Brazilian star on his competitive Formula One return
It has been a busy couple of weeks for Ricardo Zonta - he was unexpectedly promoted to race driver for Toyota at the Hungarian Grand Prix and then spent last weekend wowing the crowds at a demonstration event with the team in Cologne.
This weekend he returns to Spa, where he last drove in 2000. Back then he famously played backmarker-in-the-middle during Mika Hakkinens spectacular lead-seizing pass on Michael Schumacher. This year he hopes to be a bit nearer the front of the field, as he told Toyotas press office.
Q: What have you been up to since Hungary?
After the Hungarian Grand Prix, I went back to Brazil for a few days just to catch up with my family, but I was soon returning to Europe because we had the Toyota City Grand Prix in Cologne last weekend.
Q: Did you enjoy the City Grand Prix?
The City Grand Prix was a fantastic event and allowed the public to get close to Toyota and to its motorsport activities. It was not just a Formula One demonstration. There were also rally cars, the Le Mans car and the Yaris Cup cars. I am told that around 50,000 spectators showed up during the day, which is incredible. We benefit a lot from the support of the public during the F1 season, so it is nice to give something back.
Q: What did you do during the event?
It was a busy day, with a lot of interviews and autograph signing, but the big action was saved until the late afternoon when eight Toyota race cars completed demo runs through the streets of Cologne. We had two F1 cars, so I drove this year's TF104, whilst Olivier ran with last year's TF103. The crowd made it a fabulous atmosphere and I really enjoyed it.
Q: Are you looking forward to the next race in Belgium?
The next race is at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which is a very nice track. The lap is very long at almost seven kilometres with many medium-fast corners. There is also the famous Eau Rouge, where you really find the difference between the drivers and the cars. It should be easier to take Eau Rouge flat nowadays, but it still remains a challenge. On my first run in practice in Friday practice this weekend, I will take it a bit easier to find the limitations of the car, but then I think I will take more risk.
Q: When was the last time you drove at Spa?
I last drove at Spa back in 2000. Of course, everyone remembers the Mika Hakkinen-Michael Schumacher manoeuvre and I think that the move by Hakkinen was very impressive. Michael was on my left and I didn't see Mika coming on the right side. It was a little surprising to say the least.
Q: What are the particular characteristics of the circuit?
Spa consists mainly of medium-fast corners. The trick to setting up the car is to find the best balance without compromising the straight-line speed because we will run as little downforce as possible. The engine performance and power is very important for the long straights and uphill parts of the track, but I am very confident in our RVX-04 engine.
Q: How difficult is it to find the best Michelin tyre compound?
We have not done any Michelin tyre tests specifically for Spa, but we have to find a strong, consistent tyre, especially for the race, to enable us the chance to overtake. All the test sessions we had one month ago were at completely different tracks to Spa, so Friday will be a crucial day for us to carry out meaningful tyre evaluation on both race cars, and of course with Ryan Briscoe in the third car.
Q: How do you think the TF104B will run at Spa?
I think the improvements to the TF104B will be more apparent at Spa because the revised aero package made a positive difference on the fast corners, and there are lots of those at Spa, so it should be good for us.
Q: How was your transition from third driver to race driver in Hungary?
The transition from third driver to race driver at Hungary was quite smooth. Obviously, I had a lot more time in the car, but Friday was not easy because it was my first time driving the new TF104B, so I had to spend a lot of time fine-tuning the car for me. On Saturday, I was up to speed in free practice, but the one-lap qualifying system was another new element for me to learn and it was difficult to put everything together. After three years of being away from racing, that is quite normal and is something that will be rectified this weekend. Everything is going to be easier in Spa. I am much more relaxed and I know what the car can do.
Q: What do you think of the one-lap qualifying system?
The one-lap qualifying is very exciting. There is no room for error, which places more pressure on the driver, but that is a good thing.
Q: The weather is always very unpredictable at Spa. How confident are you driving in wet conditions?
Spa can always produce some rain, but as a driver, I am confident in all weather conditions. I have done a lot of our wet weather tests with Michelin this season. The difficulty we would face in wet conditions is that we have not had the chance to complete a proper test with the TF104B. Therefore, we don't yet know where the limitations of the new car are, even in the dry, so I do not think we would feel too confident in the wet.
Q: Do you have any targets for the weekend?
I think our aim for the remaining races of the season has to be to score as many championship points as we can, so I am heading to the Belgian Grand Prix hoping to score my first top eight finish of the season.