The build-up to next week's Foster's Australian Grand Prix is about to hit top gear, with the arrival of the first team -- Australian-owned Minardi, including its new Australian driver Mark Webber -- at Avalon Airport south-west of Melbourne early Sunday (Australian time).
Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker will head the welcoming party for Minardi. One of team owner Paul Stoddart's jumbo jets will be bringing in a party of 80, comprising mainly team personnel, as well as three racing cars and associated equipment.
The flight, due at 8am Australian eastern summer time, will come from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia -- where Minardi has found the bulk of its sponsorship for its second season under the control of Stoddart, originally from Coburg in inner suburban Melbourne.
Minardi officially launched its 2002 model PS02 car in Malaysia on Friday. Mark Webber's teammate will be Malaysian driver Alex Yoong. Webber, from Queanbeyan near Canberra, will make his Grand Prix debut at Albert Park next week, becoming the first Australian to race in Formula One since David Brabham in 1994.
He will also be the first Australian to drive an Australian-owned car in motor racing's premier competition since triple world champion Sir Jack Brabham's last season in 1970.
Two other Formula One rookies, new entrant Toyota's Scottish driver Allan McNish and Swiss team Sauber's Brazilian newcomer Felipe Massa, are also due in Melbourne on Sunday.
The fourth rookie in this year's Grand Prix, Japan's Takuma Sato with the Jordan team, is expected to arrive on Tuesday.