Joined: 19 Jan 2005
|Posted: Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:03 am Post subject:
|Team and driver previews:
McLaren - Martin Whitmarsh
Building up to this race, everyone within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has been pushing through a concentrated period of learning and development with the MP4-22. We have completed over 13,300kms over 36 track days with the car. Pre-season testing has been productive, but it is always difficult to determine the true competitive performance and the eagerness to get the car racing within the organisation is palpable. This is also felt by our Partners, their technology and support as we have approached this season has been vital. The race also marks the Grand Prix debut with our new Title Sponsor Vodafone. It is going to be an exciting championship and we intend to play a major part in it.
Having spent the winter getting to know my new team and new car, I feel really at home and am very motivated to start racing. I always enjoy Australia, there is a great atmosphere and I am excited to get out there and see where we are compared to the other teams. There are a lot of new things in the sport this season such as new rules, all teams running on Bridgestone Potenzas, drivers changing teams. Everyone is starting from zero and it is going to make things very interesting. Am I going to go out at Albert Park and win my first race with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes? We are certainly going to push hard to try.
Taking to the grid Australia is the end of one journey for me and the start of an even bigger one. I have been working incredibly hard towards this moment over the past few months, testing, physical training, working with the engineers at the McLaren Technology Centre and studying the regulations. I feel I have the experience I need and I definitely feel ready to get out there. This year will be a learning curve for me, Albert Park is one of the seven new tracks Iíll be racing on, but it is not a huge problem more an exciting challenge. I have always enjoyed street circuits, so it is great to start my career in Formula 1 with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes here.
Renault - Q & A with Pat Symonds
Pat, the ING Renault F1 Team has won in Melbourne for the past two seasons. What position is the team in as you approach the opening round of the 2007 championship?
PS:I think we are being realistic about our performance at the moment. We know we are not in the same position as we were twelve months ago. But we were encouraged by the results of our final pre-season test in Bahrain. There are still areas to work on in order to improve the car, and we know what we have to do. We expect 2007 to be a tough battle Ė but we are ready for the fight.
How is the mood in the team as you approach the first race?
PS:Pretty upbeat. Of course, there is some frustration that we are not out front and leading the field, but it is no more than that. We are pleased with the progress since R27 ran for the first time in January, and feel that things have moved on quite a lot for us Ė even though we still have some way to go. So I suppose it's a slightly mixed mood. But most of all, we are looking forward to getting to the track, and going racing again.
The team's race drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen, have completed over 10,000 km between them during pre-season testing. How would you assess their performance?
PS:Naturally, I think there is probably some disappointment that we are not right on the pace at the moment, but they have been encouraged by the gains we made recently. Giancarlo has been doing just what we asked of him this winter: he has stepped up to the mark, and is giving that little bit extra following Fernando's departure, exactly as we had hoped. As for Heikki, I think he is very focused on making a good start to his F1 career. He is confident ahead of his F1 debut, and has done a very good job this winter. The new race weekend format, with extra running time on Friday, will be an advantage for him as he learns the circuits. We are all looking forward to seeing him perform in a Grand Prix for the first time.
Renault is just one of the top teams going into the new season with a rookie driver in its line-up. Are you pleased to see new faces in the sport?
PS:Absolutely! I think it is really good to see young guys getting their chance in the top teams. None of them Ė Heikki, Hamilton or Kubica Ė are there by chance, they have really earned their drives with their performances in testing, or in other championships. Their freshness and hunger to get on with the job are great to see, and I really do think it is hugely positive for Formula 1.
The drivers have spent much of winter testing adapting to the new Bridgestone Potenza tyres. How big a change has that been?
PS:It is a big difference compared to last season. The tyres have been designed to offer less grip than in 2006, for safety reasons. And that has been something the drivers have had to adapt their style to suit. What's more, for those drivers making the transition to Bridgestone tyres, there are some quite different handling characteristics to master as well. It is maybe a little easy to dismiss a change like this, but the drivers have had to learn some significantly new skills this winter.
Looking at the Albert Park circuit, how do you expect the R27 to suit it?
PS:I think the car should go reasonably well there. Melbourne needs a car that has a good change of direction, and that is good on the brakes. The track can be a bit bumpy, and the temperatures are very variable at this time of year. But we have seen our cars perform well here in recent years, and I don't think it will be too bad for us.
Formula 1 enters an era of minimal tyre and engine development in 2007. What impact do you expect these factors to have, if any?
PS:I think everybody expects to see much closer competition between the teams, and that will mean that any mistake is more costly. Our preparations have been extremely thorough, and we have completed more testing miles than any other team. In the last two years, we learned the lesson that while each of opening races offers the same number of points as any other, performing successfully is a big psychological boost for the team. That will still be true in 2007. And of course, while engine and tyre development will be limited, there are still plenty of gains to be made on the chassis and aero side. Once again, 2007 will be all about making the most of what you have got at every race Ė and developing faster than your rivals.
Finally, who would you pick out as favourites for the opening part of the new season?
PS:During the final tests in Bahrain, we began to see clearly that Ferrari are ahead of the pack. After them, McLaren are possibly the second team in the pecking order. And along with BMW, Renault is probably in an equal third position. In reliability terms, both Renault and McLaren seem to have enjoyed very good reliability through the winter. But as we always say, testing is only testing. The acid test comes in Melbourne, when we see how it all translates to the race weekend.
Giancarlo Fisichella - Q & A
Giancarlo, you won the Australian Grand Prix in 2005. Do you particularly enjoy the Albert Park circuit?
Yes, it's one of my favourite circuits, and I have very good memories after my win there in 2005. It is an interesting track because it's on public roads, so it is changing and evolving throughout the weekend, which is something we must adapt to with the set-up of the car.
You have completed over 5000 km of testing this winter. Is the R27 ready for its first race?
The R27 is an evolution of the R26 and the R25, both of which were always quick in Melbourne. We have a good baseline, and lots of potential in the car; and we have worked hard this winter to be able to fight with the front-runners at the start of the year. We know that it is quite a low grip circuit in Australia, so we will focus on that area. It will not be an easy race, and we don't expect it to be, but the motivation in the team is very high; we will make the most of every opportunity we have.
What is your objective for the first race?
I want to score as many points as possible in the early races of the year. If we cannot fight for the win, I will be trying to out-score my rivals, and finish on the podium if it is possible.
The first Grand Prix of the season will also give us a clearer idea of the pecking order for 2007. How do you view the situation?
It's hard to say at the moment. BMW and Williams seem like they are ready to challenge, but I think Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will once again be the main favourites at the start of the year. But now, we need to see if the race confirms our predictions.
Heikki Kovalainen - Q & A
Heikki, Australia will be your first Formula 1 Grand Prix. How are you preparing for this milestone in your career?
I think I started preparing over a year ago, when I joined the ING Renault F1 Team as third driver! I was able to learn my job in the best conditions, get to know the team, and visit the factories. It was a long apprenticeship, but now I feel completely ready to go to the next level. I can't wait to get to Melbourne!
What are you expecting from your first race?
I am expecting a tough race. I am preparing for every possibility, and I know that I will have to push right to the limit. With the team, we will have to find the perfect set-up for the R27 to get maximum potential out of the car. From a personal point of view, I want to get to the finish without any problems and finish in the points. I think that would be a good start.
You will have three hours of free practice on Friday. Will that be an advantage for you as a rookie?
The new timetable on Friday is a definite positive, particularly for a rookie driver like me who doesn't know the circuit. I think we will have plenty of time to find the right set-up, and from a driving point of view, I will have enough time to learn the circuit and feel comfortable. It will mean I can approach qualifying with no worries. That's a big advantage for me.
What are the main characteristics of the circuit?
From what I know, it is a track that's often very dirty and slippery in the opening sessions on Friday, because it is a street circuit. People are driving on the roads every day, so you have to be careful because the track can be very green. The track changes all the way through the weekend, so you have to know how to adapt, and adjust the car set-up for this characteristics. The team has a lot of experience here, with good set-ups from the last two seasons, and I am confident that will mean we can approach the race in the best possible way.
Honda - Shuhei Nakamoto
We have set high targets for this, our second season as a 100% Honda team, and, as always, are excited about getting down to business at the Australian Grand Prix. Although we have made some progress in the recent test in Bahrain, we still have to find more improvements to take us to where we want to be. Our race pace looks stronger than our qualifying pace at the moment. All in all, we must try to get the best out of our current package, whilst continuing to work hard on the development of new items for the test in Sepang after Melbourne.
The Australian Grand Prix is always one of my favourite races on the calendar and I enjoy spending time in Melbourne where there is a great atmosphere over the race weekend. I feel totally at home with the Honda team this year so I really expect a better season and I am so motivated to start racing again. I'm also looking forward to being back on Bridgestone tyres for this season, which should be a good thing for me as I have so much experience with Bridgestone. At the Honda team, we have made some significant progress through pre-season testing since the launch of the RA107 but there is still work to do. I have no doubt that with the resources of Honda, we can continue to improve the car throughout the season and we have a lot to look forward to.
Obviously Melbourne is a very special place for me as the circuit where I made my F1 debut. But it's more than just the race track in Albert Park. I love the very special atmosphere of the city, both in its own right and from the sheer buzz involved in being at the first race of the season. The setting of the circuit is also one of the best on the calendar.
BMW Sauber - Mario Theissen
Last year we put in a very good performance in Albert Park, and it would be nice if we had something to celebrate once again on Sunday evening. As ever, it is difficult to make predictions. Our rivals have been generous with praise at times, but we also had a few problems in testing. As always, it is a race against time to get the car ready for the first race of the season.
We are pleased to see that Melbourne is once again the first race on the calendar in 2007. The race this year will take place two weeks earlier than in 2006, i.e. in late summer rather than autumn. The city will be hungrier for the grand prix again, as this time round it has not just played host to a Commonwealth Games.
Australia is my favourite country on the Formula One calendar to travel to. I flew straight out there with my family from the test in Bahrain to have a look at a few things and get used to the time zone and climate. The Albert Park circuit is nice to drive, but also a demanding one for the drivers. Because it isnít a permanent race track, there isnít much grip at the start of the weekend. So it will help that the cars will spend more time on the track on the Friday, as extra rubber will quickly be laid down on the asphalt. We were pretty quick in testing, but unfortunately not that reliable, so for us the most important thing in the first race of the season will be to get to the finish.
Albert Park is one of my favourite tracks, as it is partly a street circuit. There are also a few run-off areas, and that makes it slightly easier. There isnít much grip, but it is quite bumpy. Conditions improve enormously over the course of the weekend. You have to make changes to the car and understand how it is going to react. I like the circuit a lot, itís a challenge. Tight corners and full-throttle sections follow one after another.
Toyota - Pascal Vasselon
The opening race of the season is always interesting as it is the first chance we have to see each teams' true performance. Traditionally at Albert Park we would expect understeer, low grip and tyre graining but we have seen in testing that the 2007 tyres do not tend to grain, so we start with more of a clean sheet when it comes to set-up. We have been through a learning process withour car and tyre package,and have developed various different set-up options which we will use during the season. We have made good use of our winter testing and we are looking forward to the season with enthusiasm.
Melbourne is a great place to be, I really like the city and it is one of my favourites trips of the year. As well as the city, the track is one of the most beautiful streets circuits in the world and I really enjoy driving at Albert Park. Because it is a street circuit, the surface of the track tends to be dirty and that means it is quite low on grip, especially early in the weekend. We have done a lot of work in testing with the new car and I think we have made progress. My first impressions of the car were good and even though testing was difficult sometimes, I hope our car will suit the track and we will have a nice result this weekend.
Melbourne is a great venue for a Grand Prix and the fans always make sure there is a unique atmosphere. Australia is a special place for me because I made my Grand Prix debut there in 1997. It is great to be going back there for the first race of the season. We have pushed hard over the winter with our testing programme. We had some issues to work on but I am looking forward to this weekend with confidence. A lot of work has been done on the new car and we expect it to be more competitive and more reliable. There are always big question marks as we prepare for the start of a new season because it is so hard to judge things from winter testing, but we have the motivation to succeed and I am optimistic.
Williams - Sam Michael
The great thing about the first race is the anticipation of what the running order will be among the teams and this year it is harder to predict than ever. Two significant changes have really levelled the playing field Ė the single tyre supplier means that all teams will be running on Bridgestone Potenzas and the homologated and rev-limited engines means that all the teams will be revving to 19,000rpm. From winter testing, the new rules
look like they have had their desired effect and tightened up the grid, that makes it harder for the engineers, but itís good for Formula One.
Melbourne is a street circuit with low grip levels as it is normally used by road traffic that leaves contaminants on the track surface. This means that the grip level increases dramatically over the weekend as the Bridgestone Potenza rubber is laid down by the Formula One cars. The circuit is dominated by slow and medium speed corners, with a
couple of high speed changes of direction. Brake cooling is important around Albert Park, but itís not the harshest circuit in terms of brake energy input. Pitstop strategy will be interesting this year taking into account the different tyres, the revised pitlane speed limit and the new tyre rule that means both specifications of Bridgestone Potenza tyres
must be used.
Winter testing is complete and weíve covered over 18,000kms of track testing with the Toyota engine and the new gearbox. With Melbourneís famously variable weather, we are looking forward to the race!
Itís great that the first race of the year is back in Melbourne again, it always makes for a good start to the season. The crowd is fabulous and so is the atmosphere. As a team, we are determined to move forward this year and bring some consistency to our season so we are hoping and pushing hard for a good start in Australia.
Australiaís a great country and I would like to be able to see more of it. I stopped over for a couple of days in Sydney on the way to Melbourne for a couple of sponsor commitments for RBS and Lenovo. Sydney is a great city and Iím definitely going to spend some more time there the next time Iím here.
As a temporary street circuit, Albert Park is in many ways a challenging track. It is bumpy and has plenty of curbs so you have to drive very precisely. It has a stop-go nature about it and often delivers unexpected results.
Melbourne is certainly one of my favourite places on the calendar because the atmosphere is so special, particularly as itís the season opener. The track is right in the heart of the city, a city which is so active and full of positive energy. Every team comes here with the highest of hopes Ė the first race is always exiting because everyone will soon know where they really stand.
Albert Park is well laid out and is right in the middle of a park in the centre of Melbourne, that fact alone makes it a nice track. The circuit is a mix of a ďrealĒ track with a slight street character. There arenít any really challenging parts, but that doesnít mean the lap is easy. To find a good balance, and to be able to follow the constantly changing track conditions, is in fact quite hard. As a driver, it is of course hugely important to find a good rhythm and not be kicked off the circuit by one of its bumps. Overtaking is not that easy, which I guess is normal nowadays with 22 top class drivers on the track.
Spyker - Mike Gascoyne
After a long winter of testing and development, it's always exciting to be get out again at the first Grand Prix of the season. From our point of view, testing went very well, the car is reliable and did not demonstrate any mechanical problems, the cooling is well under control and we really can be optimistic about the coming year. Performance-wise, we've always said we were going to be at the back of the grid, but we feel we'll be pretty close to the group in front of us now. For Malaysia too we're expecting a significant aero update, so for Australia the goal is to get both cars to the finish and to be as close to the pack in front as possible. With the new developments, hopefully by Malaysia we'll be racing them."
I've been pleased with the testing so far this year. We might not have done a lot of testing relative to other teams, but we have progressed perhaps more than any other team has done in the same space of time. The car is reliable and the balance is getting better all the time; now we understand the performance of the tyres more, we can really concentrate on getting a good set-up. It's not going to be an easy start to the year - we will have to push to get to the other teams, but that's what we're in Formula 1 to do. We've got to push ourselves to do the best we can.
Melbourne will be my first-ever Grand Prix, so there is certainly some excitement and maybe a few nerves - but that's good, at least the adrenaline is going! Over the winter testing period I've been trying hard to get as much mileage as possible so I will be as prepared as I can be for my first race. I've tried to learn from my engineers and understand the car; I want to finish the race and build on a solid performance in future Grands Prix.
Q & A with Kees van de Grint, Bridgestone Motorsport Head of Track Engineering Operations:
What are the most significant changes in terms of tyres and tyre regulations for the 2007 season?
The biggest change is that there is no more competition so all drivers have the same tyre and you can ignore the factor of different tyre performance deciding the race. We are also no longer making tyres for a
particular chassis or particular driver. Everybody is the same, so the teams have to adjust the car and the driver has to adjust his driving style, to get the best performance out of the tyres.
What particular challenges does Albert Park present?
The challenges are not the same as when we are in a competitive tyre environment. Our focus now is to ensure that the tyres are firstly, safe and secondly, consistent with a wide performance window. We are
confident the tyres will perform well this weekend. However, what is always a difficult part of the Australian race is that we are never sure about the weather: it could be quite warm, and it could be cold.
Also, as the circuit is not a permanent one it will be quite slippery in the beginning.