Whitmarsh and Haug preview Australian GP

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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.

Martin Whitmarsh Are the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team and the MP4-23 ready for the Australian Grand Prix?

“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?

“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?

“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.”

Norbert Haug 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?

“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?

“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?

“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.”