The confines of the legendary Monte Carlo street circuit will play host to the seventh round of the 2003 Formula 1 World Championship this weekend. The Circuit de Monaco is arguably the toughest track on the calendar, but after a difficult Austrian race, Panasonic Toyota Racing is hopeful of returning to its points-winning form from Spain one month ago.
Team Review: The team conducted a four-day test at Circuit Paul Ricard last week with Olivier Panis, Cristiano da Matta and third driver Ricardo Zonta sharing the testing duties over different days (Panis 20-21, Da Matta 22, Zonta 23). The Toyota trio completed a combined total of 300 laps working on Michelin tyre evaluation, specific car set-up and testing new aerodynamic parts that will be used in Monaco.
The Weekend Ahead: At 3.340km, Monaco is the shortest lap of the season and has been shortened by 27 metres for this year's event after a restructure of the approach to Rascasse. The maximum downforce track poses the biggest challenge of the year for F1 drivers and teams alike. The 78-lap race demands utmost concentration and commitment from drivers with the famously narrow and bumpy streets leaving no margin for error. 1996 Monaco race winner Olivier Panis is one of just 7 drivers who have won the prestigious event in the last 20 years. Monaco resident Cristiano da Matta will draw on his vast street circuit experience from the US CART series for his debut race in the Principality.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal
"I said after the race in Austria that I am not going to make any predictions for Monaco, and I have not changed my mind. In the six races so far this season, we have seen some discrepancy in our overall performance, but we are still a young team and we are still learning valuable lessons. Monaco offers all teams and drivers a unique challenge, and I am confident that we are up to this challenge, as we were last year. I think we have all the pieces of the puzzle to get a strong result - it's again about putting them all together - and I am hopeful that Monaco will be the place where we can do just that."
Olivier Panis - Car Number 20
"The Monaco track is very special. Obviously, I have good memories of my win in 1996, and you simply cannot compare this track to anywhere else on the calendar. It is very important to have a good balance on the car, especially for the one lap qualifying. Qualifying is important on all circuits but it is absolutely essential at Monaco because it is impossible to overtake. This will lead to interesting strategies in second qualifying for the race. The swimming pool is one my favourite parts of the lap and is very fast. It is also worth noting that the corner of the tunnel is one of the quickest corner in the championship - we take it flat-out. We have worked so hard this season, I can't think of a more fitting place than Monaco to score a good result - and my first points of the year."
Cristiano da Matta - Car Number 21
"Although this weekend will be the first time I get to race in Monaco, I have lived here for the past few months and I have driven on the track many times in a road car. It looks like a fun track and everyone tells me it is great to drive. I hope that my experience of the street tracks in CART will be useful to get to grips with the circuit quickly this weekend. I had a highly productive day of testing at Paul Ricard last week, where we replicated some of the technical pressures that Monaco will serve up, so I am quite hopeful that we can reproduce the kind of points-scoring performance we had in Spain two races ago."
2002 Flashback: Toyota was the surprise of last year's Thursday Free Practice clocking the 2nd and 5th fastest times around the Principality. Proving this was no fluke, the TF102s powered their way to 9th and 10th on the grid - the team's first two-car top ten qualifying result of the season. This early success was not rewarded in the gruelling 78-lap race with car 25 retiring on lap 15 after hitting a barrier at Ste Devote, and car 24 suffering brake failure at Massenet with just nine laps left of the race.