After scoring its first top 8 finish of 2003 at the last race in Spain, the Panasonic Toyota Racing team is looking to consolidate on its first three championship points of the season at round 6 of the Formula 1 World Championship in Austria this weekend.
Team Review: Last week's four-day test at Circuit Paul Ricard saw Olivier Panis, Cristiano da Matta and Ricardo Zonta all on driving duties. Amassing a healthy 2,200-kms between them, the trio worked on Austrian GP preparations, concentrating on Michelin tyre tests, car stability and brakes, which are put under considerable pressure at the A1-Ring. After a productive test, the team has made some slight positive adjustments and tweaks to the TF103s for this race.
The Weekend Ahead: The A1-Ring is situated up in the Styrian Alps in the Spielberg region of Austria at what was the site of the ultra-fast Österreichring. The A1-Ring took over the Austrian Grand Prix mantle in 1997 after a ten-year hiatus for the event. The 6th round of this season's world championship marks the 26th Austrian Grand Prix after 18 events at the Österreichring (1970-1987) and 6 races at the A1-Ring to date, although the first official Austrian F1 event dates back to 1964 at the Aspern Aerodrome. The 4.326-kilometre A1-Ring gives the quickest lap of the season and comprises a mix of slow corners and long straights, putting an emphasis on engine horsepower, traction and braking.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal: "Scoring three championship points at the Spanish Grand Prix was a huge relief for the whole team, and certainly a long overdue reward for our efforts in the opening events of the season. That said, we are not resting on our laurels, and are even more determined to put in a strong showing in Austria this weekend. The recent four-day Paul Ricard test has shown that we can do a lot of trouble-free running and I continue to be encouraged by the positive results and dedication of drivers and team members alike. If we can find an optimum set-up quickly on Friday morning, I think we can expect another top-eight finish on Sunday afternoon."
Olivier Panis – Car Number 20
"The A1-Ring is quite dusty on the first day and it is a challenge to find the set up of the car because the track conditions change a lot. It's a good circuit for overtaking, although qualifying will be important because it is a short lap, so the field is tight. The slow corners and long straights mean that good brakes and traction are vital, but engine power is equally crucial out of the slow corners to set a good lap time. Our RVX-03 has shown good power and reliability this season, so I am quite hopeful we can be competitive in Austria. After another disappointing race for me in Spain two weeks' ago, I am really on the hunt for a good result this weekend. I know we have a good car in the TF103; I just want the chance to demonstrate what it can do over race distance and pick up some points."
Cristiano da Matta – Car Number 21
"I have never been to Austria before. All I know is that our Chief Designer Gustav Brunner comes from there, so I am looking forward to this weekend's race. On paper, it looks like a nice track and one that could suit our TF103, but as usual the real challenge will be having just one hour of free practice on Friday to find the best set-up on the car before first qualifying. The lap is a short one, so tenths-of-a-second will be critical in getting the best grid slot possible. We did some good work at Paul Ricard last week in preparation for this race, so I believe we can aim for the top 10 in qualifying and be in a position to score more championship points to build on the strong result we achieved in Spain a fortnight ago."
2002 Flashback: A generally trouble-free 2002 Austrian GP weekend saw both TF102s qualify well in 10th and 14th with less than 0.2s separating the two cars. The team followed this up with a strong two-car finish in the 71-lap race in 8th and 9th positions, despite the safety car being deployed twice, preventing the team from capitalising on its race strategy.