German looks back on Bahrain and a difficult start to 2007
While Toyota team mate Jarno Trulli has scored points in two out of three races so far, Ralf Schumacher has been having a tougher time of things. After his disappointing 12th place in Bahrain last weekend, Schumacher admits there is lots to be done, but insists the Japanese squad have the potential to challenge their front-running rivals in the near future
Q: Twelfth place in Bahrain. Was it a problematic race for you?
RS: Yes, very. From the start, on Friday, I found it very difficult to find a set-up I was happy with and things just snowballed from there. The end result was that I qualified too far down the grid to have a strong race.
Q: What were the set-up difficulties you had?
RS: In general we had some problems with the front end of the car. I had a lot of understeer, which obviously hurt the overall balance. No matter what I did I didnt seem to be able to get rid of it, which was why I was struggling so much.
Q: You also did relatively few laps during practice on Saturday morning, half as many as Jarno (Trulli). Did that hinder you too?
RS: We had a problem changing the rear suspension so I had to stop early. That didnt help.
Q: Did it prevent you from having a run in qualifying trim?
RS: Yes. But I didnt think it would be too big a deal because we had tested in Bahrain before the season started and so the preparation work was done. The balance problem was the bigger issue.
Q: Is it a bigger problem in qualifying than the race?
RS: It is, yes, because in the race, as you get some tyre degradation at the rear, the balance naturally improves and you dont feel the effect of the understeer so much. But when you have to get a qualifying lap out of the car it hurts you more because its costing you time when you attack. And its a bit of a vicious circle because obviously if you qualify too far down the grid you find yourself in traffic the whole race. You might be quicker but, as everyone in F1 knows, its difficult to overtake.
Q: And that was pretty much the story of your race?
RS: Yes unfortunately. The first few turns are very tight in Bahrain and it can be a bit of lottery if you find yourself in the middle of the pack. Thats where I was and on the first lap I suddenly found cars going everywhere. I didnt get the best of starts and then there was some contact, I think between Jenson Button and Scott Speed, and everyone was desperately trying not to get involved. When we all sorted ourselves out I found myself in 18th place at the end of the first lap, behind Barrichello and Liuzzi. At first I was surprised to see no white groove line on Liuzzis tyres, meaning that he had started on the harder tyre. He was the only driver on the grid not to do the opening stint on the medium compound. I think the team was gambling on a Safety Car so that he could go straight onto the medium for the rest of the race. And it was probably a good thing for me that they got one, otherwise I could have lost a lot of time. So the Toro Rosso pitted early on and I was then racing Barrichellos Honda, which I managed to pass on Lap 5. After that it was just a question of going as quickly as I could and trying to make as much progress as possible through a midfield battle that was highly competitive. In the end, that was 12th place.
Q: Is Bahrain a bit of a bogey circuit for Toyota?
RS: No, I dont think so. Last year we had a dreadful time but there were specific reasons for that, related to tyres and the fact that we had not tested before the race. We expected that perhaps the track layout would not suit us as much as Malaysia but Jarno qualified in the top 10 and scored points again, so clearly the car was quick enough. I just need to get the set-up more to my liking and well be working hard on that before the European season starts at Barcelona next month.
Q: How would you assess the teams start to the season?
RS: Clearly, where we are now is not where we want to be but, saying that, we have generally been qualifying in the top 10 and scoring points. Weve also had decent reliability and good strategy, so the factory and the race team are doing a strong job. What we need now is just a bit of extra performance and hopefully we can deliver that soon.
Q: In what areas do you think there is most scope for improvement?
RS: Aerodynamics is always a key area and I think its the same again. Theres a lot still to be done.
Q: The established order seems to be Ferrari and McLaren, then BMW, then a bit of a gap. Is it feasible to close that gap pretty quickly?
RS: We have to. Its a case of getting the best out of the package we have and optimising everything. Obviously I spent most of the Bahrain race in traffic but Jarnos quickest race lap was only beaten by those three front-running teams. I think we can legitimately claim to have the fourth quickest car and, when you consider that one of those teams behind us has won the constructors championship for the past two seasons, it just shows you how competitive Formula One is right now. There are no easy answers in this business, just hard work. And, rest assured, well be doing it.