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Australian Grand Prix - team and driver preview quotes 23 Mar 2009

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F60 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 10 March 2009. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 Formula One Testing, 16 March 2009, Jerez, Spain. Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW31. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, 11 March 2009. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R29 stops on circuit with a mechanical problem. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Barcelona, Spain, 12 March 2009. Timo Glock (GER) Toyota. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 10 March 2009.

After months of preparation and testing, it’s almost time for the 10 teams and 20 drivers that make up the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship to finally put their cards on the table and show just what they can do. For the teams it will be their first real chance to see if they can really challenge for the title, while for the drivers the joy of racing again will be just as potent. The Formula One fraternity look ahead to this weekend’s season opener in Melbourne…

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
2008 Qualifying - 15th, 2008 Race - 8th

“Ferrari was very competitive during the tests; but we'll do the F60's countercheck at Melbourne, when we'll all meet in the race with the same fuel at the same time. Only then we'll see how strong we are and maybe we've got to wait for a couple of races to have a clearer situation. Albert Park is a very particular circuit, just like the city itself is very special: maybe we've got to wait until Malaysia to see which teams will be ahead. Two years ago I won in Australia, while we had several problems last year. Our goal is to immediately gain some good points.”

Felipe Massa, Ferrari
2008 Qualifying - 4th, 2008 Race - DNF

“It was a long wait, longer than usual, as the Australian Grand Prix's date had been moved, but now we're ready to race and I can't wait. I'm going to Australia with great confidence and optimism, but also with some caution: the test results are not always repeated during the race weekends. We've seen during the tests that there are also some other very strong teams, especially in the last sessions the Brawns. It seems that they've got the fastest car at the moment and I think that their pace is real; maybe they found something that makes the difference. We'll see in Melbourne; but I think they've got a good car and they did their tests with the right weight.

“I'm 100 percent ready, perfectly in shape and I think that this also applies to the team. We made some mistakes last year and we've been working hard all winter long to improve where we weren't perfect. My teammate is still my strongest competitor and I think that Kimi will be very strong - as usual. My goal is very simple: I want a season like in 2008 and to reach that goal I have to stay concentrated and work very hard. The first race is always a bit like a leap in the dark, but I can't wait. As the race starts at 17:00 let's hope that it won't also end in the dark!”

Fernando Alonso, Renault
2008 Qualifying - 11th, 2008 Race - 4th

“In the past Albert Park has been a good track for Renault and so I hope we can have a strong weekend. I think the order of the teams will probably be different from the last few years as we have got used to Ferrari and McLaren dominating, but with the new rules I think there will be lots of cars fighting for the win. Hopefully we will be in that fight.

“We finished in a strong position last year and this year our goal is to fight for the championship. But we have lots of new regulations this year and nobody really knows what will happen when we get to Melbourne. From what we have seen in testing it seems all the teams are very close and so we will certainly have a fight on our hands.”

Nelson Piquet, Renault
2008 Qualifying - 20th, 2008 Race - DNF

“I'm feeling much more confident this year and looking forward to returning to Melbourne. I learned so much with the team in 2008 and I now have a year of experience under my belt which will make things easier. It's also a new era for Formula One with lots of changes, but we've made good progress with the car during testing and we are heading to Melbourne with high hopes.

“It's a challenging track and quite a difficult place to set the car up as it's a mixture between a permanent venue and a temporary street course with lots of tricky slow speed corners, as well as some quicker sections. As a city, I love Melbourne: the fans are great and the atmosphere of the race is always pretty special. It's still difficult to know how we compare to the other teams and so setting a target isn't easy. We know we have a good race car that is consistent and so I think we will be competitive in Melbourne. I will do my best to try and reach Q3 in qualifying and hopefully finish in the points.”

Pat Symonds, Renault engineering director
“I enjoy the Australian Grand Prix and I think the whole team does as it's when we get back to racing, which is ultimately what we're all here for. Melbourne is a great city and everybody looks forward to going there, although I suspect we will end up seeing a lot more of the garages in Albert Park than the city itself!

“At our first test in Portugal we only had one dry day and initially the car was quite difficult to drive, especially as we were getting used to the new aerodynamic characteristics. But as we've introduced the updates in preparation for Melbourne, we've moved towards a pretty driveable car that both Fernando and Nelson are comfortable with and it's now behaving much more as we want it to.”

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
2008 Qualifying - 1st, 2008 Race - 1st

“There is no better place to begin the FIA Formula One World Championship than in Australia. The weather is fantastic, the facilities are excellent and the people of Melbourne make us all feel extremely welcome. Most importantly, everyone arrives with an air of enthusiasm and expectation. Despite weeks of winter testing, it’s still difficult to know exactly who has the best package, and finding out over the weekend in Albert Park is always fascinating. Perhaps McLaren Mercedes doesn’t come to Melbourne with the same prospects to challenge at the front that we experienced in both 2007 and ’08, but the whole team will be working tirelessly to help us move back to the front.”

Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
2008 Qualifying - 3rd, 2008 Race - 5th

“I had a great race in Melbourne last year on my debut for McLaren Mercedes. It’s a track I love - a circuit that you really have to attack with a lot of enthusiasm if you are to get the best from the car. The fast esses at the back of the circuit are probably the most demanding corners - getting it just right is a hugely satisfying feeling. Elsewhere, I enjoy the ‘back to school’ feeling of the new season - you meet up with everybody, share your stories from the winter and look forward to another good season. Everybody in our team is really motivated and, while we probably won’t start the season as favourites, we will work around the clock to get back there.”

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal
“We go into the start of the 2009 season fully aware that we do not yet have the technical package that will allow our drivers to fight at the front. In Formula One, there is nowhere to hide: that’s what makes our sport so demanding and yet so endlessly fascinating. And as a team that goes grand prix racing with the expectation of winning races and challenging for world championships, we therefore go to Melbourne with realistic expectations. Nonetheless, we begin our season with huge determination to re-assert ourselves at the front and we will not rest for a moment until we have done that. Most importantly, we haven’t forgotten how to win.”

Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice-president
“Melbourne is the city where - 12 years ago - McLaren-Mercedes achieved their first of 58 grand prix wins since then. After a total of four victories at Albert Park, this time it may not be possible to repeat Lewis’s success of last year. Considering our test results we will not be as competitive at the season opener as we intend to be, and so I do not expect a qualifying result at the front of the grid. However, we will all work hard to return to the front as soon as possible and in Melbourne everybody in the team is fully motivated to do everything to achieve the best possible result."

Nico Rosberg, Williams
2008 Qualifying - 7th, 2008 Race - 3rd

“I'm really looking forward to getting out onto the Albert Park track. I had a great race in Melbourne in 2008 and I am determined that we will have a similarly strong start to this season. In character, it’s a very challenging semi-street circuit which usually suits our car well. I think Australia is great. The country is so varied and the people are cool, very relaxed and welcoming. I would come more often if it wasn’t so far away!

“Winter testing has been good, but I think we are not where we want to be just yet. However, the potential for development is huge because of the new rules, so we will be looking to making strong progress throughout the year to get closer to the podium. I think the regs (regulations) are all good. It is very likely that they will improve overtaking and ramp up the excitement in the sport for everybody’s benefit.”

Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
2008 Qualifying - 13th, 2008 Race - 6th

“What can I tell you, I love Australia. I am doing what I did last year, dropping in on Sydney for a few days and I expect to do some good training there - it’s a great sports nation. It’s the right place to start the year - it just feels like the natural beginning to the season. We have a good car, one that will allow us to compete, that’s certain, but where it will take us this year - well, that is part of the excitement to see how it all turns out. The competition is closer, that’s for sure. Whether we will get the better overtaking we are all hoping for, really it will be an improvement, but by how much we will only know after 58 laps of Albert Park next Sunday.”

Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India
2008 Qualifying - 16th, 2008 Race - DNF

“Australia is a good place for me personally. I won the race in 2005 and started in second place in 2006 and with a car that was not as competitive as we would have liked, I finished in fifth in 2007. For these reasons, it’s a fantastic track for me, but it’s also a great track to drive. With a combination of short straights, second and third gear chicanes, this 16 turn track requires medium to high downforce and good traction is essential, particularly early on in the weekend when the track is ‘green’.

"It is very slippery on the Friday as it doesn’t get used very much over the year, and then conditions just get better and better for the race. There are a few chicanes in third gear so you need to have a good car under braking, but don’t brake too much so you can still get into the chicane with a good speed. Turns 11 and 12 are quite quick and it’s quite hard for the brakes, and the last corner is quite interesting. It’s important to be quick but there is always a lot of understeer and the car slides on four wheels. This year the race will start a bit later at 1700, so it may be a bit darker at the end of the race, but I don’t think this will change a lot for the drivers. In Singapore we raced under the lights and it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference from our perspective.”

Adrian Sutil, Force India
2008 Qualifying - 22nd, 2008 Race - DNF

“Australia is a really nice circuit, a bit like a street circuit with lots of corners. It’s long at 5.3km, but there are not so many straights so there is always something going on and you can’t rest. We always seem to get a good race there - last year there were a lot of accidents and with the new safety car regs this year it could be interesting again. At least the pit lane is open all the time now if there is a problem, which is better. It was very confusing last year and nobody actually knew what to do - I’m sure there will be some discussions after the first use, but that’s always how it is! Hopefully to have a good race straight away, with no problems. I want to finish for sure, but we will see where we are in qualifying and then I can say where I want to be in the race.”

Dominic Harlow, Force India chief technical officer
“The culmination of winter development and car build effort makes Melbourne an exciting and technically challenging race. The Albert Park circuit is hard on brakes and, being a temporary construction, has a constantly changing grip level. The weather offers plenty of variety some for the teams to deal with, from 40 degree heat as in 2008, to rain disturbances from the southern oceanic region. For the first time ever the race this year will be an evening event, potentially leading to cooler track conditions, however Bridgestone’s softer tyre will almost certainly struggle to resist graining and degradation. One very important fact to remember at this circuit however is the seemingly annual first corner accident where nearly five months of anticipation can be over in a few seconds. We have often seen safety cars in Melbourne, and it could figure again in this year’s race, and the change to the regulations could particularly mix things up.”

Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2008 Qualifying - 6th, 2008 Race - DNF

"Melbourne is a great place to visit and the Australian Grand Prix is always good fun. As a Formula One driver you really want to race so I am pleased the season is starting and we can get on with the competition. I am totally fired up for this season and I am feeling very positive about our chances. The TF109 is the best Toyota I have driven in pre-season testing; it feels stable and gives the driver confidence but more importantly it seems to be pretty quick, even though it's hard to make too many judgements based on testing. We made a big step last year, proving we can fight for podiums and finish regularly in the top six so I am hoping for another step forward this year. We have more experience now and the team has worked really hard for a long time on the TF109 - we are ready for the season and I am raring to go."

Timo Glock, Toyota
2008 Qualifying - 18th, 2008 Race - DNF

"It's very exciting to be going to the first race this year because the big changes to the technical regulations for 2009 give Toyota a good opportunity to fight at the front. It's really hard to predict because you don't know what other teams are working on in testing but I know our programme and the results we have seen are very encouraging. Testing has gone really well and I have a good feeling for the new car. It's a different emotion to be starting my second year with Toyota compared to 2008 because now I am much more familiar with the team and I feel I can really start the season strongly. Last year it took a few races to find the right direction for me in terms of set-up but I don't expect that to be a problem this season. Australia is anyway one of my favourite places to visit so I can't wait to get to Melbourne and get the season started."

John Howett, Toyota president
"This is a big season for our team and we have set ourselves high targets. We exist to win so that is clearly the aim this season and we have every reason to be optimistic after our extremely positive testing results. This is our eighth season in Formula One and we have learnt a lot in that time; we are leaner, more experienced and better equipped to succeed. Our drivers are a great asset to us this season; Jarno has huge experience and everyone knows he is tremendously fast while Timo is an explosive young driver who showed his great potential last year. So 2009 is a big opportunity for our team and we are determined to make the most of it. We have been on the podium in the past in Australia and I would like to see us there again this weekend."

Jenson Button, Brawn GP
2008 Qualifying - 12th, 2008 Race - DNF

"The first race of the season is always an exciting weekend as none of the teams really know where their car is in performance terms until we hit the race track for the first time in competitive conditions. I am a big fan of Melbourne as a city and as the venue for the first race; it's truly a great place to start the season. The race has a beautiful setting in Albert Park and it is a quick and fun circuit to drive with some very technical corners. I have always enjoyed driving there, particularly in qualifying where you can really get on it and nail a flying lap.

"I will be arriving in Melbourne on Saturday to ensure that I have a few days to acclimatise to the time zone. I'll be doing some fitness work with my physio in preparation for the race weekend, hopefully in the sunshine along the coast. We will also be linking up with some local triathletes to train with them and catching up with my former physio who is now based in Australia and some of the V8 Supercar drivers that he is working with for another intense training session. I'm really looking forward to getting to Australia and the challenge of getting the best out of our new car over what looks to be a very exciting race weekend."

Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP
2008 Qualifying - 10th, 2008 Race - DSQ

"The Australian Grand Prix is one of my favourite races on the calendar and the atmosphere at Albert Park over the race weekend is always fantastic. It will be really exciting to go back this year with our new team and a competitive car behind us for the start of what will be my 17th season competing in Formula One. After the tough winter that we went through, I am so motivated to get racing again and I am really looking forward to the challenges ahead.

"The Albert Park circuit is quite technical and the relatively high top speeds for a street circuit mean that you need to run quite a high level of downforce which in turn compromises your grip through the slower second-gear corners. The lap has some very quick changes of direction and you can gain a lot of time through the quick chicane at Turns 11 and 12 if you get it hooked up well. You need a car with a good front-end to make the most of these corners.

"As the circuit uses public roads, there are a lot of bumps under braking and if your car is prone to rear-locking, you have to be careful that these don't unsettle the car enough to throw you off the circuit. It's reasonably difficult to overtake around the circuit with Turns Three and 13 offering the best opportunities."

Ross Brawn, Brawn GP technical director
"Our ambition has always been to be on the grid for the first race of the season in Melbourne and our planning was specifically tailored towards the achievement of this goal. I am extremely proud that we have achieved our ambition and the Australian Grand Prix will mark the start of an exciting new journey for our team. The BGP 001 car is the result of 15 months of intensive development work and the team have been nothing less than fantastic in their commitment to producing two cars in time for the first race.

"From our short but crucial testing programme over the past two weeks, we have reinforced our view that the BGP 001 is a good car and an excellent platform from which to develop performance over the course of the season. Our focus during the seven days of pre-season testing was on reliability and developing our understanding of the car in race conditions. We are very satisfied with the work achieved and the initial pace seen from the car however we are fully aware that our work has only just begun. The practice running in Melbourne will be crucial and we have to get as much mileage as possible under our belts to allow Jenson and Rubens to refine the set-up of the car to their liking."

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber
2008 Qualifying - 2nd, 2008 Race - DNF

"I'm really looking forward to the Australian Grand Prix. I'm happy that the race season will finally get started and all the speculation of the pre-season testing will stop. It will be very interesting to see how competitive the teams really are. I like street circuits in general, so Albert Park is one of my favourite race tracks.

“You have to be very precise. That applies to the whole circuit; you need to stay on the clean line. But this year precision will be especially important for the first corner after the start, when we will have our very first fight for position with the bigger 2009 front wings. I'm pretty sure it will be an interesting race. In addition, Melbourne is a very nice city and the people create a truly special atmosphere for all of us in Formula One."

Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
2008 Qualifying - 5th, 2008 Race - 2nd

"I'm looking forward immensely to the start of the season in Australia. This time around I'm particularly keen to see how the teams and drivers stack up against each other. It's time for the speculation to stop; from now on it's only facts that matter. A whole number of things have changed since last year and that means there are a lot of unanswered questions: What effect will the KERS and adjustable front wings have in the races? What will happen at the start when we are side-by-side with the larger front wings for the first time? Will overtaking really be easier, as our experiences in testing have led us to believe?

"Last year winter testing did not go as well as it might have done for us, and we surprised everybody with our strong performance in Australia. This winter all of our testing went pretty well, and I hope this impression is confirmed in Melbourne. We had to contend with some difficult weather conditions in testing, and I'm also curious to see what happens in Albert Park in this respect, as it can get very autumnal in my favourite travel destination in March."

Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport director
"The start of a Formula One season with perhaps the most sweeping rule changes we've ever seen is now in sight. We are pleased that Australia is again the first GP of the year in 2009. There is always a very special atmosphere in Melbourne. The Australians certainly love their sport and they've been well and truly bitten by the Formula One bug.

"Last year Nick took second for us in the first race of the season, and we're hoping that we get off to a good start in Albert Park once again this year. We are heading in the right direction with the BMW Sauber F1.09; both the drivers and the engineers came back with positive feedback during testing. Plus, Nick and Robert carried out full race simulations without suffering any technical problems.

"As far as KERS is concerned, our system will be race-ready in Melbourne. We sent the cars out regularly with KERS during testing and the results were very good. Now it's just a matter of weighing up the pros and cons. On the positive side, the drivers would have an extra 82 hp at their disposal for 6.6 seconds per lap. However, the system adds weight to the car and this has an impact on the car's weight distribution and tyre wear. We will make a decision on a driver-by-driver, circuit-by-circuit basis."

Willy Rampf, BMW Sauber head of engineering
"There's always a lot of anticipation ahead of the first race of the season, but this time it's even more exciting than usual. Winter testing gave us some initial indications of where we stand in relation to our rivals, but there are still a lot of question marks. The reason for the uncertainty is the radical changes made to the technical regulations. Totally new aerodynamics with significantly lower downforce compared to last year, the introduction of KERS, the return of slicks and the double mileage requirement for the engines mean we're starting from a totally different basis. Using the potential of the tyres to optimum effect will be particularly important.

"Melbourne is a stop-start kind of circuit, which places heavy loads on the brakes and, at the same time, demands good traction. Grip levels are very low, especially at the start of the weekend, but you cannot let that deflect you from getting the car set-up right."

Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone director of motorsport tyre development
"The move to slick tyres is significant, although Bridgestone have a lot of experience with these tyres from many different race series so we are confident that we can produce good racing slicks. We are making these tyres to the same sizes as we had with grooved tyres, but this means there is a new front/rear grip balance. The teams will therefore have to work hard to get a good set-up, particularly with the varying surface of Albert Park, and we will be working closely with everyone to achieve this."