban's future in the near future and lock him in with Alpine in the long-term.
LR: Yeah. We were very grateful after Toto said that. And it is indeed something we are considering and Esteban is doing everything to make me consider keeping him in the team. I would be remiss if I didn't think about it. So, at the moment, we are already engaged in some conversations with his agent, his management team, Mercedes at large. Esteban is a great driver so I'm happy to have that type of problem - which is not actually!
Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) This is probably best addressed to Toto and Mattia but Laurent, if you have anything to add, please do. We know that the FIA are implementing stricter tests on flexible wings shortly. Andreas Seidl told us earlier that McLaren is pleased by that but strongly disagrees with the fact that it's going to be a delayed implementation. What's your view of the action being taken?
TW: My view is very similar to Andreas. We have seen in the past that complicated redesigns for teams had a delay. It's clear that, if you have a back-to-back race, or maybe even two weeks, it's too short for everybody to adjust - but we're having four weeks to Baku and it is incomprehensible that, within four weeks you can't stiffen-up a rear wing for the track that is probably the most affected by flexible rear wings. That leaves us in no-man's land, because the Technical Directive says the movement of some rear wings has been judged as excessive - so teams who would run these kinds of wings are prone to being protested and probably this is going to do to the ICA, and nobody needs this messy situation.
Mattia, can we get your thoughts please?
MB: Yeah, at first, obviously what's happening on the rear wing, I think it's normal administration as whatever is happening in F1, always trying to push the boundaries, and somehow the FIA tried to clarify the intentions and the principles of the regulations. Now, on the time, I'm pretty sure that the FIA checked deep what was right, what was wrong, I'm pretty sure that by deciding a certain date, they somehow analysed pretty well, the case and I trust them fully. As Ferrari, we are happy there is now a clarification and eventually we need to adapt, or someone needs to adapt - whoever - to that new Technical Directive but on the time I think we should respect the FIA decision because I'm pretty sure they did it be being fully aware.
Laurent, anything you'd like to add?
LR: Well, I mean, on our end, we designed a car that conformed to the regulations. If the tests prove that we need to comply to a new set of rules, we will do that. That's all I can say.
Check out our Thursday gallery from Monaco, here.