Australian GP: BAR preview

Lucky Strike B*A*R Honda's 2003 Championship campaign begins in earnest next weekend at the curtain-raising Qantas Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. After an intensive Winter testing programme, encompassing 35 car days and over 7,000kms of ...

Lucky Strike B*A*R Honda's 2003 Championship campaign begins in earnest next weekend at the curtain-raising Qantas Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. After an intensive Winter testing programme, encompassing 35 car days and over 7,000kms of mileage, the team is looking forward to the B*A*R Honda 005's Grand Prix debut and what promises to be a challenging but very exciting season.

The Australian Grand Prix is one of the highlights of the 16-race series. The anticipation of finally seeing just how competitive the respective cars are in race condition is palpable through the weekend and this year's revised qualifying format will add a thrilling new dimension.

The Albert Park circuit is a firm favourite with most of the F1 drivers. The layout of this fast, flowing track is characterised by a series of slow and medium speed corners, incorporating two high-speed sectors. The cars run here with maximum downforce and, mechanically, the set-up needs to strike a balance between allowing good traction out of the slow sections while optimising balance in the mid-range corners. The high ambient temperatures experienced at this time of year also highlight cooling issues and brakes can be a significant factor. Under these high downforce conditions engine power becomes an important element in the car's ultimate performance.

Jacques Villeneuve has experienced mixed fortunes at this circuit. He drove in his first Grand Prix here in 1996, starting from pole and finishing second after a mechanical problem forced him to slow. It was at the Albert Park circuit back in 2000 where B*A*R secured its first World Championship points with Jacques finishing in 4th place. However, tragedy struck in 2001 when Jacques crashed after running into the back of Ralf Schumacher's Williams-BMW and a race marshall lost his life after he was hit by flying debris from the B*A*R car. 2002 proved frustrating for the team when both Jacques and his then teammate Olivier Panis became embroiled in the mayhem of a first corner incident triggered when Rubens Barrichello was hit by Ralf Schumacher. While Olivier was forced to retire, Jacques emerged unscathed until a rear wing failure ended his race after 27 laps.

The Formula One circus laps up the party atmosphere of this cosmopolitan Victorian capital and it is certainly a popular venue for both B*A*R drivers.

Jacques Villeneuve:

"The race in Australia is good fun. The track is great; it's a long lap with a series of straights and heavy braking and I really enjoy racing there. It should be even more exciting this year with all the new rule changes. One-lap qualifying is going to be fantastic. It will be interesting to see what happens over the race weekend in Melbourne. I'm looking forward to it as this will be our chance to find out how competitive we are."

"Winter testing has been tough and we've experienced a number of problems with reliability. We've yet to complete a race distance which is slightly worrying going into the first race. Having said that, the car has proved to be fast and quite easy to drive so it looks like we could be competitive. If we can finish the race I believe we should be in a points-scoring position. "

Jenson Button:

"The first race of the season is always exciting. This is also my first race with B*A*R so there's an even greater sense of anticipation. I can't wait to get into the car on Friday."

"We've had an intensive test schedule since we launched the car and we've had to work hard to overcome our reliability issues. I think we have every reason to feel positive about the first race and the season generally."

"Melbourne is such a great place to start the calendar; everyone is really friendly and Albert Park is a fantastic location for a Grand Prix. The circuit is great fun; there are lots of chicanes and straights but not many quick corners. For me, the first corner, Fangio, is pretty exciting. You come haring down the straight into a 3rd gear corner where you use all of the kerb before going through into Brabham. It's fantastic, especially on the first lap of the race."

"The new qualifying format should be pretty exciting for the fans and the teams. We are effectively rolling four qualifying laps into one and there will be a lot of pressure on everybody, especially the engineers and the mechanics, to get the car out on time. I'm looking forward to it; it should be good fun."

David Richards, Team Principal

"There is no doubt that 2003 is going to be an extraordinarily challenging year for us as we strive to make a major leap forward. I firmly believe that in the B*A*R Honda 005 we have a car that will regularly qualify in the top ten and, in turn, translate that into regular points and podium finishes."

"We completed our Winter test programme in Imola last week where, after a number of reliability concerns in previous weeks, we finally started to see things come together in full Melbourne spec. All the fundamental elements are there; we have good inherent speed and Honda have made progress with the new engine. Our primary concern will be a recurrence of recent reliability issues so, first and foremost, we'll be looking to get both cars home then hoping to pick up points along the way."

"Melbourne is certain to be an exciting weekend for everyone involved in Formula One, not least the fans. Like everyone else, we're looking forward to seeing just how well everyone adapts to the new qualifying format and what surprises it throws up along the way."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director

"The Australian Grand Prix sees the culmination of four hard months of car design, build and manufacture, coupled with two months of fairly intensive testing. We know we have a good car in the B*A*R Honda 005 and it's up to us to prove that in Melbourne next weekend. Winter testing has not been without its problems, most of them concerned with reliability. As a result, we fell short of our targeted 10,000kms of testing mileage but we have worked hard to iron out most of our issues. We ran in full Melbourne spec in Imola last week where our final pre-season test was very positive."

"It's difficult to predict where we will be at the first race. Clearly, a great deal depends on the relative performance of the Bridgestone and Michelin rubber. Compared with other Bridgestone runners we feel we are in a very strong position under race conditions but we have yet to find out where we are in qualifying conditions. The new regulations have certainly opened up a new range of strategies and it will be very interesting to see how things pan out. Generally, we're feeling positive and looking forward to the race."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Engineering Director for Honda Racing Development:

"We have had a really busy Winter test programme in 2003. We have learnt a lot and as always with testing we've had some good days and some not so good! Honda has set aggressive engine performance and weight targets for Melbourne and our plan is on schedule. I am therefore confident of achieving a good performance platform for the season ahead. All in all I am looking forward to Melbourne because it will be great to be racing again."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Ralf Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Jacques Villeneuve , David Richards , Shuhei Nakamoto
Teams Williams