After three hard flyaway races when most of the Formula 1 circus spent a month away from home, Round 4 of the 2006 world championship signals the start of the European season. The Italian circuit of Imola has been home to the San Marino Grand Prix for over 20 years. The track's relative proximity to the team factories will come as a welcome relief to logistical departments drained by the challenge of sending parts and personnel halfway round the world. It's been a hard start to 2006 for Panasonic Toyota Racing's drivers Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli but the team's performance has improved with every race, culminating in Ralf's Melbourne podium. They will look to continue that progress back on European soil.
Ralf Schumacher has enjoyed many good results at the San Marino GP down the years.
Ralf Schumacher (Car 7): "The Imola circuit is technically very demanding – with lots of long straights and slow corners which are especially tough on brakes. The venue has been kind to me in the past and I've always enjoyed good results – particularly when I took my first ever grand prix win there in 2001. By contrast the circuit has not been that good for Toyota down the years although both Jarno and I scored points last year. We could face cold conditions in Imola but you never know what the weather will bring there. We struggled at the start of the year in cool conditions but we made the podium in Australia so that shows how far we've come. Of course the season has started off harder than we expected but Australia was much better and the team is strong enough to keep bouncing back."
JUST DOWN THE ROAD
Imola is the closest circuit on the F1 calendar to Jarno Trulli's home town of Pescara.
Jarno Trulli (Car 8): "It always makes for a slightly different weekend when you are racing at home. I will have more support than usual and my fan club usually pays me a visit but I will also be busier out of the cockpit. Despite being in Italy, I don't particularly like the circuit at Imola. It's often cold there in April but the most important factors for performance are braking stability and traction, as well as a car that can ride the kerbs. Last year I was able to celebrate the birth of my son with a points finish and we have to hope for another top eight finish this time. I didn't have a good weekend in Australia but our pace was much better so we can only be confident. We have had two hard weeks of testing and we hope to find suitable tyres for the conditions and to reap the benefits this weekend."
After the podium performance in Australia, Toyota is confident of further progress in Imola.
Dieter Gass – Chief Engineer Race and Test: "Now we are back in Europe we will probably face cooler temperatures at Imola than we have so far this year. That would have been a concern for us after the difficulties we had in Bahrain. But given the work we have done with the car set-up combined with the development work from Bridgestone on their new generation of compounds designed to work at lower temperatures, we can now be confident that those problems are under control. We showed a much stronger performance in Melbourne and we have to look to continue that development. We have had two tests since Australia which have given us a chance to look at some of the main issues, including the damper set-up we will need to ride the Imola kerbs. Our car has shown it is capable of qualifying in the top ten so we have to look to do that and score points."