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Panasonic Toyota Racing

FEATURE: TOP 10: Looking Back at the Season So Far

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With 10 Grands Prix already in the record books for 2008, the season is over halfway through; and it has been quite a season for Panasonic Toyota Racing so far.

There has been excitement from the very start and the TF108 has built on its pre-season promise to become a regular points-scorer in the hands of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock; so much so that the team currently holds fourth place in the Constructors' Championship.

"From the very beginning of the pre-season testing we have seen that the TF108 was achieving one of its most important improvement targets, which was global stability and balance consistency so we have seen that from the very beginning," says Pascal Vasselon, Senior General Manager Chassis, comparing the TF108 to its predecessor, the TF107.

"Then just before the opening race in Melbourne the performance came and we have had a very good test session right before race one then obviously we have made a step in terms of performance of the car and global performance of the team."

Jarno set the tone in the second race, in Malaysia, when he finished a fine fourth, bringing the podium into the team's sights and establishing consistent top-six finishes as a realistic goal, while Timo's hugely popular fourth place in Canada was great reward for his consistent and competitive displays.

With points finishes in six of the 10 races so far, there are many good memories to look back on, but one stands out above all others.

When Jarno went wheel to wheel with Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren-Mercedes in the final laps of the French Grand Prix, the entire team held its breath, but the TF108 crossed the line ahead of its rival to cheers of genuine joy in Panasonic Toyota Racing's garage as a wait of more than two years for another podium was brought to an end.

"It was a great, great end to the race and a fantastic job by the whole team," says President John Howett. "It was very rewarding for the people who had worked so hard."

Pascal adds: "It was our first podium since Melbourne 2006, so it was a huge boost for the team and it gave us the confidence that we can do it - we can be back on the podium."

It was a poignant moment too, coming just days after the death of Panasonic Toyota Racing's first Team Principal Ove Andersson in a car accident, as Chief Engineer Race and Test Dieter Gass says: "This was a very emotional race. We were on the podium again after such a long time and what made this even sweeter was that we were able to dedicate the result to Ove Andersson."

A podium may have been sweet, but Panasonic Toyota Racing has always set itself ambitious targets; this is part of a philosophy of challenge throughout a company which constantly strives for better and never accepts the status quo.

Naturally, the team aims to win races and the World Championship, but for 2008 the specific goals were clear: return to the podium and score significantly more points than in 2007. So, with 25 points and that third place in France already in the bag there is satisfaction back at base in Cologne, but the team's ambitions remain high.

"I think we've had the strongest season for a long time; both drivers are doing very well," John Howett says, looking back on 10 races which have already seen the team comprehensively beat its points total for the entirety of 2007.

"Overall we're fighting at the top level of the midfield but in front of us are three very strong competitors. So we have had a good season so far but we still have a lot more to do before we achieve our ambition of becoming a consistent winning team. Clearly we want to win and we're still behind the top teams so we can't be satisfied until we close that gap."

So, what of the drivers who have worked so hard to improve the car and deliver the results its potential always promised?

Jarno has had a vintage year, as John Howett explains: "Jarno's season has probably been the strongest he has had with us. He had a great season in 2005 with a lot of podiums but I think this year, when you really look at his total pace, has been better. The result in France was outstanding, as was his performance at Silverstone when he drove his strongest race in the wet for a long time."

He has combined experience and blistering speed to score 20 points, while Timo has brought a new enthusiasm to the team, with only bad luck limiting him to five points, but as always raw statistics do not tell the full story.

The challenge facing Timo in his first full season of Formula 1 racing is not to be under-estimated; the competition is closer than ever and there are 10 Grand Prix winners, not to mention the sport's rising stars, fighting for only eight points-paying places.

But he has impressed the team with his pace and consistency, while suffering some ill fortune, particularly in Australia when a rough surface caused an accident, Bahrain when a gearbox issue denied him points and Germany when rear suspension trouble cost him a top-eight finish.

Timo also had to adjust to a new team and car, but his rapid progress has been impressive as Dieter explains: "Timo had to adapt his driving style slightly at the very beginning, which I think is understandable; he came from GP2 so initially the car didn't suit his driving style so much. But over the first races he has adapted very well and has shown he is very much up to speed by delivering some strong performances."

That is a view echoed by John Howett, who says: "Timo has settled in very quickly. At the first test he proved he was quick and since then he's worked very well. He's popular in the team, he's very down to earth and he's quick - everybody likes a quick racing driver!"

While there is satisfaction at the clear progress made, both with the TF108 and in the drivers' own development, that challenging spirit will never rest and, with eight Grands Prix remaining, a new target has emerged; fourth place in the Constructors' Championship.

"We really have to continue to squeeze as much performance out of the TF108 as we can," adds John. "We want to score points regularly and maintain fourth position in the championship - but without compromising the TF109 development. So it is a very challenging second half of the year."

The challenge never ends and, no matter what heights Panasonic Toyota Racing reach during the remaining eight races of the season, the hard work at the track and at the factory will never stop.
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