With just four days between the European Grand Prix and first practice of this weekend's French Grand Prix, there has been little time for respite for the Panasonic Toyota Racing team. After a double retirement at the last race, the team is keen to reproduce the kind of performance its TF103 race cars showed in Nürburgring practice and second qualifying and, more importantly, to convert this into a points finish in Magny-Cours this weekend.
Team Review: Given the nature of back-to-back races, F1 teams are not permitted to test in the brief interim period between Nürburgring and Magny-Cours. Some preparation work for the French GP was carried out at tests in June, however final set-up work and tyre evaluation on the cars will be crucial in the one-hour practice session on Friday morning.
The Weekend Ahead: Circuit de Nevers-Magny-Cours has hosted the French Grand Prix since 1991 and is one of seven French tracks to have held an F1 race. The event is also the home grand prix of Panasonic Toyota Racing driver Olivier Panis, who will be looking for points in front of his fans. The ultra-smooth track has been modified since last year with an increase in length from 4.251km to 4.411km. Notable revisions to the circuit are at the Chateau d'Eau corner - which has been tightened - and at the end of the lap coming back onto the pit straight. As a result, the number of race laps has been reduced from 72 to 70.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal
"I don't want to reflect on the race result of the European Grand Prix. A double retirement was not what we deserved after a competitive practice and strong qualifying result at the Nürburgring. In terms of teamwork and overall pre-race performance, I hope the last race was a turning point for us. I fully expect us to be as strong in France this weekend. The car usually performs well around fast tracks like Magny-Cours, and everyone is hungry for that elusive two-car points finish. We just need to translate the practice and qualifying speed into tangible race results."
Olivier Panis - Car Number 20
"Magny-Cours is a very nice circuit and special for me with all the French spectators. Although I have not done too well there in the past, I am very confident for this year's race because I believe the high-speed circuit should suit our TF103 car. The Estoril corner is very important and you need a good line exiting it because the long back straight provides a good overtaking opportunity. The 180° corner is critical because it is so easy to make a mistake - you need to brake as well as turn in. I like the new track design. I was lucky enough to have the chance to drive around in a Lexus in April, and I am looking forward to racing on it. I can't think of a better place to get a good result than in front of my home crowd."
Cristiano da Matta - Car Number 21
"As usual, my priority will be learning the track on Friday morning. Like at the Nürburgring, I raced in Magny-Cours seven years’ ago in F3000, but the track has altered a lot, so I need to get up to speed ahead of qualifying. I deserved to score points in Canada and at the Nürburgring, but mechanical problems forced me to retire shortly before the chequered flag. I am aiming to rectify that in France, and if we can enjoy a trouble-free French Grand Prix weekend, another top ten qualifying result and some decent points are on the cards."
2002 Flashback: A reasonable start to the 2002 weekend saw the TF102s in 7th and 11th positions in Friday practice, but a lack of traction around the French track resulted in lowly 16th and 17th grid slots come Saturday afternoon. Neither car completed the 72-lap race after both experienced engine failures for the only time in all 17 races of the season.