“It’s felt like a very long winter. I started the new season feeling fitter and more positive than ever and I’ve maintained that enthusiasm and momentum despite a somewhat difficult few weeks of winter tests.
“We can’t hide the fact that testing has been tougher than we expected: our test mileage hasn’t been as high as that of our rivals, nor have we had the outright pace of the fastest cars. Still, I have a good feeling with MP4-26: I like driving our car, I think it will look after its tyres quite well and I understand that we’ll be making further performance steps ahead of this opening race.
“Nevertheless, we know we go to Melbourne ready for battle: some teams are extremely well prepared – both from a pace and reliability point of view – but that can sometimes count for little in the unpredictable and somewhat chaotic opening races where it’s equally vital just to take points home.
“I strongly believe that, while our preparations haven’t gone as smoothly as we’d have liked, I get the impression that we’ll be arriving in Melbourne with everything finally meshing together – and that makes me really excited.”
“In the past, I’d always travelled to Melbourne full of positive energy and enthusiasm. But, at the moment, my heart is with the people of Japan as they struggle to come to terms with the scope of the terrible devastation and loss of life wreaked by last week’s earthquake and tsunami.
“While the prospect of a Formula 1 race seems to pale in the face of such a disaster, there have been occasions before when the healing power of sport can actually be beneficial; an escape for people. So I go to Melbourne this weekend resolving to not only try my best, but also to salute the brave people, and my many friends, throughout Japan.
“Albert Park has been good to me: I’ve won there for the past two seasons; it’s a great circuit for racing, it always seems to create unpredictable races and, perhaps because it’s habitually at the start of the season when a precise pecking order has yet to be established, we often see fast cars running out of sequence – and the excitement that that brings. With the added issue of multiple tyre stops, it could be a very exciting and unpredictable race weekend.
“I’m regularly being asked if I can make it three wins in a row this year. On paper that might not look likely, but, seriously, who knows? I most definitely wouldn’t rule it out.”
Martin Whitmarsh: Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
“Over the winter, we set ourselves some extremely ambitious performance targets for MP4-26. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are an uncompromising team and, as with every car we build, we tend to push development to the limit.
“In some cases, we’ve pushed over those limits, and the resulting lack of mileage has invariably eaten into our pre-season preparation.
“However, it’s called testing for a reason – and testing MP4-26 beyond its limit has, in some ways, been highly instructive. In actual fact, we’ve gathered a huge amount of useful data about the car, its handling characteristics and its management of the tyres. So while we’ve further fine-tuned the package for Melbourne, we’ve once again set ourselves some extremely tough targets for this opening race weekend.
“So, do I think our testing pace is representative of the pace we’ll show in Australia? No. Do I think we head into the weekend as race favourites? Unfortunately, no. But do I feel that we have the capacity to surprise a few people and be competitive? Very much so.
“As with everything we do at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we never give up: we’re fighters – that’s the spirit that has won us 20 world championships in the past and which makes us a team you can never under-estimate.”