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Australian GP: Preview - McLaren

NEWS STORY
09/03/2008

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes new driver line-up for the 2008 season, Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, will make their race debut as teammates in Australia next weekend.

The Australian Grand Prix will take place in Melbourne for the 13th consecutive time. It is also the 12th occasion the race has opened the new season, with the 2006 race moving to an April date due to the Commonwealth Games.

With a length of 5.303kms, the track is the eighth longest on the 18 circuit calendar. Spa-Francorchamps is the greatest distance, at 7.004kms, with the streets of Monte Carlo the shortest, at only 3.340kms.

In 1997, the McLaren Mercedes Partnership achieved its first victory in Formula 1 when David Coulthard won the Australian race. This Grand Prix also saw the first win for Mobil 1’s SuperSyn lubricant technology in Formula 1, which has now transferred from track to road use. Last year Albert Park saw the debut race of the new Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Partnership and heralded two podium finishes. Lewis began his Formula 1 career in Melbourne by taking third place. It was the start of nine consecutive podium finishes, which he achieved up to and including the British Grand Prix in July.

What are your expectations, and also your motivation, for 2008, your second season in Formula 1 and with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team?
Lewis Hamilton: "I generally don’t ever demand or have expectations of myself or anyone else, I am more focused on targets. Obviously the targets for the team and for myself are to win as many races as possible, improve on my performance from last year, finish all the races and for the team it is to win the Constructors’ Championship as well. My motivation is even higher than last year, but in a slightly different way. I would say last year was an uncontrollable determination and excitement and just not really knowing what was coming up, just going into the deep blue. Now I know what to expect, I know about my preparations so I am storing energy. To some people it might appear that I am quieter or something along those lines, but I am saving all this energy for the first race, and I cannot wait to get out there."

In the shorter term, what is your aim for the Australian Grand Prix?
LH: "We need to go there with total confidence in the car, which I have and to get off to a really good start, it needs to be the best start possible. So I am going there with the aim of winning the race, and we will all work hard to try and achieve that."

You had a sensational start to the 2007 season at Albert Park last year, what is the outstanding memory of the race for you?
LH: "I think the first corner has to be one of the best memories for sure, I will never forget that moment. Also finishing on the podium for the first time and only just finishing third, so close behind second position. It was my first race and all the expectation was riding on my shoulders from everyone else, but I just focused my targets and got a great result."

What are your feelings about the MP4-23 prior to its competitive debut?
LH: "I feel very positive about it, I think we have made some mega steps forward and the reliability is even better. The car feels stronger than last year, and despite the removal of areas such as traction control, it is also very similar in certain ways. I think we have come a really long way already before the first Grand Prix, and I am confident we will be able to compete with the other teams"

What are your thoughts ahead of your debut race with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team?
Heikki Kovalainen: "I am looking forward to my first race with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, I think I have prepared well and I hope I can have a better start to the season than last year. This is my target, but I am aware that I still need to learn many things, I am still in a learning process with the team and I know there are things I need to improve. But I believe I have a solid base and we are ready to get out there and start the season."

And what are your aims for this season?
HK: "At the moment for me the focus is just on the first race and trying to start it better than last year. Hopefully we can finish the race and have a good start to build on. Then later on in the year, trying to improve the performance all the time. To be honest, for me it is better not to think too much about anything but the first race"

Are there any specific challenges in racing for a new team for the first time?
HK: "No, I think the most important thing is to stay calm, keep your head cool and don’t let anything disturb you. There will be a lot of attention because it is a new team for me, but I will just keep focusing on the job with the engineers and mechanics."

You have spent 18 test days in the MP4-23, how have you seen it develop in this time?
HK: "I knew that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes always developed the car well before and during the season, but it is very easy to feel the changes we have made to the car between the first and last test day. We have improved the MP4-23 reasonably well and I hope this strength continues throughout the season, with the car getting better all the time. We have been able to put more grip in the car, make it more drivable, the whole package is moving forward all the time."

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