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."
Are the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team and the MP4-23 ready for the Australian Grand Prix?
Martin Whitmarsh: "The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has completed, and in fact exceeded, our planned pre-season development plan with the MP4-23. The car is over 90% new from the car that finished the Brazilian Grand Prix and is the result of over 1000 people in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart working intensely to get it to the grid in Melbourne. The MP4-23 has covered 14,275 test kilometres over 21 incredibly busy and productive days, including two days at Menorca, and we are satisfied with where we are and now want to get out on track in a competitive environment. But we are not being complacent and not standing still. Whilst the team travels to Australia, the development process will continue apace back at base."
How is the atmosphere in the team going into the first race of the season?
MW: "2007 was an interesting year for the team; no-one could have predicted how the season was going to pan out. All we are focused on now is eagerly anticipating the next challenge. Within the team there is fantastic atmosphere at the moment, particularly between our drivers. They are working well together, they like each other, you can see how much they genuinely respect each other and importantly they want to beat each other, which is how we want it to be. Heikki is of course new to us this season and he is a very likeable, intelligent and very talented individual. He has already fostered a great relationship with the team, and based on the way the drivers and the team have been working together in testing we are aiming for a good year."
What is the overall objective for the team at the Australian race and the Championship as a whole?
MW: "Every single member of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team is an incredibly competitive individual and we all desperately want to win, this is the case for the drivers, management, engineers, mechanics, production, administration. We have a great team of people, we have great racing drivers and we want to win.. With Lewis and Heikki, we have two racing drivers this year who are very keen to come out of the 2008 season as World Champions. Naturally Lewis enters this year as one of the favourites, a testament to what he achieved in his first year. Heikki has gelled fantastically into the team, he is working very well with everyone and he has the capability to win. Every season is a new chapter, our drivers, the team, our technology Partners are all working incredibly hard to ensure we have the best equipment possible to go racing."
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 has shown consistently strong form during pre-season testing. Now those tests are over, what does the team expect from the technical package?
Norbert Haug: "Since we began the test programme on 9th January with two MP4-23s powered by this year’s FO 108 V engine, the new car has been running reliably, setting competitive lap times and completing consistent long runs. During the course of 19 track days since early January, Heikki completed 18 test days, Lewis 15, Pedro six and Gary one day during which they have covered a distance of more than 14,200 kilometres in total. This is more than the length of 45 Grands Prix, and also more than a team’s race kilometres completed during one year. The entire team has worked extremely hard over the ten weeks building up to the race in Melbourne to achieve our target of finishing at least one point ahead of our competition this time."
What specific technical challenge does Melbourne require of a Formula 1 engine?
NH: "Albert Park is very demanding for the engines. About 70 percent of a lap time here will be run under full throttle; this means more than two thirds of a lap. Driveability will be key for the performance of the engines, which were allowed to be developed for 2008 only to the minimum due to the "frozen" rules."
How did Mercedes-Benz develop the new engine until the start of this season?
NH: "Development work on the revised Mercedes-Benz V8 engine started on 16th April 2007, and on 29th November the engine was run on the dyno for the first time. The engine regulation limits the possibilities for development to an absolute minimum, and there are only a few opportunities to increase performance by modifying the air intake, the fuel system, the exhaust pipes and the lubricants of the team’s Technology Partner ExxonMobil. Our engineers and technicians at Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines in Brixworth and in Stuttgart have worked hard to deliver the best possible engine specification which will be homologated for five years from Melbourne onwards. I want to thank everybody, of course, also the colleagues working on the chassis, who have been involved in this process for their concentrated and committed work. Our target for 2008 is to finish in the World Championship one position better than last year."