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Q&A with Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher 23 Mar 2006

Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota TF105.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2006

After a disastrous outing in Bahrain, Toyota were back in the points in Malaysia thanks to Ralf Schumacher’s eighth place. Having had a few days to reflect on their performance, Schumacher spoke to the team’s press office about their difficult start to the 2006 season…

Q: After problems in Bahrain it must have been a relief to score a point in Malaysia?
Ralf Schumacher:
Well yes, but we knew that the problems we had in Bahrain meant that the race did not reflect our level of performance and so we were always looking for much more in Malaysia. We were in better shape and it was certainly good to open our 2006 points account, but we have much higher ambitions than eighth place. Without the engine problem in qualifying I think I could have done a lot better, so it was a bit unfortunate even if it was a step forward.

Q: What was the big difference, Bahrain to Malaysia?
RS:
In Bahrain the car just had no grip but the balance felt okay and that's a pretty unusual set of circumstances. We just expected the weather to be hotter in Bahrain and the track temperature is an important element of making sure that the tyres are working in their correct operating window. The forecast in Bahrain was 46 degrees track temperature and it never came to that. On the first day in Malaysia we saw a clear difference and it was much easier to get the tyres into the working range, therefore we were closer to the pace.

Q: Are you confident in the tyre development considering that Toyota is with a different supplier this year?
RS:
Yes, certainly. It is a big learning curve because the philosophy of different tyre manufacturers is not the same. But the development over the winter was a good step from where we started and Bridgestone made a good job of it. It was evident from Bahrain that the tyres were pretty close, it was simply that we didn't make our car work on the tyres that we had. I think it will be interesting as the season develops.

Q: Did you have tyres good for both one lap and longer runs in Malaysia?
RS:
Yes, we were reasonably happy with what we had although the engineers are saying that it looks as if we will be operating in the softer end of the spectrum because our car is quite gentle on tyres. But in Malaysia the rubber was very consistent and I was doing some very competitive lap times in the race.

Q: How badly were you compromised by an engine failure in qualifying?
RS:
It's hard to know exactly but it is never good! I made it into the top 10 run-off in qualifying but the failure came in the second session, which obviously meant that I could not take drive in the run-off. It was not a significant part of the engine, it was actually just an oil pump drive that broke, but it still meant that I had to start from the back of the grid. If I had been able to do the top 10 run-off I think I could have qualified close to the leading cars.

Q: But you drove a pretty impressive first lap!
RS:
I think I went from the back to 13th on the first lap, which was important and allowed me to be in contention for a point later on. But I also had quite high pneumatic air consumption and that meant the team switching me to a three-stop race strategy when the intention had been to stop just twice.

Q: You caught Jacques Villeneuve before the end but presumably you never had a chance to overtake?
RS:
No. We had quite a lot of wings on the car, which made us very quick through the second sector of the lap but not so fast on the straight. I was never in a position to challenge and I had to be happy with one point.

Q: With such heat and humidity, is Sepang the biggest physical test you face?
RS:
It really depends a bit on the car. If you have a reasonable car to drive it is a very enjoyable race but if you are working hard to keep the car on the road then you certainly feel the heat. The TF106 actually feels quite nice to drive, so I had no problems.

Q: How much is Toyota losing by not having a third car this year?
RS:
It's always a help to have a third car and especially so this year because the engine and tyre regulations have limited even more the mileage done by the race drivers on Friday. Ricardo Zonta always did a strong job for us and we certainly miss having him on the track. You have much more information with a third driver and the race cars need to do less laps, but that's the situation. The rules say that the top four teams cannot use a third car and we want to be a top team, so you have to live with it.

Q: What do you anticipate in the Melbourne race on April 2?
RS:
Hopefully we can again be at a good level. The weather in Melbourne has been hotter than anticipated and we will have to look carefully at the tyre choice. We have an important tyre test at Paul Ricard in France before the Australian race and we expect to learn more there. It looks like being a very competitive season but my race pace at Sepang was good and I set a fastest lap that was on a par with Jenson Button, who finished on the podium, and with McLaren. Hopefully we can start challenging for podiums again soon.