F1 paddock round-up: Wednesday in Monaco

The paddock reconvened in rather gloomy and chilly weather in Monaco on Wednesday and understandably much of the focus was on the passing of three-time World Champion Niki Lauda.

Lewis Hamilton was excused from media duties, with much of the paddock rightly sympathetic towards such a situation, and instead Valtteri Bottas took his place in the FIA Press Conference.

Lauda joined Mercedes in 2012

Mercedes will be running ‘Danke Niki’ as a tribute on its W10 while one of the many stars that adorn the engine cover will be turned red, as a nod to the cap with which he was inestimably associated.

Many drivers spoke eloquently about Lauda’s legacy in Formula 1, including George Russell, who expressed shock and delight at the fact that the Austrian had made time to celebrate his GP3 wins in parc ferme back in 2017. “I remember it was at Silverstone where I won my second GP3 race and he was down at the podium with Toto [Wolff] and I couldn’t believe it really,” said Russell. “I’d only been part of Mercedes for half a year and there’s Niki Lauda congratulating me at the podium! He was just an amazing person and he’ll definitely be missed."

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Russell, meanwhile, is set to continue using the chassis that he raced in Spain, with his previous one having sustained damage in the Baku drain incident, but that is yet to be confirmed.

“I actually don’t know,” he said when asked by Motorsport Week on the chassis situation. “I seriously don’t know. I’ll let you know tomorrow. I think it’s the same. From what I understand mine is coming back for Canada, Chassis 1.” Russell has run three chassis this year and stressed that they “absolutely” feel the same, adding “no reason for it not to be.” He’s also hopeful of a better Monaco weekend than his 2018 Formula 2 debut in the Principality, when his engine went in practice, red flags left him with just three laps in qualifying, before he crashed in both races…

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In terms of chassis, Pierre Gasly took on a new chassis overnight on Friday in Spain but stressed this was done for “upgrades purposes, it’s not like we changed it for performance.” In other chassis news the Alfa Romeo C38 destroyed by Callum Ilott during post-race testing in Spain was not a race-spec for either Kimi Raikkonen or Antonio Giovinazzi, meaning they are unaffected by his expensive off.

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Sparta? No. This. Is. Er, Monaco actually.

For Raikkonen this will be Grand Prix number 300, and Alfa Romeo chose to mark the occasion by mocking up an image of the Finn as King Leonidas from the film 300, not that the 2007 World Champion was fussed by the occasion.

“I tried to force them [Alfa Romeo] to cancel everything [commemorating the milestone], but not very good success so far,” he joked, before adding “I’m not here because I can be the most grands prix. It gives me absolutely zero pleasure. It’s purely a number. I’ve already told the team a while ago I don’t want… it’s as any other race here, but people try to celebrate. It’s a number, what’s the difference?”

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Raikkonen’s successor at Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, was able to walk around almost unnoticed two years ago as he chilled in restaurants with friends but come 2019 he’s dressed in the famous red and is the local star. These are Leclerc’s streets and his upbringing will not be far from his attention this weekend. Leclerc has changed his helmet design for a half-and-half approach to honour both his father, Herve, who passed away in 2017, and his late mentor Jules Bianchi.

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The return of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, now less than 12 months away, was a talking point, but unfortunately most comments centred on the track's unsuitability for wheel-to-wheel racing. Many drivers spoke about the problems that will likely be faced, with Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat summarising the situation neatly. "The last corner is too fast, the straight is too short. And than the braking to Turn 1 is still quite late. I think in theory it is not going to be easy to overtake there, but let's see. I don't know. The last time I remember in my F3 race there was zero overtakes."

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One traditional build-up event in Monaco is the charity football match that takes place on Tuesday evening at Stade Louis II. Giovinazzi scored a wonder goal that was ruled out for offside – and he was struggling to contain his frustration at the situation – while Carlos Sainz Jr. “actually did a nutmeg to Gallas and just when I was going to shoot the goalkeeper came out and I rolled over. It was about to be the best goal of my life!” Sainz Jr. a football-mad Real Madrid fan, was just a tad gutted.