Australian GP preview, fact box

MELBOURNE, Australia, Thursday, March 1, 2001 -- Mika Hakkinen and the West McLaren-Mercedes team are going to try even harder in the FIA Formula One World Championship now that they have become the hunter rather than the hunted, starting with the...

MELBOURNE, Australia, Thursday, March 1, 2001 -- Mika Hakkinen and the West McLaren-Mercedes team are going to try even harder in the FIA Formula One World Championship now that they have become the hunter rather than the hunted, starting with the season opener March 4 at Melbourne, Australia. In 1999 and 2000, Hakkinen was defending the championships he had won in 1998 and 1999. Now he and the team are going to strive to regain the championship they lost to Michael Schumacher and Ferrari last year.

“It is a different situation indeed,” Hakkinen said before practice began for the Australian Grand Prix. “In one sense it is interesting to start the season not being No. 1. Definitely, it pushes the team to work harder and to try harder, including me, of course, to try to win it back again. Everybody tries just a little bit more harder than before.”

Schumacher will carry the prestigious No. 1 on his Ferrari all season. After becoming the first driver to win the Drivers Championship in a Ferrari since 1979 plus helping Ferrari win its second consecutive Constructors Championship in 2000, Schumacher said he is as motivated as ever.

“The motivation itself is no different at all,” Schumacher said. “But the kilos of ballast that were on our shoulders are gone. So we start from a fresh base. We have the No. 1 on our car, and we know how sweet it is to have it. So we want to keep it.”

Reliability will be a key factor in deciding which car will win the season opener at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.

Ferrari and West McLaren-Mercedes, last year’s two top teams, have pushed everything to the limit in an effort the beat each other. And many of the other teams have pushed everything to the limit in an effort to close the gap on the top two.

“Certainly, the way winter testing has been going,” Hakkinen said, “there have been certain problems that the team has been able to solve. Always, going to the first Grand Prix, there are some little issues that you are not 100 percent sure about.

“But it should not be an issue. After all the testing we have done, we should be strong and reliable for this Grand Prix. So we will just have to wait and see what happens on Sunday.”

Said Schumacher: “Every year you get to the first race, and you feel like you would rather have another one or two week of testing to sort out everything. Looking back at the past years, it has always been the same. You come here, and you say there are a few little question marks.”

The Ferrari/McLaren-Mercedes battle that now resumes again is only one of the stories of the new F1 season.

The lineup this season contains five rookie drivers: Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya, 25, in the Williams-BMW; Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, 21, in the Red Bull Sauber-Petronas; Spain’s Enrique Bernoldi, 22, in the Orange Arrows-Supertec; Spain’s Fernando Alonso, 19, in the Minardi-European; and Brazil’s Luciano Burti, 26, in the Jaguar-Cosworth.

After winning the CART title in 1999 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Montoya is, by far, the most experienced of the rookie class. Raikkonen, on the other hand, vaulted to F1 after just 23 auto races in the British Formula Renault series. Still, Montoya has plenty to learn this season.

“The first few races are going to be quite difficult because of the new tracks and learning to work with a new team,” Montoya said. “(In testing things) went quite well. But when you get the real thing, that’s when it counts.

“Expectations? It is very difficult to say I’m going to win races. I want to do the best job I can. I will always give 100 percent, and we have to wait and see what happens. It will be good if we can start scoring points quite early in the season. But we will see.”

In 1996, another former Indianapolis 500 winner and CART champion, Jacques Villeneuve, made his F1 debut in Australia. Villeneuve qualified his Williams-Renault on the pole and led for much of the race before having to drop back because of an engine problem. He finished second behind teammate Damon Hill.

Last year, Villeneuve finished fourth in Australia to score the first points for the Lucky Strike British American Racing-Honda team. The 1997 World Champion is back with BAR for a third season.

“The target is the same as every year-to try and be as competitive as possible,” Villeneuve said. “Last year we finally got some points. This year we need to get podiums and hopefully fight for wins. It’s going to be very difficult. We’ll just have to work very hard.”

The Australian race is the first of 17 rounds in this year’s championship that includes the second annual SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 30.

FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK

Where to watch: Speedvision acquired the rights March 1 to televise the 2001 Formula 1 season in the United States.

Qualifying will be shown live at 9 p.m. March 2 (EST), with the live race telecast at 9:30 p.m. (EST) March 3.

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Youngest drivers: Fernando Alonso will become the third youngest driver ever to start a Grand Prix.

The youngest was Mike Thackwell, who made his Grand Prix debut at 19 years, five months and 29 days. Ricardo Rodriguez is second in the record books followed by Alonso, who will be 19 years, seven months and four days when he starts Sunday’s race.

1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. is seventh on the “youngest list” after making his F1 debut in the 1978 South African Grand Prix at 20 years, one month and 23 days.

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Century for McLaren and Mercedes: The Australian Grand Prix will mark the 100th race for the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz partnership that began in 1995. David Coulthard gave the team its first ever F1 victory in 1997 in Australia.

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Michelin returns: Michelin, which competed in F1 between 1977-84, begins a new era as it returns to Grand Prix racing this season to challenge Bridgestone.

Michelin-shod cars won 59 Grand Prix races, two Constructors Championships and three Drivers Championships during that period. But now the company faces new challenges, including the grooved dry-weather tires that are unique to F1.

“We have a serious handicap this year because we are going to run on circuits where we have never turned a wheel before, while at the same time trying to learn the new rules of the game and all this with a new type of tire,” said Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin’s racing director.

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Prost unveiled: The new Prost-Acer AP04 was launched Feb. 28 at Melbourne. “I feel that we are finally ready to step up and achieve credible gains this year,” team owner Alain Prost said. “Our initial focus has been on reliability, and we seem to have achieved that. Our next objective is to improve our already good performance of the winter tests.”

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Arrows shows its colors: The Orange Arrows-Asiatech team revealed its new orange-and-black color scheme Feb. 28 in Melbourne. Designed by Mike Coughlan, the new A22 car ran for the first time Feb. 2.

“The key for the team this year is to keep up the forward momentum,” Coughlan said, “and we hope this evolutionary design will provide the platform for this. The shakedown of the first A22 chassis was promising, so we are hopeful for a progressive and productive season.

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Minardi launched: Minardi-European launched its new car on the steps of the State Parliament building Feb. 28 in Melbourne.

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Rahal’s first: The Australian race is the first Grand Prix for Bobby Rahal in his new post as CEO of Jaguar Racing. 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Rahal took over the position at Jaguar on Dec. 1.

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Where are they now?: With five rookies in the lineup this year, five drivers have left F1’s active driver list.

Former Benetton driver Alexander Wurz is now a tester for McLaren-Mercedes. Mika Salo left Sauber to join Toyota, which will field a F1 car in 2002. Another former Sauber driver, Pedro Diniz, is now a part owner and director at Prost Grand Prix. After losing his Arrows drive this season, Pedro de la Rosa has signed up to be one of Jaguar’s test drivers. After retiring from F1 at the end of last season, Johnny Herbert will be a test driver for Arrows this year and he is also seeking a drive in the Indianapolis 500.

Australian Grand Prix Fast Facts

Date: Sunday, March 4
Race: First of 17 on 2001 schedule
Venue: Albert Park, Melbourne
Circuit length: 3.295 miles, 5.303 km
Race length: 58 laps
On TV: Race (live) - 9:30 p.m. (EST) March 3, Speedvision. Qualifying (live) -- 9 p.m. (EST) March 2, Speedvision
2000 race winner: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
2000 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, West McLaren-Mercedes
Previous winners: 1999 -- Eddie Irvine; 1998 -- Mika Hakkinen; 1997 --
Michael Schumacher; 1996 -- Damon Hill; 1995 -- Michael Schumacher; 1994 -- Damon Hill; 1993 -- Ayrton Senna

- IMS -

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Luciano Burti , Enrique Bernoldi , Johnny Herbert , Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Kimi Raikkonen , Eddie Cheever , Fernando Alonso , Bobby Rahal , Alexander Wurz , Mika Salo , Ricardo Rodríguez , Alain Prost , Ayrton Senna , Damon Hill , Mike Thackwell , Pedro Diniz
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , British American Racing , Minardi , Jaguar Racing