The 2011 Formula One World Championship begins next weekend with Round One, the Australian Grand Prix, taking place in Melbourne on Sunday 27 March. Albert Park, a street circuit which uses the public roads surrounding the man-made lake south of Melbourne city centre, hosts one of the most atmospheric races on the calendar.
How do you feel about Australia being the first race of the season?
"Australia has always been one of the highlights on the Formula One calendar in all my years of competing. It is the atmosphere which makes Albert Park so special, and when you see all of the fans having fun, that just gives you a great feeling of how motorsport can be. I am lucky enough to have a lot of good memories from Melbourne: it's a venue where I have won four times and those races will always be very special. I'm sure it will be a great weekend, and an exciting season-opener. I'm looking forward to getting to the paddock on Thursday."
How well prepared are you and the team for the new season?
"We are well prepared. All of the hard work over the winter will start to come together over the first few races and then we will know more about the position we are in, and what still needs to be achieved as Formula One never stands still of course. I feel very 'at home' with the team after one year of working together and this experience has really benefited our pre-season preparations."
Are you looking forward to the trip to Australia?
"I love visiting Australia and Melbourne is one of the most chilled-out cities on the calendar so it's a cool venue for the first race of the season. I'm travelling out early to get acclimatised to the time zone and am looking forward to training by the beach and relaxing in St Kilda in the evenings. The Australian fans are so enthusiastic which is great to see and it makes the atmosphere around Albert Park very special. The circuit holds some great memories for me from achieving my first podium here in 2008, and I have finished in the points in the last four races."
What are your thoughts going into the first race of the season?
"We're in good shape. The team and car have progressed a lot over the winter, we're pleased with the performance from our upgrades and the car is handling well. Our aim is to make a good step forward from last season and I am confident that we will be able to achieve this."
Ross Brawn, Team Principal
"This year marks our second season as MERCEDES GP PETRONAS, and the team has made real progress over this period. With the support of Daimler, Aabar and our team partners, we are gaining strength from being a single entity and building the team that we want for the future.
"Our pre-season programme has gone as well as we could have wanted. However, as always, the first race will be the real measure of where we are in terms of competitiveness. Everyone is eagerly waiting to see how the grid shakes out in Melbourne, and wherever we find ourselves, we will respond accordingly. Our ability to react strongly has improved considerably over the past twelve months and we have a robust development plan in place for the season. 2011 will be the second season with our drivers, Michael and Nico, and this continuity, together with our well-established relationships, has enabled both the drivers and team to prepare well for the challenges ahead.
"I believe that we can expect a very exciting season in 2011. The strategic battle is going to be fascinating with the Pirelli tyres, combined with the new adjustable rear wing and the return of KERS, increasing the challenges for the teams and drivers, and hopefully providing lots of track action for the fans.
"The Australian Grand Prix is always a fantastic motorsport weekend, and with the added excitement of being the first race of the season this year, we are all looking forward to the racing starting again next week."
Norbert Haug, Vice-President - Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"It has been an intensive winter for MERCEDES GP PETRONAS. We covered more than 5700 km during a total of 15 test days, which is the equivalent of more than 18 Grand Prix distances. The final test in Barcelona with our planned technical updates saw us take a step forward which is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of our whole team. There are still a lot of question marks about how the racing will unfold in 2011 with the new Pirelli tyres, the adjustable rear wing and the reintroduction of KERS. These are demanding challenges for the drivers, and Michael and Nico have done a good job mastering the new systems and understanding how to get the most out of the tyres.
"Melbourne holds many good memories for Mercedes-Benz, as the venue for our first modern era victory in 1997 with David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes, and Albert Park has the knack of producing exciting races. Making predictions before the first Grand Prix of the season is certainly not what I want to do, but our target is clear from the first race: to improve on the position in which we finished our first season as MERCEDES GP PETRONAS.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our hard-working team members in Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart for their relentless efforts since the final chequered flag of last season. The best reward for all of us would be to start the new season in a stronger position compared to 2010."