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Q&A with Toyota’s Pascal Vasselon 12 Apr 2007

Pascal Vasselon (FRA) Toyota General Manager Design.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Preparations, Interlagos, Brazil, 19 October 2006

Last year Toyota found the Bahrain Grand Prix a tough nut to crack. This season, the team’s improving form has prompted a positive outlook from Pascal Vasselon, senior general manager (chassis) for the Sakhir race. Here, Vasselon talks tyres, reviews last week’s Malaysian outing and responds to Jarno Trulli’s comments about the TF107’s inconsistency…

Q: What is your assessment of the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Pascal Vasselon:
We started quite well and again got both cars into Q3 and the top 10 shoot-out. Unfortunately we didn’t get good starts. We started Jarno on the harder tyre first, the thinking being that he would be in a strong position later in the race, but unfortunately he lost a position to a Renault off the grid and Ralf (Schumacher) also lost time. Ralf’s position was made worse when he got a puncture in his second stint. He had to come into the pits early and when we fuelled him to the end it meant that the car was very heavy and the balance no longer at its best. Jarno did a good job to score us another two points.

Q: Jarno mentioned some car inconsistency after the Friday practice. What’s your view?
PV:
It’s always difficult to analyse the way competitiveness evolves through a session, especially when you run different fuel loads, so maybe that was part of the explanation. So far there is nothing really strange in terms of differing grip levels relative to the others. I’d say our level of competitiveness has been quite steady session to session. On Friday we saw that our long run pace was better than at the pre-race test relative to the opposition. The big question mark we had on Friday was the capacity to get first lap speed. But in qualifying preparation on Saturday we got the answer that the first lap pace was there.

Q: With such blistering heat was there any special physical preparation?
PV:
Let’s say that the drink systems were checked regularly! The drivers have had the preparation to make sure that they can stand the heat and Malaysia is the place where they reap the rewards of all the effort they put into training.

Q: Have you considered using cool suits for races like Malaysia and Bahrain ?
PV:
Actually, I’ve never seen them used for single-seater drivers. In categories like sportscars and DTM they tend to be used a lot because there is more space in the car. It’s quite a big system. You need a big box for the water and there is simply not room to site it in an F1 car.

Q: Are you surprised to have qualified eighth and ninth at both races so far?
PV:
You can see that as a confirmation that both drivers are in the top 10, which is good in one respect but still not where we want to be. Some were expecting us to be bad after winter testing but that was down to mistaken analysis of what winter testing actually is. When you had the data from the previous season it was easy to see that there was nothing going wrong and that our pre-season testing was actually better than previous seasons. So it was not a total surprise for us to see our drivers in the top 10 but that doesn’t mean we are satisfied.

Q: Looking at your rivals, would you say that those teams without previous Bridgestone experience have taken a bigger performance hit?
PV:
A tyre change, for sure, is a parameter that can correlate with lack of form but I would not think it is the dominant one. The tyres we are using this season are much easier to use than previous tyres, so there is really no room for a big mismatch between the car and the tyres, at least in terms of grip. The working window of these tyres is easier to find. Frankly, the difference in aerodynamics caused by a slightly different tyre profile is likely to be more significant. The tyre profile is part of the aero package and maybe some cars were matched to the Michelin tyre.

Q: You had some tricky tyre issues in Bahrain last year. Can you recap?
PV:
What happened was that during the ’06 winter Bridgestone made a big step in terms of tyre construction and this led to much better durability in terms of heat and wear resistance. But, the first generation came together with a side-effect of warming up problems. It was just massively difficult to use the tyres in winter time. We had that in mind and knew from past experience that there is little point in fixing winter problems that you expect will disappear when you start racing in hotter ambient conditions. But last year we made a mistake as a team and did not test in Bahrain before the start of the season because we wanted to stay closer to base to bring aero updates to the car. So we did not go to Bahrain and realise that the warm-up issues were still there even in warmer conditions.

Q: So you only discovered that when you got to Bahrain, last year’s first race?
PV:
Yes. And the conditions in Bahrain were much cooler than expected. In Bahrain we had 35 degrees of track temperature when we’d been expecting 50 degrees plus. Then when we went to Malaysia we had 55 degrees, the tyre warm-up issues disappeared and we were competitive. For Melbourne, which was round three last year, we had to fix the issue because the temperature was down again and the nature of the surface made warming up issues even bigger. Two things came together at the right time: some set-up evolutions put more heat into the tyres and Bridgestone came with what was the right family of compounds for the season. From then onwards there were no more tyre issues. So, in fact, even though people spent 2006 talking about tyre issues, we had only one race with tyre issues. We are not afraid of Bahrain in ’07!

Q: You did test in Bahrain this year. How did it go?
PV:
It was a bad test for us, which triggered some of the alarms from the outside world, but for completely different reasons to last year’s Bahrain race. We had a lot of reliability issues, nothing big but a lot of small things jumping at us every day. When you don’t run the car so much you are not fast and get into a negative circle. But then we went to Jerez and already it was much better.

Q: Do you expect Australia/Malaysia performance levels in Bahrain?
PV:
In terms of aerodynamic efficiency we may be a little worse off in Bahrain, but that’s still to be seen and there should be nothing to stop us challenging for more points.