The Panasonic Toyota Racing heads into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix boosted by a solid race in Imola, where the team achieved its debut two-car finish of the season just outside of a points-scoring position. The technical characteristics of the Circuit de Catlunya make it a popular testing venue for F1 teams and by far the most driven track on the calendar. Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta have already completed in excess of 3,500 kilometres (over ten race distances) at the track in the TF103s since January.
Team Review: Panis and Da Matta were joined by third driver Ricardo Zonta at a four-day test in Mugello last week. The Italian track is technically similar to the Circuit de Catalunya, and work was concentrated on Spanish GP preparations, including Michelin tyre evaluation, aerodynamics testing and general car set-up. The team completed a long job list, with all three drivers totalling a combined 482 laps over the four days.
The Weekend Ahead: This weekend's race will be the 43rd Spanish Grand Prix, but the 4.73km Circuit de Catalunya has only hosted the event since 1991. The circuit itself is located just north of Barcelona and is a good track for overtaking with an emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency. Olivier Panis's best finish in the 65-lap race was second place in 1997, and in addition to testing, Cristiano da Matta also raced at the track in 1996, albeit in a Formula 3000 car.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal: "We showed good signs of speed and overall performance at the Barcelona circuit in pre-season testing, and following our double finish in Imola two weeks' ago, I think we can look to the Spanish Grand Prix with championship points as a realistic target. Things are coming together for us now after a rocky start to our 2003 campaign. As each race goes by, I can see that we are improving in every area. The race in Imola was a big step forward, the test in Mugello gave us valuable results, and so the logical next step for us is a two-car finish in Spain, with both Olivier and Cristiano scoring points. Having said that, it should be remembered that most other teams have tested a lot at Barcelona and will be at the top of their game this weekend, so we should again be cautious in our approach."
Olivier Panis: "I like the Circuit de Catalunya a lot. It is a high-speed, technical track and enjoyable to drive. It is particularly fun into the final corner, which is very fast and, unlike Imola, there are some good overtaking opportunities, especially at the end of the pit straight. We had a four-day test in Mugello last week straight after an encouraging result in Imola. It was frustrating to finish the San Marino GP in 9th place, just out of the points, but a two-car finish proves that we have the reliability again, which has boosted team morale. Like most other teams, we have done a lot of testing at the Catalunya track and the efforts of the whole team continue to impress me, so I am hopeful we can make an important step forward in Barcelona this weekend by qualifying in the top ten and finishing the race in the points."
Cristiano da Matta: "Barcelona is a track that I know very well after all the pre-season testing we carried out in the TF103. I even raced there in F3000 back in 1996. Of the 16 circuits on the calendar, it is by far the one I know best. The car was consistently competitive around this track in testing and we did some productive tyre, aero and general set-up work testing in Mugello last week in direct preparation for this race. Our car appears to be reliable once more, further highlighted by the 230 laps I managed over my three days in Mugello. I have now seen the chequered flag three times in succession, and I am confident we can complete full race distance again this weekend to score our first points of the season and get our season well and truly underway."
2002 Flashback: After qualifying down the field in 18th and 20th with a lack of aerodynamic efficiency, the TF102s did well to complete 64 tours of the 65-lap 2002 Spanish GP to be classified in 8th and 9th, although car 24 came in for an unscheduled pit stop after suffering a puncture early on. It was the team’s second two-car finish of the season.
Track Talk with Gustav Brunner and Olivier Panis's race preview are available exclusively on our media website www.toyota-f1-media.com