As the FIA Formula One World Championship gears up for another exciting season, which will see revised technical and sporting regulations and inaugural events in Bahrain and China, the West McLaren Mercedes team arrives in Melbourne for the first...
As the FIA Formula One World Championship gears up for another exciting season, which will see revised technical and sporting regulations and inaugural events in Bahrain and China, the West McLaren Mercedes team arrives in Melbourne for the first race of the year, the 2004 Australian Grand Prix.
The event marks the start of David Coulthard's ninth and Kimi Raikkonen's third seasons with the team, the 150th Grand Prix of the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz relationship, which is entering its tenth season, and sees the race debut of the new West McLaren Mercedes MP4-19 car.
"The first race of the season is always particularly exciting as it allows us to run the car we have been intensively developing and testing over the winter in a competitive environment. Although we have been running the MP4-19 since late November last year, it is difficult to make any true predictions with regards performance until Melbourne, but obviously we are hoping for a repeat of last year's result, which was my second victory at the race."
"It is always great to get back to racing, and where better than Melbourne. The Australian Grand Prix is a firm favourite with all the teams and the local fans are always very passionate and appreciative and help to create the carnival atmosphere that surrounds the event."
"The 3.295 mile/5.303km Albert Park street circuit, which is fairly long by modern standards, is pretty smooth and flowing, with a good combination of fast corners, sweeping curves and tight hairpins. The track can be hard on brakes and tyres and demands a high downforce configuration. Perhaps the best opportunity for overtaking is through the fast left flick of turn 11."
"I am of course very much looking forward to the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the new Formula One season. Obviously this year we have a number of changes to the regulations, on the sporting side perhaps the main one is one combined qualifying session on Saturday afternoon rather than one on both Friday and Saturday."
"This should help running at Albert Park during qualifying, because as it is a street circuit we often have to contend with a dirty surface on the first day of running. However hopefully this will not have too much of an affect this year as the dirt is usually cleared on the Friday. Also the speed limit in the pit lane is increased and teams that finished outside the top four in last year's Championship can run a third car in Friday Free Practice, it will be interesting to see how they all work in Australia."
"From what we have seen of the testing that has been taking place in the build-up to the season, the signs are that we will have another exciting Championship. I think it will continue to be very competitive and hopefully enjoyable for the fans to watch. I had my debut Formula One victory in Malaysia last year, and my first aim for 2004 is to better that figure, after that who knows!"
Martin Whitmarsh, Managing director, McLaren Racing:
"The Australian Grand Prix will mark the race debut of the MP4-19, the design process of which was heavily influenced by a number of the new FIA Formula One technical regulations. Perhaps the most fundamental is the single engine rule, which limits each driver to one engine per race weekend. We also see the rear wings restricted to a maximum of two horizontal elements and an increased engine cover size for the 2004 season."
"The MP4-19 had its first shakedown on November 25th 2003, which was the earliest we have ever run a new car. This has enabled us to conduct a substantial test programme, completing some 14,500 kms over 32 days at various circuits in Europe. The team is now looking forward to running the car in a competitive environment in Australia, and getting back to the main focus of all our hard work, the challenge for both the Constructors' and Drivers' World Championships. The race also marks a significant milestone in our relationship with Mercedes-Benz, as it will be our 150th Grand Prix start."
"There has been a modification to the Albert Park track, which is likely to be an influencing factor, as the pit-lane entry has been straightened and therefore shortened. When you also take into consideration the increased speed limit in the pit-lane of 100km/h for 2004, this should lead to some interesting strategies over the race weekend."
Norbert Haug, Vice president, Mercedez-Benz Motorsport:
"Everybody in the team, at Mercedes-Ilmor in Brixworth, Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart and McLaren Racing in Woking has worked extremely hard over the winter to be prepared for the start of the year in Melbourne. This year marks the tenth joint World Championship season of our partnership with McLaren. Since we have started our test programme on 25th November 2003 we have covered more than 14,000 kilometres with the MP4-19, which is even more than we have done the years before. About 60 per cent of a lap in Melbourne's Albert Park is run under full throttle."
The first three fly-away Grands Prix provide a unique logistical challenge to the West McLaren Mercedes team. Chris Robson, Race Car Preparation Manager at McLaren Racing, outlines the various processes involved:
"There are numerous elements to the team's logistical efforts behind each Grand Prix, like the travel and hospitality requirements and the area I am involved in, the equipment with which we go racing," mentioned Chris. "The three fly-aways at the start of the season offer a different challenge as we don't have the usual modes of transport available to us in Europe. In fact we have separate sets of basic, yet essential, equipment, which are sent to each of the three races, this includes trolleys, tables, chairs and electrical cabling. This is all sent by sea freight, leaving the UK in January, weighing some 3.5 tonnes."
"The equipment that is essential for running the car left Woking on Friday 27th February. Thirty tonnes, including three cars, up to 160 wheels, wing packages for example, were packed into six igloos, which are large metal packaging containers that are utilised as offices, workshops and storage at the tracks. We deliver them to FOM, who fly them to Australia with all the teams' equipment and deliver them to the track for when the support crew arrive on Monday 1st March."