Panasonic Toyota Racing is set to kick-start 2006 season preparations by testing the first phase of its 2006 race car, the TF106, during a four-day session due to commence at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on Tuesday.
Confessions on a Design Floor
Renowned for its early car launches, Toyota has raised the standards yet again by unleashing its 2006 race car over three months before the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, which is scheduled for 12 March. Technical Director Chassis Mike Gascoyne believes such a head start could offer the Cologne-based team a significant time advantage over its rivals ahead of the winter holiday period.
"We have been working on the TF106 since the end of 2004," Gascoyne reveals, "and the introduction of this car at such an early stage is a true testament to the work of the team and shows that we are able to react and push forward at a rate that is necessary to be at the forefront of Formula 1."
The TF106 marries a brand new rear end, designed to accommodate Toyota's latest specification V8 engine, with a development of the monocoque and front suspension of its pole-setting, podium-scoring TF105B interim car that was brought in for the final two races of the 2005 season.
"The TF106 that will run in Barcelona marks the first stage of development for this car with continuous improvements planned in the run-up to the first race. We are adopting a similar schedule to last season by testing the car early. This allows us to develop the mechanical side of car thoroughly before we introduce a new aero package in time for the first race. This strategy helped us to be extremely competitive at the start 2005 and we are confident the same will happen in 2006."
"The front end of the TF106 is an evolution of our TF105B that raced in Japan and China, but the major design change for 2006 has been the implementation of the V8 engine in line with the new technical regulations, which has resulted in the redesign of the rear end," added Gascoyne.
A Tale of Two Cylinders
Panasonic Toyota Racing experienced just one engine retirement over 19 race weekends in 2005, an impressive statistic given the increase to two-race reliability demands for last season. Such an enviable record, coupled with the strong performance of Toyota's V10 in its comparatively short F1 history, have provided invaluable foundations for development of the V8 power unit according to Technical Director Engine Luca Marmorini.
"With such strenuous reliability rules, we cannot afford to make jumps in the dark," explains Marmorini. "We cannot compromise the performance of the engine, so we have concentrated on reducing the performance loss. We have a strong core team of engine engineers here at Toyota, built up from six years of F1 engine development. This impassioned teamwork is our advantage and our strongest asset."
Mike Gascoyne is quick to back up his engine counterpart: "Luca and his team have done an exceptional job, which has had a positive knock-on effect for the chassis department, a benefit enhanced by being based at the same factory, under the same roof. Having a pair of TF106s at our disposal for winter testing means that the development of our mechanical package will be significantly advanced."
The new Toyota RVX-06 V8 engine was testbenched for the first time on 21 March 2005, one day after the team scored its debut podium finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Since its first track run at the end of July, the V8 has completed 291 laps over eight separate days, a distance of 2,143km.
"A lot of teething problems have been solved through our ability to get the V8 testing at an early stage," adds Marmorini. "We have gathered a lot of data both on the track and in the factory. On 3 November we completed the required two race weekend mileage in the dyno for the first time and that has permitted us to start our winter testing programme with a fully "raceable" RVX-06 unit. Now our job is to redefine the limits of our engine and to push back the boundaries as much as we can before the new season."
This week's four-day Barcelona test will also mark Toyota's debut with Bridgestone tyres following the recently announced contract for the 2006 season.
Toyota Motorsport President John Howett commented: "The Bridgestone agreement was only concluded recently and it is important to get the partnership working as quickly as possible, to build up a strong technical relationship and to develop the chassis and the Potenza tyres together in preparation for 2006. The fact that we can test the new mechanical package and suspension together with V8 engine and Bridgestone rubber will surely give us a valuable head start. It is too early to have any clear indication of our relative competitiveness, but development of the TF106 will be relentless to extract all the benefits of our continuous improvement maxim, to always stay ahead of the game."
Toyota in More Ways
The TF106 is a natural evolution of its predecessor and an embodiment of Kaizen (continuous improvement), which forms an integral part of the global Toyota DNA.
"Over the years Toyota has developed its own way of working," explains Toyota Motorsport Chairman Tsutomu Tomita. "The so-called Toyota Way and the Toyota Production Systems (TPS) manufacturing methodology act as the double helix of Toyota's corporate DNA. It is this DNA that also runs through the veins of our Formula 1 team in Cologne. Only through our unique approach can we be optimistic of one day challenging for the world championship. We are still at a very early stage of development with the TF106 but having our new car ready with three full months before the first race of the season in Bahrain, I hope we are demonstrating our will to succeed in F1."
Don't Take My Berth Away
In the driving seat for this week's TF106 debut will be 2006 race drivers Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, who finished 6th and 7th respectively in the drivers' championship in 2005 and helped Panasonic Toyota Racing secure fourth in the constructors' championship. Joining them will be Brazilian driver Ricardo Zonta, who has recently signed a one-year contract extension to be the team's third and reserve driver for 2006. Frenchman Olivier Panis will also continue in an important test drive role in 2006, his fourth consecutive season as a Panasonic Toyota Racing driver.
"I am very pleased to have signed again with Panasonic Toyota Racing for the coming season," said Zonta. "We enjoyed such a successful year in 2005 and I am sure this trend will continue. I feel part of the family at Toyota and I would rather continue to offer them my services as third driver than become race driver in another series which I may not enjoy as much as Formula 1. I feel that I have contributed significantly to Toyota's success and I look forward to extensive testing of the TF106 to help propel us into the top flight of Formula 1."
Panasonic Toyota Racing has three scheduled test sessions prior to the traditional winter break. Following this week's four-day pounding of the Barcelona circuit, the team moves further south to the Circuito de Jerez from 7 December, where it will test for a total of eight days and use its full complement of drivers.
Studio images of the TF106 in its current incarnation can be found on the Panasonic Toyota Racing media website, www.toyota-f1-media.com. The first on-track images of the TF106 from this week's Barcelona test session will be added as the week progresses.