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Q&A with Toyota’s Pascal Vasselon 05 Jun 2007

(L to R): Pascal Vasselon (FRA) Toyota Chassis Technical Director with John Howett (GBR) President of Toyota F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 17 March 2007

After a difficult weekend in Monte Carlo, Toyota are hoping for better things in Montreal. Senior general manager (chassis), Pascal Vasselon, talks about what went wrong in Monaco, about Ralf Schumacher’s struggle with the TF107, and about the team’s prospects for the Canadian Grand Prix…

Q: In Monaco, Jarno Trulli was fourth on Thursday and then things went awry. What happened?
Pascal Vasselon:
We have a fairly clear explanation. The second qualifying session was critical. On his first run he was affected by the traffic after Kimi Raikkonen crashed and that run would have been enough to put him in the top 10. When he arrived at Rascasse he found Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen going slowly. Jarno was then stopped twice at the weighbridge, which normally doesn’t happen, and in Monaco it has especially bad consequences with brake temperatures.

Q: Why is that a problem in Monaco especially?
PV:
Because there is no real straight on which the brakes receive a lot of cooling. When Jarno stopped the first time we could see clearly from the brake temperature data that it was well under control, 130-135 degrees, but then after the second stop his callipers went over 200 degrees. He immediately came on the radio and said he had a brake problem, that the pedal was long. His last outing, he said, was just a catalogue of mistakes because of the brake pedal. He was massively frustrated because he was feeling quick. In the only area where we had a measuring point, the speed trap of sector two in between the two chicanes, he was fourth.

Q: Ralf Schumacher had a tough time in Monaco. What was the problem?
PV:
From the very beginning we were struggling to give Ralf a car which was comfortable over bumps and kerbs and that affected his confidence. He felt very low grip as well.

Q: Is it down to one particular factor?
PV:
We can actually go a long way with a lot of parameters. We have a very wide window in terms of weight distribution, camber and suspension stiffness and we are not really limited. It was connected with general grip and confidence but there was no obvious limitation of one parameter.

Q: Monaco being Monaco, qualify low and you finish low but, given Jarno’s situation, would you say 15th and 16th was a false picture?
PV:
Yes. I think Jarno could have qualified much higher. From where we were on the grid, the only thing you could do was put in as much fuel as possible for a long first stint, and hope!

Q: Ralf seems to be having set-up issues with the TF107. Has any of the testing given you any clues?
PV:
In Monaco we had problems. After Barcelona practice Ralf had made a step in terms of confidence but for different reasons there were problems in Q1. In the Barcelona race he was capable of running competitively but he was hit on the first lap after he had already made up some places. His pace was good when he was free and that was confirmation that we had made a step. Monaco we are looking into, but the track is a bit of a one-off, whereas if you’ve made a step at Barcelona it usually translates to other circuits.

Q: Looking ahead to Montreal, will brakes be an issue there, too?
PV:
Yes, but for totally different reasons. In Monaco you don’t struggle with the actual braking but the lack of cooling. The discs run hot but they don’t wear that much. You don’t actually apply much braking so the energy is not that high. But in Canada brakes are problematic because you have high speed and heavy braking, so you have huge energy and can get high wear. When the temperatures go very high the brakes can go away very quickly. It is better to stay within a safety margin because if you go over the limit of the material then you can be in trouble. You wear the discs more, increase the temperature again and it becomes a vicious circle. In the past, some teams would use a different disc supplier for Montreal and Monza. But that’s quite difficult to handle because the discs are really important to the driver’s feeling - the way the pressure coefficient changes with the temperature. The driver needs time to get used to it. When the driver is used to certain carbon characteristics it is very difficult to change that race-to-race. You have to have a very good reason to do it. One company used to manage the wear a little better and some teams were forced to switch for the Canadian race but our brake company, Hitco, has a product which is able to do the job perfectly well.

Q: What are the other key factors in Canada?
PV:
Montreal is the first time we will race our medium/low downforce aerodynamic package. So far, Monaco apart, all the races were around what we call our baseline aero package. So the first work we have to do is to maximise that specific aero package, then we have a lot of chicanes and kerbs to consider. To prepare for that we tested at Paul Ricard, where you can run a decent simulation. Then, finally, there is generally low tyre grip. The track has been resurfaced but in the past it was a really low grip surface.

Q: Do you enjoy the Montreal race?
PV:
For me it is clearly the second best after Monaco. There is a great atmosphere, it is more or less a street circuit, you are in the middle of a city, the Canadian people are very hospitable and you are always welcome.