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FIA Thursday Press Conference - Part Two 01 Apr 2004

Mike Gascoyne (GBR) Toyota Technical Director in the press conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 1 April 2004

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Team personnel: Mike Gascoyne (Toyota) and Geoff Willis (BAR).

Q: Have you seen any surprises since you’ve been here?
Mike GASCOYNE:
Obviously a new circuit is an interesting engineering challenge. It’s nice to come to a new part of the world and look around a new track. We have obviously done all our simulation work but you do need to see the track itself, whether you can use the kerbs and this sort of thing. We don’t know about bumps so maybe we can run the cars lower but I think we just have to go out on track and see and then react to what we find.
Geoff WILLIS: I think I have to share some of Mike’s comments. I haven’t yet been around the track, I will probably do so this afternoon, but from what the race engineers have been saying some of the slow corners look tighter than we originally thought. Like Mike, we have done a lot of simulations and we are reasonably set up and we will just have to get laps in early tomorrow to make sure we understand where we are.

Q: I understand teams make the gear ratios for specific races so if you were out how difficult would that be to correct?
GW:
It’s important that your simulation is accurate enough to give you the right choice of ratios and we have a large range of ratios we can choose. But we don’t want to lug tonnes of ratios around the world, particularly for these long-distance races, so we are normally pretty confident about the ratio we are going to use. Generally we don’t get caught out.
MG: Just to add to that, we do the simulation and we know roughly where we are going to be. It is not a problem, we have got all the ratios, but we try to limit how much we bring. We aim for an area and bring a certain amount of ratios each side so it is very rare that you have a problem.

Q: Can you just give a run-down on how you think it has gone for your teams so far in the first two races?
MG:
From Toyota’s point of view, it’s been a reasonably disappointing start to the season. That is not necessarily a surprise, I think Toyota are still a pretty young team, it’s only our third season in Formula One and it is a steep learning curve. But when I joined the team four months ago I think we identified a lot of the things that perhaps people have seen in the last two races and we have already been working to put them right. Undoubtedly Melbourne was a difficult race for Toyota and, I think, for a lot of the Michelin runners and that exacerbated the situation for Toyota. Malaysia was a better race for us and I am very happy with what we are doing in terms of approach and where we are going. It will take time, but I do think Toyota is on the right track and it is more about where we go long-term rather than just a short-term thing. I think we have been very reliable, we have finished both of the races with both drivers, which is a plus, and if we keep doing that with the parts that we are putting on the car we will start picking up points and, come the end of the season, end up where we want to be. There is a lot of on-going stuff going on at Toyota. I mean, I think the important thing about Toyota is that Toyota has come into Formula One to be a top-notch team. Now, you can’t achieve that overnight and you need to have a big organisation to achieve that and you have to remember that big organisations like McLaren and Williams and Ferrari have had 20 years building up what they have got. To try and do it in two years is very difficult. It’s an ongoing process, it is one that is evolving at the moment, and will continue to evolve. But I am very happy because we are doing the right thing and with what is happening at Toyota at the moment we are very confident.
GW: It is certainly an encouraging start to the season. This is the third year of a graded plan and we were nicely on time with getting the first podium, not the first podium ever but the first podium where we have raced through for it. That was very important for the team and also very important for Jenson. We have made big improvements to the car, we thought it was going to be a lot better and it is certainly proving itself. We have still got a long way to go. We haven’t reached the level at which we will stop. But I think a good start, a little bit unfortunate to lose the engine in Takuma’s car at the last race. We have got a reasonably good idea what the problem was, we have been testing with the solution and we had a reasonably good test at Ricard last week as well. It’s logical, we are progressing steadily, and it is our target to get faster relative to the rest of the grid throughout the year.

Q: Talking of Jenson, how much have you seen him change since the end of last season?
GW:
Jenson has a lot of experience – this is his fifth year of Formula One – so I think sometimes his appearance of a calm and very laid-back attitude belies the fact that underneath it he is very, very focussed on what he is doing. With his position now he is certainly able to influence the team, to give that leadership from the cockpit that is important. I certainly think he has stepped up to the next level, it might be that the podium position has confirmed to him that podiums are achievable, not just for him but also the car is able to get there and I think probably you will see another big step from him and the team as a result.

Q: Just going back on the progress of the team, a number of people often say when we get to Melbourne that you have to wait until Imola because that is when all the little new bits and pieces come onto the car. Is that the case with you two?
GW:
We have a number of changes for both the car and the engine at Imola. Certainly Imola, being the first European race, gives us some time to regroup a little bit. It’s very difficult to develop the car at arms length during the fly-away races and you try to make sure that your car, as it goes to Melbourne, is competitive because it gives you that little bit of breathing space, it gives you the opportunity to judge your performance in true race conditions compared to the opposition and that will give you some degree of focus. We already knew to some degree what we were going to do for the Imola race but it has confirmed that we are focussing on the right things. We have some engine steps and we have some chassis steps.
MG: I think the situation is slightly different at Toyota in the fact that, obviously, when I arrived in December we identified a fair number of things that we wanted to do whereas other teams who are perhaps more ahead of the game are fairly static throughout the first three races and they put in a change in Imola. It is a sensible thing to do because logistically it is much easier to do it that way. The situation is different in Toyota in that we had a lot of updates in Melbourne, we had updates in Malaysia, a few updates here and another large step in terms of updates for Imola. We are doing the things we need to do to catch up with the opposition in the areas we have identified we are behind. So I am hoping our rate of improvement can be better because we started that process earlier than others. We have got quite a number of changes for Imola, I don’t think that means we are going to revolutionise our performance overnight but there is a programme of changes for throughout the year and certainly it will allow us to close the gap on the teams in front. But everyone is saying the same thing and we will just have to see how it pans out. No-one is going to sit here and tell you the car is going to go slower in Imola so we have to see how we develop relative to the opposition.

Q: I am sure you have both simulated how the cars are going to go around here and what sort of lap times they are going to do. Can you tell us?
MG:
Well, we’ll just get it wrong, so…
GW: It’s going to be the low 30s I think. I could be proven wrong very quickly tomorrow on that.

Q: So a one-minute 30 point something?
GW:
It will probably depend on the rate the circuit cleans up. There is a certain amount of error in these simulations when you get to the circuit that you have not been to before. The lap time we would predict going to Imola would probably be a bit more accurate.
MG: I would love to be able to say a one 28 for us, but, honestly, the low thirties is what ours is predicting as well, but so much depends on how the tyre works, which tyres we use, how they work on the surface, how dirty it is, how quickly it cleans up. It is impossible to say. You can do all the simulation work, you just can’t predict whether you can or cannot use kerbs, drivers drive differently to the way simulations do. It is a very unpredictable thing. That doesn’t matter too much in terms of getting ratios right, because if you have got a slow corner and your exit speed doesn’t vary much and your length of straight is the length of the straight. But speed in corners can be out quite a lot and that can change the lap time by a huge amount.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Just for information, how many simulations have you done before coming here?
GW:
I think you are asking how many simulations we do to set the car up and how many we do to predict the strategy for the race itself. Without giving away too much, we do quite a lot of simulations to make sure, but the initial simulations we do to get the target weight distribution, target gear ratios, that can be done quite quickly.
MG: I think Geoff has answered the question. We all do the same sort of things. The background work we do is pretty thorough and our guys have been working not just the last couple of weeks but also before that because we have to predict things like ratios and that a long time before the race and make sure we have them ready to ship here. I cannot put a number on it but it is a lot of work.

Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Everyone has their views on qualifying. In your view, what sort of Friday and Saturday should there be?
GW:
It is an intriguing question and I suspect the answer from the teams will differ from that of the fans. It would be good to have some way of ensuring that people were competing in terms of absolute car speed. I think we would all like to know, absolutely, how fast we are, as it used to be when we had four qualifying runs and people were running in low fuel configuration. I think the reverse qualifying is quite interesting and the single lap certainly brings out some stronger demands on the drivers and penalises errors very heavily. So if we could come up with some scheme where there was real encouragement for having one session on low fuel and then carry on with the second session as we have at the moment then that might satisfy both requirements.
MG: I think probably firstly I would like to see it not keep changing because I don’t think constantly changing it is good for the sport. We need to get it right and then fine-tune it. I think the problem with the previous qualifying system is that ultimately you ordered the cars with the quickest at the front and the slowest at the back and then set them off and expected them to all overtake each other, which was never going to happen. So I think the one-lap qualifying and not knowing the fuel load and mixing the grid up is working well, I don’t think it is ideal for a spectators point of view, but it certainly has merit in terms of finding more interesting racing. But I think Geoff’s right, I think we need to make sure that there are sessions where cars are genuinely competing and you know which car is quicker and you know they are going flat-out. There may be something in a session where you take the first ten cars and do a one-lap shoot-out for the top ten positions. But I think the main thing is that any change that is made now is thought about properly with the team principals’ and engineers’ input so that we get something that really does work. Spectators are ultimately the people we have to keep happy, the tv, and the sport as a whole, so if we are going to change, lets make sure we think it through properly and get a proper change.

Q: (Mark Surer - Premiere) Going back to the gear ratios – does it happen that you have too short gears? If so, what are you going to do?
MG:
I think it is a very unlikely thing. Ultimately all the cars have soft limiters, hard limiters, they will run in the limiter, you won’t over-rev the thing, it’s not generally a good thing, you wouldn’t want to do it. It is a problem with the regulations the way that they are, if you get a change in the wind direction between qualifying and race day you can get problems with people hitting the limiter and there is nothing you can do about it. Normally, if you had that situation you would change the wing level but you can’t do that any more. From that point of view we tend to ensure that we don’t get into a situation where we get it wrong.
GW: The same comments, I think. It has happened in the past and I am sure you can think of a few examples where cars have looked as though they were going to try to overtake and simply pulled up next to them and tucked back in because they were held off by the soft limiter. We certainly try to do our best to ensure we don’t, but there are races where it is very difficult to get top gear right and there is some very frantic last-minute discussion in that time between second session on Saturday morning and the qualifying.