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Melbourne - let battle commence 03 Mar 2005

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Sauber Petronas C24. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 7-11 February 2005. World © Capilitan/Sutton Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Williams FW26. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 10-16 January 2005. World © Capilitan/Sutton Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 2 March 2005 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF104B. Formula One Testing, Barcelona, Spain, 25 November 2004. World © McNeil/Sutton

How the men at the wheel rate their round one chances

‘It sets the pace for the rest of the season’ is how Jacques Villeneuve sums up the Australian Grand Prix. Find out what the former champion and the rest of the Formula One contenders have to say going into the opening round of the 2005 FIA Formula One World Championship at Albert Park this weekend.

Jacques Villeneuve, Sauber:
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"Heading from Europe to Australia is like going on holiday because it is really so far away. I like it there because the atmosphere is really nice, it is a really special GP. I definitely like the track too, it's certainly one of my favourite and I have been pretty competitive there in the past.

"Right now I don't know what we can expect from this race; nobody does. But we have been working hard over the winter to get a good result there. Psychologically the first race of the season is very important - it sets the pace for the rest of the season in a way, so you really want to start off on a high note..."

Felipe Massa, Sauber
2004 Qualifying - 11th, 2004 Race - DNF

"Melbourne is a good track, but very hard on the brakes. I made my Grand Prix debut there back in 2002. That year I was involved in an accident at the first corner, however, and last year I had an engine problem, so this time I hope I can turn that around!

"It's very difficult to know what to expect, as we cannot definitely say yet who will set the pace. It will take a while before that becomes apparent this weekend, but I am confident after all our testing that the Sauber Petronas C24 is a good car. It's not difficult to drive even with the reduction in downforce. We did manage altogether nearly 200 laps at Imola despite the snowy weather; the track is very similar to Albert Park, and we went well there. I think we are in good shape with the car and the Michelin tyres which have been very consistent, and I'm very fit myself after training a lot and the hundred laps a day I was doing in testing. So I'm optimistic, and looking forward to getting the year off to a strong start."

Jenson Button, BAR
2004 Qualifying - 4th, 2004 Race - 6th

"The season has come around so quickly but it's great to be heading to Melbourne again. Personally I can't wait to get stuck into what will be a challenging and exciting year for myself and the team. Our success last season is a tough act for us to follow but we have made good progress over the winter and the past couple of tests in particular have given us a much better idea of the car's real potential. It will be very interesting to see how the new regulations pan out on the race track and the new qualifying format is going to be more mentally challenging for all of the drivers. I'm the fittest I have ever been though and have worked really hard over the close season to make sure I go into this season with the best preparation possible.

"Melbourne is a great place to kick off the season - a great track and a great city. I started my run of podiums in Malaysia last year so my main objective next weekend is to be as strong as possible from the start. Only after the first race will we have a real understanding of where we are in comparison to our competition."

Takuma Sato, BAR
2004 Qualifying - 7th, 2004 Race - 9th

"It is amazing that we are here again, at the start of another season. The winter testing period has gone by so quickly and it is great to be going to Melbourne where the fans are really enthusiastic and the atmosphere is perfect for a season opener. Personally, I am very excited to go into my third F1 season and it is also the first time that I am continuing to drive for the same team, which makes it very special. The first race will be extremely tough for everyone as they get used to the new regulations, but that only excites us more! We feel that we could still be a big challenge to the other teams this year."

Mark Webber, Williams
2004 Qualifying - 6th, 2004 Race - DNF

“Clearly Melbourne is a very special race for me as I'll be competing in front of my home country. It's always a great experience and the party atmosphere around Albert Park is amazing. I hope we can give the crowd something to cheer about by getting the new season off to a good start. I feel I always drive pretty well at Melbourne, it's a track I quite enjoy, but it's always a tough race in terms of reliability, I've had two non-finishes in the last two years but finished fifth in my first race there. I would love to improve upon that result this year.

“Being a street circuit, Melbourne provides a good challenge for the drivers. There'll be a lot of other categories racing over the course of the weekend which means the track will be relatively clean for the Formula One cars which is always good news. Australia will be the first race under the new regulations and everyone is going to learn a lot from having to look after the same set of tyres for both qualifying sessions and the race, that's going to be very demanding for the drivers and the teams. I'm expecting it to be a very close fight at the front and it would be great if we could come away from the first race with some points in the bag which we could take onto Malaysia and the rest of the season.”

Nick Heidfeld, Williams
2004 Qualifying - 15th, 2004 Race - DNF

“I've just finished a very busy period of testing and I'm really looking forward to the first race. I have reached one of my targets by joining a top team, now I want to work on my track performance. The track in Melbourne is nice and demanding for the drivers. At the start of the weekend it will offer only a small amount of grip but, as the weekend progresses, this will change significantly. We proved reliable during winter testing, and this could be a decisive factor in Australia. The balance on the FW27 is generally better than that on the FW26, and for Melbourne we will be getting some new aero parts in order to improve its downforce. Australia is my favourite holiday destination, so it is great that we are flying out a couple of days in advance to acclimatise.”

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren
2004 Qualifying - 10th, 2004 Race - DNF

"I am really looking forward to the new season in Australia. Everyone within the team has been working flat-out on the test track and back at base in preparation for 2005. The team is motivated and we are all excited to be getting back to racing. The tests during the pre-season were productive, the speed is there and the car is easy to drive, but it is impossible to say where we are until Australia, what we do know is that it will be an interesting year. The coming weekend will be the first time we will be racing with the new regulations for tyres, engines and qualifying. We will have to take more care of our Michelins, particularly during second qualifying and the early parts of the race, to make sure you don't damage them under braking for example, which can lead to flat spotting a tyre, with the consequence of losing grip. The circuit in Albert Park is quite flowing, with some fast corners and sweeping curves, and it lets you build up a good rhythm. The two best overtaking chances are at the end of the start finish straight and through the left flick of turn 11. The track comprised of closed public roads is dusty and never generates much grip so the tyre wear is low."

Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren
2004 Qualifying - 3rd, 2004 Race - 5th

"This year's Australian Grand Prix is more special for me as it is the first time I am racing with Team McLaren Mercedes. We have had a good testing season, I have been getting to know the car, which I am very comfortable in, and the team. You always have the traditional winter testing championship, but we have focused on our own programme and everyone has worked hard to complete it. A lot of our time has been spent preparing for the new regulations. The main change for the drivers is that we will have to look after the cars a bit more. It will probably be more important to have a good balance with your car, as if you don't it could have a bad affect on your tyres. The set-up at Melbourne will need to be high downforce, on this low grip track. Qualifying will also be quite interesting, as the grid will now be formed by aggregating the times from both the Saturday and Sunday sessions. There is always a great atmosphere at the Australian Grand Prix; the fans are always really enthusiastic, which makes it really fun. For me racing is what it is all about, I love it, particularly when the crowd are enjoying it too, and I can't wait for the red lights to go out on Sunday."

Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (third driver)
"It is a great challenge for me to be driving the West McLaren Mercedes third car for the Friday session at the first three Grands Prix of the 2005 season, and I am really happy to be back on track in a racing environment. It has been very busy for me and Alex (Wurz) recently; we have both been concentrating on long runs for reliability and also on the tyres because of the new extended use requirements. We completed the final test before this race on Wednesday 23rd February in Valencia."

Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2004 Qualifying - 9th, 2004 Race - 7th

“It is always nice to go to the first race after a long break, so that makes the Australian Grand Prix a special event. Obviously it is a brand new start to a brand new season so it will be interesting to see how everyone performs. The whole event has a great atmosphere, too. The drivers usually arrive early to get used to the time difference and Melbourne is a good place for training outdoors.

“I enjoy the driving at the circuit, especially the quick chicane at Turns 11 and 12. It is a street circuit, though, so the track is usually quite dirty. It will be interesting to see what impact that has on the new tyres, which have been changed this year to comply with the longer running required by the 2005 rules. It will certainly make things more difficult for the drivers.

“At Panasonic Toyota Racing we have done a lot of mileage during testing over the winter and I feel I am ready. The car looks reliable and we seem to be heading in the right direction. The whole team will be pushing as hard as it can and if we are lucky we can score some points in Melbourne this weekend.”

Ralf Schumacher, Toyota
2004 Qualifying - 8th, 2004 Race - 4th

“The start of the season is always exciting because it's the first time that teams find out where they really stand. There are a lot of unknowns, and there's always the question of whether or not you make it through the weekend without too many technical problems. I also enjoy visiting the country itself, so it all combines to make the Australian Grand Prix a great event. The fact that I am making my debut for Panasonic Toyota Racing only serves to make it more special.

“From what we have seen so far in testing, warming up the tyres has been a little bit difficult, so I am sure it will be an interesting factor when we come to Melbourne. It is not usually very warm during the race weekend and it is a dirty track, so it could be really difficult to find the grip, especially in the first lap of qualifying.

“Here at Toyota we have been testing a lot and very hard, so I think we are well prepared for the first race. At the moment we have to expect a good, solid finish in the points. That is what we must aim for, but we will have to wait and see where we line up against the other teams. Until we hit the track, no team really knows their comparative competitiveness.”

David Coulthard, Red Bull
2004 Qualifying - 12th, 2004 Race - 8th

"This is the start of an exciting adventure for Red Bull Racing, and following a promising winter testing program, I am looking forward to making my debut and I am optimistic for the season ahead."

Christian Klien, Red Bull
2004 Qualifying - 19th, 2004 Race - 11th

"I learned a large amount during 2004 and I am really looking forward to this weekend’s race. I am enjoying working in the team and thank Red Bull for this opportunity."

Vitantonio Luizzi, Red Bull (third driver)
"It is a dream for me to be here and I am truly happy to be a part of the Red Bull Racing family from the very beginning. This is my first time at this circuit and I am looking forward to running on Friday."

Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"This is my first visit of any kind to Australia. So far the circuit looks quite dirty but I think it is not too difficult to learn and it is going to be ok. I am looking forward to it. It is a steep learning curve as a rookie but I am up to the challenge and I will give my best shot."

Tiago Monteiro, Jordan
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race – NA

"I was here last year and I was obviously dreaming of being here as an official driver but definitely not expecting it, so it is great to be back in that dream position and have my name on the board above the garage in the pit lane. It makes a big difference. So far everything has been great. We have been doing interesting PR activities, met a lot of different people and been around the track. It looks interesting, dirty and bumpy but we will have to deal with that and I cannot wait to be in the car. I have been here since Monday and although I have enjoyed spending time in the city, I just cannot wait to drive the car. That's what I'm here to do and the moment that I get behind the wheel can't come soon enough!"

Robert Doornbos, Jordan (third driver)
"I am really happy to be part of the Jordan Team as I was last year. Obviously Friday is the most important day for my job. I look forward to helping the team and do the best job I can. It is a new circuit for me but that was also the case in the last three Grands Prix last year. I can find my way very quickly on a new circuit and I cannot wait to get back in the car. I am really excited."

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
2004 Qualifying - 1st, 2004 Race - 1st

“Melbourne at last! I really want to discover it now. I want to know what awaits me. I want to get into the car and drive at Albert Park. Australia is the perfect place to start the season as both the people and the country make you feel at ease. Here you don’t feel on edge; you feel at home. And then there is the joy of waiting for the beginning of the season which this year, as ever, comes out punctually in me.

“This year I am curious to see the effects of the new regulations. Nobody can be sure what will happen. I was very eager to see how the temperatures, that are much higher than in Europe, affect our tyres and engines. In the winter testing we could not really evaluate it accurately other than test knowing that the engines had to last two races. It is hard to judge which team has managed to prepare for this best so there are many unknowns which renders everything very exciting. We can all hope for a thrilling start. My aim is to go for the win…after all, Australia has always been a good hunting ground for us.”

Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari
2004 Qualifying - 2nd, 2004 Race - 2nd

“Only when we get to Melbourne will we see what the new order is among the teams. That is when we will see where we stand and in what areas we need to improve, if indeed we need to improve. From what we have seen in winter testing, Renault are quick over a single lap and also quick over a long distance.

“(The new race weekend timetable) is just something else for us to adapt to. I will enjoy the challenge of having to put in a quick lap the very first time I go out on track on Sunday morning. In practical terms, it just means we will be a bit busier and have less chance to relax a bit before the race. My main hope is that the new format is interesting and easy to understand for the spectators. We will have to learn the best way of getting the most out of the Bridgestone tyres during qualifying.”

Fernando Alonso, Renault
2004 Qualifying - 5th, 2004 Race - 3rd

“I don’t think Melbourne is a perfect circuit for us. Other tracks will suit our car better, but looking at the winter testing times, I hope we will be very competitive. The secret for the weekend will be to avoid problems, because nobody can afford to lose track time at the first race of the year. With a new car, and on a circuit that we only visit once a season, you need to do as many laps as possible to work on the set-up and get used to the track. So our main priority will be for the weekend to run smoothly, so we can do a maximum number of laps. In terms of competitiveness, I expect Ferrari to be the number one team still, and McLaren have looked very strong during the winter. I think those two teams will be our biggest rivals.”

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault
2004 Qualifying - 14th, 2004 Race - 10th

“Things look good for us. We have a strong package, the R25 has done lots of miles over the winter and the set-up is getting better and better. I am confident in the car, and pleased with our level of performance. In testing, we have almost always been among the quickest teams, so we hope that it can translate to race conditions.

“I think the new tyre rules are definitely the biggest change. In the last ten or fifteen laps of the race, the car will be much more difficult to drive because the rear end gets very loose as the tyres wear, and it’s much easier to make mistakes. The key thing will be to make fewer mistakes than the other drivers.

“The tyre wear looks good with this car, and during testing in Barcelona I was able to set my quickest laps at the end of my stints. The R25 is a big step forward in every area, but in particular, the rear-end stability is much better and the balance is much more consistent on the long runs: that means it is a lot easier to set consistent lap-times over the race distance.

“The Albert Park circuit is not my favourite, but my results there have always been pretty good, and I enjoy the atmosphere during the weekend. For the first time, I am going to Melbourne hoping to fight for the race win.”

More to follow.