Australian GP: West McLaren Mercedes preview

The West McLaren Mercedes team arrives at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit for the inaugural Grand Prix of the 2002 FIA Formula One World Championship after an extensive winter test programme. The Australian Grand Prix will be Kimi Räikkönen's ...

The West McLaren Mercedes team arrives at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit for the inaugural Grand Prix of the 2002 FIA Formula One World Championship after an extensive winter test programme. The Australian Grand Prix will be Kimi Räikkönen's first race as a West McLaren Mercedes driver, with team-mate David Coulthard starting his sixth year with the team.

Melbourne will be the race debut of the MP4-17 and the return of Michelin as the team's tyre suppliers. The Australian Grand Prix also marks the five-year anniversary of the successful West McLaren Mercedes Title Partnership, which began with David securing victory in the maiden race, at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. In the 83 races since West's association with the team began, 597 points have been amassed, 30 races won, and two Drivers' and one Constructors' Championship secured.

Following a comprehensive winter development programme, the team began an extensive test schedule in January based at the Barcelona and Valencia circuits in Spain, with David, Kimi and Alexander Wurz at the wheel. The MP4-17, which was launched Saturday 19th January, is an evolution of last year's car, with the main visible differences including changes to the front suspension area, rear bodywork and the increased size of the taillight.

McLaren has an illustrious Australian Grand Prix history, having won the event on more occasions than any other Constructor, with a total of seven victories. Last year's race saw David take second, with Kimi securing a points finish in sixth place in his debut Grand Prix for Sauber.

The first official Australian Grand Prix took place in 1985 at the Adelaide circuit, where it was held for eleven years before relocating to Melbourne in 1996. This also saw the race move from its traditional position at the end of the season to the start of the Championship.

DAVID COULTHARD
"There is always excitement surrounding the first race of the season and the whole West McLaren Mercedes team is determined to compete hard for the Drivers' and Constructors' World Championships. We have taken a significant step forward in terms of the car this year and feel that we are geared up for the new season. The Australian Grand Prix is always a special race for me as it was where I secured my first victory with West McLaren Mercedes in 1997."

KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN
"I am looking forward to the Australian Grand Prix and driving the West McLaren Mercedes MP4-17 in a competitive environment. We have had a number of positive tests and I am learning and developing every time I drive the car. The atmosphere at Albert Park is fantastic and I enjoyed driving there last year, hopefully I can equal and perhaps improve on my finishing position for 2002."

MARTIN WHITMARSH, MANAGING DIRECTOR, McLAREN INTERNATIONAL
"The West McLaren Mercedes team is approaching the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the 2002 season in an optimistic frame of mind. Everyone involved has been working hard over the past few months to ensure we are fully prepared for a competitive Championship challenge. This race is also a significant milestone for the team, with five years of the West McLaren Mercedes team, and we are all aiming to continue the success the Partnership has provided."

NORBERT HAUG, VICE-PRESIDENT, MERCEDES-BENZ MOTORSPORT
"The whole team put the maximum effort behind the preparation of the 2002 season and the West McLaren Mercedes MP4-17. Since 17th January the new car has run more than 4660 miles / 7500 km. The total amount of running exceeded twice that figure. In Barcelona alone, our drivers did about 1000 laps -- a mileage close to the amount of running of the 17 Grands Prix scheduled in 2002. Like the car, our new engine ran very well and very reliably from the beginning. In parallel to track testing we introduced an extensive dyno running programme in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim on the Mercedes-Benz transient dyno. The whole team is now looking forward to the first Grand Prix in Melbourne."

Lap of the Albert Park circuit -- Alex Wurz, West McLaren Mercedes third driver

Crossing the start-finish line at the 3.295 mile / 5.303 km Albert Park circuit, you accelerate to 190mph / 305kph in seventh gear, before braking hard for the right-left weave of turns one and two. This sees you pull 3.5G as your speed drops to 87mph / 140kph in second gear.

You apply the throttle on the exit for the Aughtie Drive straight, reaching some 185mph / 300kph in sixth gear on the approach to the tight right of turn three, which is taken at 50mph / 80kph in second gear. This is immediately followed by turn four, a sharp left hander which flicks you onto the short Whitford straight. A burst on the throttle takes you to 150mph / 240kph in fifth gear along the straight before dabbing the brakes for the sweeping right hander of turn five, which is taken at 142mph / 230kph in fourth gear, and in qualifying nearly flat.

It is crucial that you maintain your speed through these corners to ensure you have a good exit as you power down towards turn six, reaching 177mph / 285kph in fifth, before braking for the second gear right hander which is taken at 75mph / 120kph. Exiting, you take it flat out through the long, flowing right hand Lauda curve, reaching some 177mph / 285kph in sixth gear on the approach to the sharp right of Clark, which is negotiated at 60mph / 100kph in second gear. Hard on the throttle you sweep through the left hander of turn ten, which sees your speed increase to 183mph / 294kph in seventh gear.

This leads you into the left-right flick of eleven and twelve. Maintaining fifth gear through this section of the track, you then push hard on the throttle on the approach to Ascari. Braking hard as you reach the tight right hander, your speed drops from 185mph / 300kph in sixth gear to 77mph / 125kph in second. A short straight leads to Stewart, another right hander, which is negotiated at 110mph / 180kph in third gear. Again a short burst of acceleration on the approach to Prost, reaching 145mph / 235kph in fourth before braking hard for the final two corners. The first corner, a tight left hander, is taken in first gear at 45mph / 70kph. As you exit this corner you apply throttle for a short time and shortshift into third gear for the last bumpy right hander onto start finish straight to begin another lap.

-mclaren-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers David Coulthard , Kimi Raikkonen , Alexander Wurz
Teams Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren