After an arduous and unrewarding Brazilian Grand Prix, the Panasonic Toyota Racing team is heading into this weekend's San Marino GP with a focus on the reliability and competitiveness of its TF103 race cars, aiming for its first two-car finish of the season.
Team Review: Race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta, alongside third driver Ricardo Zonta were all in action at Circuit Paul Ricard last week. The test programme was hampered by adverse weather conditions in the south of France, however the team made some improvements to the TF103s, working on Michelin tyre evaluation, brakes, suspension and electronics. The team conducted a three-day test at the Imola track back in February specifically in preparation for this event.
The Weekend Ahead: After three intercontinental events, this weekend's race marks the start of the European F1 season. The event will be the 23rd San Marino Grand Prix since its debut back in 1981, although the first official F1 championship race took place at Imola in 1980 in the guise of the Italian Grand Prix. The 4.933km track, like Interlagos, runs in an anti-clockwise direction and is quite bumpy. The circuit is notorious for its high kerbs and is particularly hard on brakes. Cars will need to ride the kerbs well in order to set competitive lap times this weekend.
Ove Andersson, Team Principal: "As we enter the European season, it is clear that we have missed some very good opportunities to win points in the opening three races. Our car has shown extreme competitiveness at times, and at other times we have been off the pace. This was highlighted perfectly in Brazil, when we topped the free practice timesheets on Saturday morning and then qualified down in 15th and 18th. We have to find the source of this discrepancy in our performance. Consistency is the key and I am optimistic that we can reach our targets in Imola, by qualifying in the top 10 and then seeing both TF103s past the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon."
The Driving Line
Olivier Panis: "It is good to go back to Europe after three disappointing overseas races. I have to admit that Imola is not my favourite circuit on the calendar, mainly because of the tragic memories of 1994 - which was actually my first Imola GP - but the support of the Italian fans gives the whole place a special atmosphere. Braking will be very important this weekend and we will need to have a car that is stable under braking, because of all the chicanes. The kerbs play a vital role at Imola as well. Although they upset the car a lot, you have to use them to be competitive. The whole Panasonic Toyota Racing team has done a tremendous job up to now, so I hope we can continue in this positive direction and celebrate a strong race finish this weekend."
Cristiano da Matta: "I had a productive two-day test at Paul Ricard last week, working on Michelin tyre evaluation and general car set-up. I am going into the San Marino Grand Prix with some recent experience and knowledge of the circuit, having tested the TF102B interim car back in February. I managed over 100 laps of the track during my two-day test, which I think will prove invaluable this weekend, as we can get straight down to business on Friday morning before the first qualifying session. Needless to say I am disappointed with the outcome of the opening three rounds of the season, but we will do all we can to begin the European season on a high."
2002 Flashback: The 2002 San Marino GP was not favourable to Panasonic Toyota Racing. Neither TF102 found an ideal set-up during the weekend and struggled over the kerbs. Rain on Friday cleared for Saturday's qualifying with the two TF102s back in 16th and 17th places. Car 25 lost drive on the grid and failed to make it to the first corner, whilst car 24 retired after 26 of the 62 laps with a gearshift problem.
An extended San Marino GP Insight with additional quotes and information, and Olivier Panis's race preview are available exclusively on our media website www.toyota-f1-media.com