The picturesque Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia is the venue for the start of the 2003 Formula 1 World Championship this weekend. Veteran of 125 Grands Prix, Frenchman Olivier Panis, and F1 newcomer Brazilian Cristiano da Matta will be making their race debut for Panasonic Toyota Racing, as the team embarks on its second season in the pinnacle of motorsport.
A lot has happened since the curtain fell on the 2002 season in Japan almost five months ago. Panasonic Toyota Racing has a revised team structure to improve the efficiency of on and off-track activities, as well as a new car in the TF103. Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta have been testing the TF103s extensively since the car was launched in January. Significant progress has been made and the team is ready to begin its quest for top ten grid positions and regular points finishes in 2003.
The Weekend Ahead
Normally open to the public, the 5.303-kilometre Albert Park circuit is especially set up for the Formula 1 race weekend. Because of this, the track is particularly dusty on the opening day of F1 action. The revised regulations on testing, tyre manufacture, qualifying and points-scoring come into effect from this race, giving the weekend a different look and bringing with it fresh challenges.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal
"It is strange to be back in Melbourne to start our second season in F1. A whole year has passed since we celebrated our first ever world championship point here. We have now spent seven weeks intensively testing the TF103 to prepare it to its optimum level for this race. I am, as always, reluctant to predict how we will go, but I know Olivier and Cristiano will give 110% effort, and I am sure the new qualifying rules will bring a few surprises."
The Driving Line
"The Australian circuit at Albert Park is very dusty on the first day. It is difficult to find a choice between the tyre compounds we have available from Michelin. The circuit is quite fun with some places to overtake, but the problem is that there is only one clear racing line with good grip the outline is all dusty and it is easy to make a mistake. After driving over 3,000 kilometres in the TF103 since January, this weekend will be my race debut for Panasonic Toyota Racing. The new qualifying rules will be interesting and I am looking forward to an enjoyable weekend."
Cristiano da Matta
"I have never driven at this track before and it will be my first F1 race, so I am expecting a big challenge this weekend. Last week’s tests in Imola and Jerez were quite promising and I have got a reasonably good feel for the TF103. With the revised rules I will not have so much on-track time before the first qualifying session on Friday afternoon, but I am upbeat and confident. On paper the track looks technically challenging with a mix of hard braking areas and low-speed parts. We will be able to really see where we are compared to the other teams and it should be fun."
The Panasonic Toyota Racing team scored its first ever world championship point in only its debut race at last year’s Australian GP. From 14th and 16th on the grid, one of the TF102s unfortunately retired from the race after an opening lap incident, whilst the other car went on to take the chequered flag in 6th place.