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999 from six of the best

EVENT COUNTDOWN

ALBERT PARK

12-15 MARCH 2015

They’ve contested 999 Grands Prix, won 186 of them, been on pole 160 times and set 156 fastest laps.

They have won the last 12 Formula 1 world titles.

They are the six World Champions about to take part in the 2012 Formula 1 Qantas Australian Grand Prix. And every one of them is already a Melbourne race-winner.

That’s Sebastian Vettel (title-winner in 2010-11), Jenson Button (2009), Lewis Hamilton (2008), Kimi Raikkonen (2007), Fernando Alonso (2005-06) and Michael Schumacher (2000-04).

Three questions come to mind, and we’ll take the six aces in title-winning order.

Question 1: when did they each last win a race?

Vettel: three races ago, for Red Bull at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix

Button: five races ago, for McLaren in Japan

Hamilton: two races ago, also for McLaren in Abu Dhabi

Raikkonen: 44 races ago, for Ferrari in Belgium in August 2009

Alonso: 11 races ago, for Ferrari at the British Grand Prix

Schumacher: 93 races ago, for Ferrari in China in October 2006

Question 2: what’s their current standing in F1?

Vettel: the sport’s current undisputed #1 and a candidate to be the third driver in history to take three consecutive world titles – and he’s still only 24.

81 races, 21 wins, 30 poles and nine fastest laps

Button: runner-up last year, came on strong in the second half of the year when the McLaren finally kicked in, reached new levels of maturity and race-craft 12 years on from his F1 debut here in 2000. A strong contender for a second title in 2012.

208 races, 12 wins, seven poles and six fastest laps

Hamilton: had an up-and-down year in 2011, overshadowed by out-of-cockpit concerns that seem to be behind him now. A heart-on-sleeve racer who is desperate to improve on a World Championship sequence of 5th-4th-5th since he won his title in `08.

90 races, 17 wins, 19 poles and 11 fastest laps

Raikkonen: it should have been RK in the cockpit (Robert Kubica), instead in the injured Pole’s absence it’s now KR. The Finn’s an obvious focal point for the media frenzy in 2012. Two years away from F1, but not from competitive driving: he’s tried the World Rally Championship (“For sure I will go back”), truck racing but nothing satisfies the real hunger. If the Lotus works, so will Kimi.

156 races, 18 wins, 16 poles and 35 fastest laps

Alonso: long time since he was champ, isn’t it? And early indications are that the F2012 may not be (or at least not yet) the steed to change that. But as Mark Webber says, as long as Fernando has a steering-wheel in his hands you discount him at your peril.

177 races, 27 wins (5th= on the all-time list), 20 poles and 19 fastest laps

Schumacher: this year, all being well, Michael will follow former team-mate Rubens Barrichello as the second driver to rack up over 300 Grands Prix. But it’s nearly 100 since he last won… and he hasn’t even been on a podium since he came back with Mercedes two seasons ago. A lot rides on the W03 – but wouldn’t it be wonderful to see if Schumi can still do it in a competitive car?

287 races, 91 wins (40 more than anyone in history), 68 poles and 76 fastest laps

Question 3: where will they finish this weekend?

Vettel: “Nothing has changed,” says Seb. “I am still hungry, and I am still getting upset when there is someone else beating me.” Watch for the Wunderkind – a keen student of the record-books – putting down a marker with a second straight Melbourne win…

Button: he’s already a back-to-back Melbourne winner, of course, and if the MP4-27 (the prettiest car out there this year) is reasonably sorted for the start of the season he might claim a third. “You always want more laps and more time in the car,” he says, “but unlike last year we’ve had a very solid start to our pre-season.”

Hamilton: “I actually feel more relaxed and ready for the season than I think I’ve ever done,” says the 2008 Melbourne victor. Lewis loves to race and if a scrap develops he’ll be right in the thick of it.

Raikkonen: Kimi won his very first race for Ferrari here in `07 and is one of an elite few who won the title in his first year in the fabled red cars. Lotus had their own dramas with the E20 in testing but eventually came out on top, and there’s only one thing we need to remember about Kimi. “I’m a good racer,” he says, “and I want to get to the front.”

Alonso: “We will have to grit our teeth for the first few races,” admits Fernando after a rugged pre-season with the F2012. But he’s still the same combative, never-say-die driver, he’s still extremely quick and he’s still very pragmatic. “Once we know where we stand,” he says, “then we can set ourselves more precise targets.”

Schumacher: “We’re ready,” insists the peerless German. But is the W03? “Anyone who knows me knows I’m always committed,” says Michael, but at 43 does he still have the raw pace to match team-mate Rosberg, never mind Vettel?

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