The start of the Australian Grand Prix weekend is now just over 24-hours away, so why not get up to speed with what the drivers are thinking with the latest ‘what they said.’ Today we’re running through the thoughts from McLaren, Renault and Williams, with special interest in Vitaly Petrov’s thoughts on the new technical additions for 2011.

Lewis Hamilton

“We [haven’t] had the outright pace of the fastest cars.

“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.”

Jenson Button

“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.”

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.”

Nick Heidfeld

“Everybody is very interested in what I have to say.”

I always enjoy coming to Australia. It’s my favourite place to travel to on the calendar because the people are relaxed and there’s a warm atmosphere.

Right from the first test I have tried to push the car in the right direction and I’ve really enjoyed working with the team so far. I have the feeling that I can have more input here than I was used to in other teams because everybody is very open and interested in what I have to say.

The car is gorgeous. I know it’s very subjective, but you have to see the R31 for real. There are lots of unknowns, especially because it is the first time we will race with the new adjustable rear wings, KERS and Pirelli tyres. I believe the tyres will have will have the biggest impact and will make the strategy quite exciting. I expect to see a lot more pit stops than in the past – at least three per race – and I believe the pit stop windows will be narrower. That’s because when the tyres degrade and lose performance, you have have no choice but to pit, otherwise you lose too much time.

Vitaly Petrov

“Playing with the steering wheel dials at 300km/h will be like answering three Blackberry messages while making fried eggs and doing your shoe laces.”

We learned a lot during winter testing. The R31 is certainly a big step forward, but at the same time we have to cope with new tyres, which have a massive impact on performance With these tyres there is more movement and they are more aggressive than what we were used to in the past because of the degradation.

Multitasking will be the word of the year. Playing with the steering wheel dials at 300km/h will be, I guess, like answering three Blackberry messages while making fried eggs and doing your shoe laces…

I think I’m a very different person. I have more experience; I know the team very well, and I understand more about Formula One. Even just knowing all the circuits makes things a lot easier. I feel much better prepared.

Rubens Barrichello

“It was great to get more time at home with the kids but I want to get started.”

Everyone is doubly excited about the first race as we should already have been racing by now. It was great to get more time at home with the kids but I want to get started and can’t wait to see the red lights go out in Melbourne and for the season to be officially underway.

“It is always an exciting moment when everyone lines up on the grid with no points on the board. I always fantasise a little about what could be, but I keep my feet on the ground and focus on the race ahead. I am absolutely looking forward to getting to Australia.”

Pastor Maldonado

“My aim this weekend is to get a solid finish, and to score some points.”

“I feel more than ready to start my first season in Formula One. I have never been to Melbourne before but we’ve done a good amount of testing which will add to the time I have spent learning the circuit in our simulator. I am now just looking forward to going racing. It will be a very exciting moment. My aim this weekend is to get a solid finish, and to score some points.”