Activity in Melbourne for the first race of the 2007 season is well under way and the FIA Thursday press conference was a good a place as any to see what some drivers had to say about their expectations for this weekend. Reigning world champion Fernando Alonso was in the line up and he is aiming to claim his maiden win for McLaren on Sunday.
"They (the team) have improved and developed the car a lot compared to last year," said the Spaniard. "They work day and night and I think we arrive here in Australia with a really competitive car and I think we can fight for victory. I feel really, really happy with the move and really confident for the championship."
Alonso won at Albert Park from third on the grid last year. "I hope to be first on the grid and repeat the result for sure," he commented. "To be honest, I've always had very, very good races here in Melbourne. In 2005 I started 16th, I think, and finished third. Last year I won here. But I think this year we arrive with a very interesting championship, very open in the first races, probably."
Ferrari's Felipe Massa is another title contender, something that some would have found hard to imagine not so long ago. The Brazilian improved a lot in 2006, especially in the second half of the season, and now opinion is edging towards thinking that Massa has a realistic chance of beating teammate Kimi Raikkonen to the championship.
"I don't feel (I am the) favourite and I will never feel (that)," Massa said. "I think you have to do the job, day by day, many things in Formula One change very quickly and the most important thing is to keep working hard with the feet on the ground and do our job and in the end there are 17 races to go it is starting now and everything people say happens and you have just to take it into consideration and to do your job -- that is (the) most important thing for me."
Massa regularly outdid Raikkonen in testing but he reminded us that racing is where it really matters. "I think for sure Kimi is very quick and a great driver and so I expect him to be tough in terms of competition, which I am pretty sure he will be. But testing, as we said before, is testing and now is when it really counts…"
Massa previously singled out BMW Sauber as being competitive over the winter and this year Robert Kubica enters his first full season after half a dozen races with the team last year. BMW had some reliability issues during testing and Kubica admitted that he had to adapt his driving style, but now he believes the problems have been solved and his style is better suited to the tyres.
"I think it will be easy to see, during Friday driving…" he remarked. "You have to be smoother, the rear axle is much loser, I'm driving with less steering angle compared with last year, I'm driving with three times less or even more. It's quite a different driving style from my point of view but it seems you have to drive like that with these tyres, at least in our car."
Alex Wurz is no rookie but he's been out of full time competition since 2000. After a period with McLaren as test driver he moved to Williams in the same role last year, so how does he feel about getting back to the 'real' job? Excited, naturally, and quick to point out that although he's not been racing, he's not been idle either.
"I haven't been away on holiday for six years, I've been driving in World Championship-winning teams, compared myself in long runs and short runs to World Champions, race-winners, future talents and that raises your level," he remarked. "And also I'm mature, so I hope I'm a much stronger guy than I was then."
Last but not least of the five drivers meeting the press was Anthony Davidson. Like Wurz, the Brit has spent years as a test driver and now makes his full time debut with Super Aguri. Previously Davidson raced once or twice as a stand in for another driver but has yet to actually reach the chequered flag.
That is his goal for this opening race of 2007. "To finish it, because I haven't finished one yet, and that's what I want to do," he said. "Obviously we're a small team and we're working flat out to get everything ready. It's not the best situation for a driver to be in by any means but as long as I've got the same car as my team-mate then I'm happy."