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Alonso and Hamilton preview season ahead
As the build-up for the start of the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship intensifies, the following Q&As see Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton discuss their preparations for the new season with their new team.

Fernando Alonso:

Outline your feelings as we head into the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the new season.
“I’m optimistic and confident that we can have a good result. But the first race is always different, anything can happen in Australia. We normally see some surprising results, so you never know; you definitely cannot make any predictions. We need to be calm, we need to do a good job and hopefully finish in the points.”

What is your aim for the race in Melbourne?
“First is to finish the race, Australia is always very demanding, so that has to be the first aim.”

How has the pre-season test program progressed?
“It has been very good. The first time we put the MP4-22 on the track it felt competitive, but there was work to do. We have progressed a lot in some of the areas where we were not so strong and are much more ready now.”

What are your overall expectations for the 2007 season?
“I hope to fight for the title. To be honest, I think that after winning the title two times, the Championship should be our target and we have to focus everything to fight for it. Sometimes you can win, sometimes not, it depends on many factors, but you have to at least be involved in the battle.”

How does it feel to be racing this year with a new team, do you feel at home with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes?
“I feel very at home, it has been very good since I joined. The team has been very welcoming and I felt really comfortable from the first moment working with everybody.”

Is the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-22 ready to race?
“I think it is ready to race and we will see how competitive the MP4-22 is in Australia. We have improved the package a lot and we want to get out there, but I think our competitors probably have the same approach and the same feelings. It is time to put everybody on track in Melbourne and see how quick we are, and how quick they are.”

Expectations for you and the team are high this year, do you feel under pressure to win a third world championship in a row?
“Expectations are high for me personally because I won the title in the last two seasons. So the combination between Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and me only adds to these expectations. But it is our first season together; there are a lot of new rules, a lot of drivers changing teams, so it is impossible to say. I think the future will be fantastic for the team, this season we will try hard to win, but for sure the most challenging season we will have together is this one.”

Do you enjoy racing in Australia, and if so why?
“The circuit itself is not one of my favorites, but the atmosphere is very special and unique so I enjoy going to Australia a lot. We go there normally one week before the race, to acclimatize to the time difference. Because you spend more days there than other races, you have time to enjoy the city and the people. Australians are very passionate about this Grand Prix and Formula 1, so it makes all the drivers and all the teams extremely happy because of the fantastic welcome we receive.”

Lewis Hamilton:

Outline your feelings as we head into the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the new season.
“I am really excited. It is difficult to absorb it and realize that I am going to be making my Formula 1 debut, as it is something that I have been working towards for so many years. My brother and I have always been playing Formula 1 games on the computer, and now I am going to be one of the cars in those games! Always at this time of year I have been looking forward to the first grand prix, getting up early and watching the Australian Grand Prix, but now I’m actually going to be on the grid. There are so many different emotions but excitement is definitely the main part. I am just eager to get out there and do the best possible job.”

What is your aim for the race in Melbourne?
“My aim would be to finish, preferably in the points. It would be great to have a steady first race and get a couple of points for myself and the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team. That would be a really fantastic start to the season, but it is not going to be easy.”

How has the pre-season test program progressed?
“Testing has been going well, I’ve been really happy with how I’ve gelled with the team and my engineer, Phil Prew. He is a great guy and has made it a lot easier for me to absorb everything and to understand the MP4-22. On track alongside the development work with the MP4-22, we’ve done race simulations, including pit stops and other race weekend activities. Everyone within the team is really keen to push hard, and we feel quick, so I am happy going into the start of the season but it is a complete unknown.”

What are your overall expectations for the 2007 season?
“To do a solid job for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, but I’m a competitor and I want to win at everything I do. So I am going to take this season step by step, and learn as much as I can. I have spent the last three months intensively learning, and I will continue this during the season. I want to win, but have to be realistic, if I was to get a podium this year it would be really amazing, so I’ve got to work towards that.”

Do you feel ready to be making your Formula 1 debut with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes?
“People have been asking me this question since the announcement was made in November that I had the drive with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. Initially I felt that I was ready for the challenge of preparing to be a Formula 1 driver, but I wasn’t ready to go out and do a race. Now I know the ins and outs of the MP4-22, I know the team, about strategies, I know what I need to do in qualifying, how to use the Bridgestone Potenzas and so on. I really am more than ready now, as a rookie coming in I feel incredibly prepared.”

What are you looking forward to the most about racing in Formula 1?
“Definitely driving the MP4-22! When they first start the car up and you are sitting in it, you can’t help but smile. When you pull out of the pits and you have that power behind you and the car is so finely tuned, it is so exhilarating. Then the adrenaline starts pumping and your out there doing your job. That’s what I love about it and when I get on the grid in Melbourne and am sat in front of the red lights, that will be the best moment so far in my life.”

Albert Park is one of seven circuits that you will be racing on for the first time this year, how do you prepare for that?
“The main preparation has been to spend some time on the simulator at the McLaren Technology Centre, which allows me to get an understanding of the tracks. All the hard work preparation wise is done, now it is all about staying relaxed and keeping everything cool for the first race as it will become more intense as we get closer. When you are relaxed everything tends to go smoother, and that is my plan!” Source McLaren

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