Q & A with Toyota's Ralf Schumacher 23 Mar 2005
Toyota enjoyed their best-ever weekend of Formula One racing at Sepang, with both cars in the points and their maiden podium. Ralf Schumacher reflects on a memorable Malaysian Grand Prix.
Q: How do you feel about Toyota's first ever podium finish in Malaysia?
Ralf Schumacher: It was great to see the debut podium for Toyota in Malaysia. Jarno did a good job and the pleasing thing is that the TF105 had competitive pace all the way through the weekend. People underestimate how difficult Formula 1 is and the experience of the teams we are racing against. Teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Williams have more than a century of experience between them. For Toyota to be finishing second after just over 50 races is commendable.
Q: What about your own experiences in the first two races of 2005?
RS: There wasn't very much I could do about the opening race of the season in Melbourne. I got a bad break with the weather in qualifying and there was no way back from there. I was stuck in traffic for much of the race but, encouragingly, when I was finally able to run in clean air my lap times were competitive. There was clearly a balance issue on Jarno's car and we couldn't find the reason for that after the race. He was still doing reasonable lap times towards the end but he didn't feel happy with the balance in the middle.
Q: And at Sepang?
RS: Our third driver, Ricardo Zonta, set competitive times on Friday and then Jarno and I were fighting at the front for the whole meeting. Unfortunately I had a little bit too much understeer and lost time in sector 1 on my first qualifying lap. It meant that ultimately I qualified behind Mark Webber. I had more race pace than the Williams but I couldn't get by. When I tried, at Turn 15, we collided and after that my car lost some aerodynamic performance. In the end, four points for fifth place was what I came away with, but it helped to put us into second place in the constructors championship as we head for the third round in Bahrain. I think that if anyone had offered us that scenario at the beginning of the season, we'd have taken it.
Q: How tough did you find Malaysia physically?
RS: The Malaysian race was not a problem physically, to be honest. You see some of the mechanics with beads of sweat framing their faces and you can feel for them. The humidity is pretty extreme but the problem is being stationary with fireproofs on. At least in the car we have some airflow, even if the air is pretty warm! If you have trained, you are in good condition and you acclimatise, then you should be okay. Dehydration can be a problem and you must keep your fluid levels up. For instance, normally a driver might lose a litre of water through sweat during a race. In Malaysia at its worst, you can lose almost four times that. Your muscle strength suffers as a result and then your concentration goes. But as long as you are in good shape and properly prepared, it's okay.
Q: Is the Sepang result an accurate reflection of where Toyota is?
RS: Talking about the competitiveness of the car, well, you can't make performance up. It's definitely there. I said in winter testing that although it wasn't obvious, the baseline of the car is good and its progress depends on the developments we do. We knew that the testing period in the beginning could be difficult, but we did that intentionally to be out early and to have all the problems sorted out mechanically. Then, with the first few aero package changes the potential came. That will continue from here. We have a good plan and if we stick to it, there is no reason why we shouldn't be in decent form for the whole year.
Q: How would you rate the aero package?
RS: Whatever aerodynamic solutions we have come up with so far have worked and improved the car. Everyone is doing a good job at the factory, with modern facilities. The car is well sorted and heading in the right direction. Coming out in January with the TF105 we knew that aerodynamically it was going to be compromised initially, which is why it was no surprise that the first aero package made a big impact. And you shouldn't forget that we had extremely cold winter testing and some cars do stress the tyres harder than others. Although the rumour was that we stress our tyre harder, that's not the case. Sepang proved that. With the low downforce that we had at first, to get a one-lap time, which is all the media tends to look at, was difficult. That's maybe why we looked worse than we were. But there's no such thing as a winter world championship.
Q: Are you surprised at the rapid progress seen in Malaysia?
RS: Since Mike Gascoyne joined (December 1, 2003) he made improvements to the chassis department and the TF105 is basically the first real new car since then. There is still plenty of scope to work at getting back some of the downforce that the '05 rules took away but it's definitely heading in the right direction. 12 points from two races is a very good start, but there is more to come.