Australian GP: Webber arrives home a hero

Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber, arrived home today to a hero's welcome along with his fellow Australian Paul Stoddart, owner of the Minardi team for which Webber will make his debut at the 2002 Foster's Australian Grand ...

Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber, arrived home today to a hero's welcome along with his fellow Australian Paul Stoddart, owner of the Minardi team for which Webber will make his debut at the 2002 Foster's Australian Grand Prix.

Webber was "absolutely stoked" with the reception he got on arrival at Avalon Airport, south-west of Melbourne.

And for Stoddart it was "a dream come true" as he brought the team he bought little more than a year ago back to Melbourne, this time in one of his own jumbo jets from his European Aviation fleet.

Stoddart waved an Australian flag out an opening above the cockpit of the plane as it taxied to a standstill, to be greeted by Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker. Eighty members of the Minardi team were on board, along with three cars ? the first of its new PS02 model that Webber's teammate, Malaysian Alex Yoong, will race in next weekend's Grand Prix, and two two-seater cars that will take selected passengers for rides around the Albert Park circuit on the first two days of the event next Thursday and Friday.

A surprise passenger on the flight was Jaguar F1 driver, and 1999 Australian Grand Prix winner Eddie Irvine, with his parents, Eddie Senior and Kathleen.

A horde of media, friends and relatives of Minardi team members including Melbourne model and the world's most downloaded woman, Sarah Jane - and representatives of the team's new Australian sponsor, Melbourne-based HealthyCo, met the flight.

Webber, Stoddart and Yoong as well as Sarah Jane obliged photographers and film crews for almost two hours.

Italian Jarno Trulli and Englishman Jenson Button, the drivers for French car maker Renault's team that previously raced as Benetton, also arrived in Melbourne today, as did new entrant Toyota's Scottish rookie Allan McNish. After a jog around the circuit in the morning, McNish drove a couple of gentle familiarisation laps of the circuit this afternoon in a Toyota Lexus road car.

Swiss team Sauber's Brazilian newcomer Felipe Massa is due in Melbourne tonight and McNish's Toyota teammate, Finnish veteran Mika Salo, tomorrow morning.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Jenson Button , Mark Webber , Allan McNish , Mika Salo , Felipe Massa , Paul Stoddart
Teams Sauber , Benetton , Minardi