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Q&A with Toyota’s Pascal Vasselon 09 May 2007

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

Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s senior general manager (chassis) reflects on last month’s Bahrain Grand Prix and reveals the Japanese team’s expectations for this weekend’s Barcelona race and beyond…

Q: Seventh place and two more points for Jarno Trulli. How do you reflect on Bahrain?
Pascal Vasselon:
On the one hand it was a better race for us than expected. People may remember that in Bahrain testing we were not looking so good. In fact there were some obvious explanations, the first one being that we had quite a few small reliability issues that just prevented us from running. When you don’t get a lot of mileage you end up in a vicious circle - you don’t develop the car, you don’t evolve a set-up and so it goes on. One consequence was that we were unable to run low levels of downforce. From that point of view quite a lot changed at the race and in terms of performance with one car we were another step closer to the top, even compared to Malaysia. With Ralf (Schumacher) we were not as quick as we would have liked and we clearly have to review some of the set-up guidelines. At some places, such as Bahrain, some of those recent guidelines are simply not working.

Q: There was a huge storm on the Thursday night before the race weekend. Was that significant?
PV:
It was a big storm! It was surprising and it actually had a very positive effect on the track’s level of grip. On the two previous days we had quite a lot of sand and dust storms and the track was just terrible. Walking around the circuit your shoes were leaving prints because there was so much dust. After the thunderstorm it was much cleaner and we could start the weekend with decent grip. But I’d still say that all weekend the grip was clearly down compared to the test days. Even in qualifying on Saturday I don’t think the grip was any better than it was in the first session of Friday free practice. Kimi Raikkonen did a 1m 33.1s lap almost immediately on Friday and in qualifying the times were only a little faster. So the grip was consistently low. To illustrate that, in testing the best lap time was 1m 29.9s. So the weather in Bahrain does have a big influence on grip levels.

Q: Some of the performance variations at the front of the grid have been attributed to cars being marginal on cooling. Did you have any concerns?
PV:
This season we don’t suffer at all from cooling issues and in Malaysia we were able to run with the bodywork reasonably closed, which is good for aerodynamic efficiency. In Bahrain we were totally comfortable. I struggle to believe that it is the main reason for the difference in performance of cars because even if you are forced to run a little bit more open than another car, it is only one or two points of efficiency. But I agree that most of the paddock was expecting Ferrari to win in Malaysia. That’s still a bit of a mystery for most people.

Q: Are you optimistic about the start of the European season in Spain?
PV:
Having time after the first race gave us the opportunity to prepare quite a large aerodynamic upgrade. We will come to Barcelona with a new engine cover, a new floor and new rear crash area. It was quite a lot of work and we went through another homologation of the rear crash site. And so, yes, Barcelona for us does correspond to a significant upgrade of our aero package.

Q: What do you think of the circuit revisions at Barcelona?
PV:
Barcelona has lost a little bit of its character. It was all about high-speed cornering and it was a very good track to assess an aero package together with a suspension package. That’s because you had high-speed corners with bumps and in this situation, clearly, the aero efficiency and the aero stability does matter, but the capacity of the suspension to maintain grip levels was massively important. Barcelona was therefore very interesting in terms of high-speed cornering stability. But now, with the new chicane, the last high-speed corners are easily flat-out and so it is not quite so demanding. But it is still interesting.

Q: Is it still a good barometer of car efficiency and performance?
PV:
Yes. If you are quick at Barcelona you should go well at most other places.

Q: How do you see the season progressing? It seems to be Ferrari and McLaren, then BMW Sauber, then a gap to a close-fought midfield?
PV:
There is a trend developing for us. We have been progressing in terms of qualifying speed for the first three races and in Bahrain we were clearly the fourth fastest team with Jarno. In the second qualifying session, when all cars were in optimum low fuel configuration, Jarno was seventh quickest and with a 0.4s gap to Williams, which was comfortable. The next target is to catch BMW Sauber. Ferrari and McLaren is another step again, but we like a challenge!