BAKU (Reuters) - Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson have admitted they were shocked to learn of the sudden departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, the first woman to run a Formula One outfit, earlier this week.
Team owners confirmed her exit on Wednesday, citing "diverging views of the future of the company", while board chairman Pascal Picci denied speculation that her departure concerned the status of their drivers and a desire to favour Sweden's Ericsson.
"For me and Pascal it has been very clear it is not the case," Ericsson said on Thursday, addressing the suggestion that Kaltenborn had departed the Swiss-based team due to favouritism ahead of this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
"We have both been given equal equipment and priorities, and that's how it's always been in this team and will always be.
"It's all been quite sudden, in the last 48 hours it's all been happening," he continued. "It's quite a new thing for me as a driver as well.
"First of all, I have a lot to thank Monisha for and I think us as a team have, because she's been here a long time and done a lot of good things for the team."
Wehrlein echoed his team mate's surprise at the departure of Kaltenborn, who previously held a 33.3 percent stake in the team before it was taken over by Longbow Finance S.A. last year.
"I was very surprised," the German driver said. "I spoke with Monisha on Tuesday evening, she called me and she told me about it, and of course I was really surprised about it.
"Obviously everyone is asking questions. If it's good or bad or what has changed in the team. I think the drivers are not the right person to comment too much on it.
"I am just doing my job and I want to perform as good as I can, and everything about this is not part of my job."
Kaltenborn joined Sauber in 2000 to run the legal department and took over as chief executive in 2010. While the team fell on hard times in recent seasons, their financial problems eased when Swiss-based investment company Longbow took over last July.
Reporting by Ed Dove in Oxford; Editing by John O'Brien