Toyotas Pascal Vasselon on Istanbul Park 22 Aug 2006
Formula One racing makes its second trip to Turkey this weekend and after the success of last season, the teams cant wait to get back. Toyotas senior general manager (chassis), Pascal Vasselon, explains the unique appeal of the Istanbul Park circuit - as well as the Japanese teams preparations for the race
Q: What were your impressions of Istanbul from the first visit last year?
Pascal Vasselon: I think most people were really impressed by how smoothly the organisation went. We were expecting some logistical problems for a first Grand Prix but everything went well - the track is beautiful, the place is nice and so it was a very positive feeling for most people.
Q: Were you on the bus back and forwards to Istanbul centre every day?
PV: The most noticeable progress we will make for our Turkey attack this year is that we will have a hotel on the right side of the Bosphorus! We won't be forced to go over the bridge. We are looking forward to Turkey because our guys will be in good shape.
Q: What did you think of the track itself and Turn 8 in particular?
PV: The track is back to average in terms of downforce level but the thing that makes it special is Turn 8, which is a triple left-hander in fact. It is faster than we expected and most of the team simulations were wrong last year. It's taken at up to 250kph and it's very tough for the drivers and very tough for the tyres.
Q: One driver renowned for his fitness said that no driver, with the exception of possibly Ralf, will be able to hold his head up in Turn 8 with even higher speeds this year?
PV: That's an interesting point because the cornering speeds will be higher this year because of the V8s in conjunction with the softer tyres. It's true that Ralf has got a very strong neck but I think it's going to be a tough test even for him!
Q: How is Istanbul from a tyre point of view?
PV: In terms of tyre compromise it's a similar story to Hungary but shifting towards stronger tyres. We still have this compromise between tyres that have to be strong, especially for Turn 8, and the generally low grip of the asphalt, at least last year. But we still have to be careful because experience shows that from one year to another the new tracks evolve quite a lot because the asphalt can change pretty quickly. So we could well discover conditions that we are not expecting.
Q: Is traction a particular consideration with quite a few slow corners?
PV: Yes, but there is quite a good variety of corners and I think most drivers liked the circuit. Something very interesting was that teams tend to go for top speed to overtake but we had a clear example last year of cars which had a very good top speed being unable to pass. And at least one car, I remember Jenson Button, had a lot of downforce and a very average top speed but passed quite a lot of cars. It showed that the dominant factor in passing cars at Istanbul is pace and driveability. Top speed is obviously nice to have but if you can follow cars out of the last corner, stay close, get the tow to compensate for the straight-line speed and then brake late with higher downforce, you are better able to pass.
Q: Will Toyota have any major developments on the car in Turkey?
PV: We will have some very interesting aerodynamic developments around the front wing. We know what we could expect from the wind tunnel but we will have to check afterwards to see if the figures match up on the track. But it is certainly one of the most interesting updates of the season for us.
Q: What did you think of the penalties imposed on the championship contenders in Hungary?
PV: As far as the extent of a penalty goes, that is a matter for the stewards, however you must have rules. At least in our sport all these things are imposed after careful analysis. Unlike, say, soccer, where I don't understand the reluctance to look at video evidence for important decisions. I think it's questionable when the referee takes a decision on the spot and you sometimes have to accept these huge mistakes. I think soccer has a big problem with that. We tend to look at everything that is available and hear evidence from both sides, which is much better. Drivers can often easily avoid these mistakes that create such controversy.
Q: What's your view on Formula One racing's matter of the moment - mass dampers?
PV: Mass damping is one of the critical things that engineers have to sort out. We are forced to use stiff suspensions to maintain a stable aerodynamic platform. And, on the tyre side, we use low pressure for grip. So it means we put stiff suspension on top of very soft tyres and that causes a lot of problems. The combination means that at some frequencies the suspension is locked and the car is effectively bouncing on the tyres, which are not damped. The mass damper is one of the possibilities to control the frequency. From our side, we disregarded this because we considered it to be moving ballast, which is not allowed. Our development focused on suspension and another route that, for us, was more in line with the regulations. The mass damper is not an innovation, it is well known in engineering. It was actually used on the Citroen 2CV to counteract wheel hop! The question was: do we apply it to F1 or not? I would say it is obviously borderline. But then we also believe the issue of - it should be banned for the future, but it has been accepted, so why ban it in the middle of the season? Let's wait the end of the season - will be answered by the International Court of Appeal very soon. That's probably the true question that has to be answered.