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Exclusive Q&A with Mercedes' Norbert Haug 23 Mar 2007

L-R: Norbert Haug (GER), Mercedes Benz Sporting Director, congratulates second placed Fernando Alonso (ESP), McLaren Mercedes. Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 18 March 2007. Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 17 March 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 18 March 2007 Norbert Haug (GER) Mercedes Sporting Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day Suzuka, Japan, 6 October 2006 Norbert Haug (GER) Mercedes Sporting Director, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) and Ron Dennis (GBR) McLaren Team Owner.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006

McLaren’s fresh start paid off in Australia. Their two new drivers both finished on the podium, leaving the Mercedes-powered team atop the constructors’ standings. After such a fantastic result, no wonder Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice President, was smiling…

Q: Melbourne was a fantastic beginning to a new era at McLaren. You must be very satisfied…
Norbert Haug:
Great satisfaction is the feeling you get after a one-two result in a Formula One Grand Prix, but of course the start of the season for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes was a good one. I was particularly pleased for all our team members in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart who have worked so hard for a great 2007 season. Their first reward was that no team scored more points than us in Melbourne.

Q: Nearly everybody expected Fernando Alonso to be on the podium, but the fact that Lewis Hamilton was able to keep up with him is quite sensational. Do you agree the risky strategy of signing a rookie has paid off?
NH:
Both drivers did a very good job and Lewis surprised a few people in his very first Formula One Grand Prix. Fernando and Lewis are an extremely competent combination, we have great confidence in both of them and there is a very good spirit inside the team. But all of that does not make any of us complacent. The team and the drivers created a good baseline in Melbourne, we all want to build on that and improve our package to be in a position to win races on a regular basis, like we did one and a half years ago when we won last.

Q: Even so, Kimi Raikkonen was almost half a second faster in the Ferrari in qualifying. How will you deal with that?
NH:
Ferrari and Kimi were faster in both qualifying and the race. I think we have a pretty good understanding of what is going on and whilst Kimi did not push to the limit after his first pit stop, we didn’t either because we realised that second and third would be the best possible results for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in the race.

Q: Has the weekend in Melbourne given you any indications where the shortfalls are?
NH:
Our package is certainly a good one, but we have identified room for improvement.

Q: And will the test session next week in Kuala Lumpur help to close the gap?
NH:
As everybody will be testing, all the teams will be hoping to improve their performance. We have to improve even quicker than the competition in order to catch up and overtake. Every team member is focused on this.

Q: With the regulations specifying you must use both tyre compounds in the race, strategy has become even more important. Were you able to find a workable strategy in Melbourne?
NH:
Our strategy was okay. Fernando and Lewis went three and four laps further than Kimi, but (even) with the same amount of fuel they would not have qualified ahead of the Ferrari anyway - so we did everything right.

Q: How do you think the tyre regulations will influence results?
NH:
Bridgestone did a competent job in Melbourne. We will see races this year where teams can use the softer tyre for two stints and others where teams will probably use the soft compound for one stint and for fewer laps. It will be interesting to see how these races will develop.

Q: Melbourne finally revealed McLaren’s position in comparison to its competitors. Were there any surprises for you?
NH:
The order was very much the same as one of the last tests in Bahrain ahead of the new season. We need to improve by one place!

Q: Do you think this season will be a shoot-out between Ferrari and McLaren?
NH:
This is difficult to tell. Renault will be strong, Honda will catch up, BMW is trying hard. Toyota pushes and works very hard for six years - all is set for a great and interesting season and we want a Mercedes star to cross the line first on as many occasions as possible.