Panasonic Toyota Racing moves to Malaysia this weekend for the second round of the 2003 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. It will be the third time that the team has visited the Sepang International Circuit following a four-day test in 2001 and last season's race. Race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta are both looking to consolidate strong performances in Melbourne two weeks' ago and are confident of a reversal of fortunes in the race after a double retirement in the Australian GP.
Team Review: Both Panis and Da Matta have jetted into Malaysia fresh from a highly productive four-day test at the Jerez circuit in Spain. Da Matta drove the TF103 on Wednesday and Thursday topping the timesheets on both days, completing 144 laps and working on an extensive technical programme. Panis took over for the final two days and worked predominantly on Michelin tyre testing. The Jerez track was artificially dampened on the final day to test wet tyres to cover the eventuality of a wet Malaysian Grand Prix weekend.
The Weekend Ahead: At 5.543-kilometres, a lap of the Sepang circuit is one of the longest on the F1 calendar. Hot and humid Malaysian weather conditions add to the physical demands and make life in the cockpit uncomfortable for the drivers throughout the weekend. Tyres will have a huge influential role when it comes to deciding qualifying and race strategy this weekend, as tyre wear in Malaysia is considerable.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal: "We had a bittersweet season opener in Australia a fortnight ago. I was naturally disappointed that we left Melbourne empty-handed with neither car making the chequered flag, but we really demonstrated the potential of our TF103 over the weekend. I think we can be quietly optimistic for this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix. We did quite well here last year and after a successful test in Jerez last week, we should be able to challenge for our first points of the season."
The Driving Line
Olivier Panis: "I am definitely looking forward to racing in Malaysia this weekend. We have just had a productive test in Spain and we showed in Melbourne that we have a quick car. Malaysia itself is very hot and humid, but the Sepang track is really nice, to be honest. It is very wide and there is good grip, but it is difficult for tyres because we have some high-speed chicanes and heavy braking. The race can be either a one-stop or a two-stop strategy and Michelin has a good record at this circuit. If you have a strong engine and a good balance to follow cars closely, then there are some overtaking opportunities on the two long straights."
Cristiano da Matta: "Both me and Olivier have had a busy time since Australia, flying back to Europe for two days' of testing each in Jerez, but it was really worthwhile. We did some preparation work for this weekend's race, which is particularly valuable, as it will be my first time driving the Sepang track. Again, the new rules do not play into my hands, and I have little time to learn the circuit before giving everything in qualifying. If we can be as competitive as we were in Australia and make the finish line, then I will be more than happy."
2002 Flashback: Last year's Malaysian GP resulted in the first top ten qualifying result for the team with the TF102s in P10 and P19. The team had a two-car finish with one TF102 completing the 56-lap race in 7th position, just missing out on a points finish, whilst the second car was classified 12th, three laps down after an electronics problem.
For an extended insight into this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang and for Olivier Panis's preview please visit our media website: www.toyota-f1-media.com