Interview with Ralf Schumacher 10 Jan 2005
Ralf Schumacher became a fully-contracted Toyota driver on January 1. Ahead of the launch of the TF105 race car, he spoke to the team about what drew him to the Japanese squad, his thoughts on the season ahead, his new team mate and the 2005 regulations.
Q: What first attracted you to Toyota?
Ralf Schumacher: Joining Panasonic Toyota Racing gave me the possibility to be in a team that is still pretty young and really up and coming. With that in mind, I was very impressed by the professional nature of the team operations when I arrived for the first post-season tests in November. Having the engine and the chassis built in the same factory is important because everyone is working together towards the same goal. The fact that the team is based in Germany is an additional plus point for me personally and I believe that all these things give us the perfect combination for our future success together.
Q: What are the advantages of building the engine and chassis under the same roof?
RS: Having the chassis and engine under the same roof and in the same factory simply means that there is no energy wasted. If everyone is working in the same building it becomes pretty obvious that everyone is focussed on the same end result.
Q: How much of a concern was it to you that Toyota has not yet converted its potential into tangible success?
RS: I think that Toyota's short history in the sport is typical of Formula One. You can never expect to find success immediately and there are a lot of different reasons for that. It will obviously still take some time for Toyota to make it to the top, but the first three years are over now and they have learned a lot. The guys within the team know what it's all about to be at a race meeting, so I'm pretty optimistic for the future.
Q: You've now seen the team at work at the factory and at tests. What have been your first impressions?
RS: I must say I was encouraged when I first joined the team because the way they work is really professional. As such it's really a surprise and a shame that they haven't had better results so far. But especially towards the end of the 2004 season they were a bit unlucky, so I would say the existing package was certainly better than it looked.
Q: Are there any specific areas that have impressed you?
RS: Electronically, Toyota is very advanced and the potential here is better than what I was used to. Also, there is a good structure, specifically for developing things during the year. So that will speed up the whole system, which is very important because waiting for parts is something that has been frustrating for me before. The engine has great driveability. The car's electronic aids make it easy to control, so I must say that it is a very advanced piece of equipment.
Q: What do you think of the new tyre rules for 2005?
RS: From what I've seen so far in testing I am quite surprised at the performance of the tyre. The tyres we have tested so far are really good, and they're equivalent on lap times to what we've been used to this year. I guess we will see fewer pit stops and I don't think there will be any fastest lap times towards the end of the race, because we won't be able to change tyres and fresh sets will always be quicker. But apart from that, in terms of lap time the aerodynamics will be far more severe in slowing us down than the tyre. But F1 is going in the right direction to try and limit the speed because if we continue down the road we have been going in previous years we will end up with a car that will be four or five seconds quicker in two years' time and that is a bit too much, in my opinion.
Q: How many less pit stops do you expect to see?
RS: Pit stop strategy will be dependent on how the qualifying session could end up. Perhaps the new raised front wings might not enable us to have as much overtaking as we would like. If that is the case then we will see fewer pit stops. Depending on the track, it could well happen that you see just one very early pit stop.
Q: What is the impact of the new engine rule, requiring the engines to last two race weekends rather than one?
RS: Here at Toyota we are in a very good position from what I've seen so far, but I'm sure we will see quite a few engine failures up and down the grid this year. Certainly the target for teams is to keep the same power the same revs, everything, and just to double the engine's life, so it will be very interesting.
Q: As a driver does it bother you that there could be more chance of a stroke of bad luck resulting in a large penalty?
RS: It's nothing to do with luck, it's just placing full trust in the engine department to do the best job they can. It is not impossible to build an engine with life of 1,500km. It is going to be a tough job, but I'm sure we are capable of meeting that challenge.
Q: Could it be a bonus for a team like Toyota to have so many rule changes?
RS: On the engine side it is definitely an advantage for all of us at Toyota due to the fact that the engine already has a good life expectancy. On the aerodynamic side the rule changes enable other teams to close up and start from a position closer to the top teams, so all in all I am sure it is going to be a benefit for Toyota.
Q: Toyota has two experienced test drivers with Olivier Panis and Ricardo Zonta. How important will that be to the team's success?
RS: It is important to get test drivers who you can rely on. Unfortunately with so many races there is always some testing that we won't be able to do ourselves, so you need someone who you can call on and trust. Olivier and Ricardo are really good choices. Both of them have a lot of experience and speed, so that is great. I have been used to having one experienced guy testing and that always helped a lot. So I must say having two now is beneficial for everyone in the team. It also retains an important element of stability within the team, which is especially critical on the development side to keep some direction.
Q: You've now spent a bit of time with new team-mate Jarno Trulli during winter testing. What are your first impressions of working with him?
RS: Jarno has always been a good colleague, even when we were in different teams. He is a very easy guy as we both are so it has been great so far. For the moment we are really busy giving our input on the whole project, but I think we make the ideal driver line-up for Toyota because we will continuously push each other to find new limits.
Q: What you think you bring to the team?
RS: Personally, I think I can bring some productive comments and some valuable experience and hopefully, most importantly, good results
Q: The calendar has again been expanded next year, now up to 19 races. How punishing a schedule is that for a driver?
RS: I don't think the F1 calendar poses any particular problem for the drivers. It's more difficult for the rest of the guys and the working organisation. However, if testing is reduced a bit as planned, then it should be less of a problem.
Q: What did you think of the two tracks they added last year, Bahrain and China?
RS: Formula One has to go worldwide and Bahrain and China were excellent venues. The problem is that some of the tracks in Europe have seen their best days already, so if we as F1 have the opportunity to drive on such circuits as Bahrain or China, we should definitely take it.
Q: Did you enjoy the new circuits from a driving perspective?
RS: Both of the race tracks in Bahrain and China tracks are very challenging, totally different from each other but enjoyable from a driver's point of view and safe as well. The facilities at both places are amazing, not just for the drivers but for the mechanics, marketing and other departments to have a bit more space to work.