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Q&A with Toyota’s Pascal Vasselon 27 Jun 2007

Pascal Vasselon (FRA) Toyota Chassis Technical Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2007 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota TF107 retired from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota TF106 Formula One Testing, Day One, Silverstone, England. 19 June 2007. World © Ryder/Sutton

Ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix, Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s general manager (chassis), discusses Jarno Trulli’s strong drive at Indianapolis, Ralf Schumacher’s troublesome United States race and how the team might perform in Magny-Cours…

Q: Sixth place for Jarno and the best result of the season for the team at Indianapolis. Satisfying?
Pascal Vasselon:
Jarno gave us an excellent performance. He was very honest about his concern after the incident with Robert Kubica in Montreal . I think Jarno was relieved at the eventual outcome and was able to come to Indianapolis with a clear head and focus fully on the American weekend. He even entered into the spirit of things by arriving every day on a Harley Davidson! His qualifying performance to start eighth was very satisfying, especially when you factor in the fuel load, and he was flat-out all race. He resisted some determined driving by Mark Webber and got us a great sixth place. With the two leading teams monopolising the top four positions again, it was a very strong performance from Jarno. Still, we cannot be totally happy with a sixth place.

Q: But Ralf’s problems at Indianapolis struck again?
PV:
There’s no legislating for that. Ralf certainly doesn’t seem to have a lot of luck at Indy. There was a lot of jockeying for position going into Turn One, Ralf’s tyres locked and he made contact with David Coulthard. That was the end of his afternoon, right there at Turn One.

Q: Ralf set a very quick time in Q1 but then just missed out in Q2. What happened there?
PV:
Ralf was actually doing a very good job. His lap time in Q1 was very strong, seventh quickest overall and almost as quick as Jarno’s Q2 time. He had a very strong infield sector time but as we saw with a lot of drivers, it was very difficult to put the whole lap together. If Ralf had been able to do the same sector two time in Q2 he would have been in the top 10.

Q: How did Indianapolis go from the operational point of view?
PV:
It was quite difficult, for reasons that applied to everyone. You have a combination of two things: first, low downforce because of the long front straight and, second, the asphalt on the infield is low grip, so that makes life difficult for the drivers. That’s why we always see a lot of cars struggling for grip at Indy.

Q: We had the soft and medium Bridgestone Potenza tyres at Indy instead of the super soft and soft from Monaco/Montreal. How did the tyres perform?
PV:
The tyres were working well without any of the extreme situations we saw to in Monaco and especially in Montreal with the super soft. Both tyres were easily raceable but still a difference between the compounds developed throughout the weekend. As usual the harder tyre started quite well. It is usually more consistent on a Friday but then when the grip develops the harder one starts to lose its potential. The soft was definitely the quicker race tyre.

Q: Some drivers said that the track did not seem to ‘come to them’ as much at Indy as the weekend developed. Was that down to the asphalt?
PV:
Actually, for us the track developed as we would have expected. The evolution of the difference between the two tyres is usually a good indicator and we saw a fairly typical development of relative grip and consistency, which showed that the track was rubbering in.

Q: Looking ahead to Magny-Cours, will you have any aerodynamic upgrades on the TF107?
PV:
We have a few updates as we go back to a kind of baseline circuit in aerodynamic terms. Ever since Monaco we have been running with special aero packages, which are more race-specific than our baseline package. Monaco, of course, is high downforce, while Canada and Indy are two steps in the direction of a low downforce package. At Magny-Cours we will be back to a similar baseline as Barcelona and even Bahrain and Sepang. We have been developing of course and will have an upgraded package.

Q: What do you think of Magny-Cours?
PV:
Well, I’m just curious to see how our British friends will celebrate what could be the last Magny-Cours race because we know that they love the place so much!

Q: Doesn’t the track itself have a rather unique surface?
PV:
What’s special at Magny-Cours is that the asphalt is very dark. As soon as you have a bit of sunshine the surface temperature goes up very quickly so, even with reasonable ambient temperature between 25-30 degrees you can have 50 degree track temperature.

Q: What are the implications of that?
PV:
It impacts significantly on tyre behaviour and balance.

Q: It has been suggested that reduced tyre grip and aero tweaks have made overtaking even tougher this year. What do you think?
PV:
I’m not sure that the aero explanation is the main factor. The tyre factor is probably more dominant because, for sure, the tyres allow less sliding. It is much easier to make mistakes. The tyres have less grip and it’s very easy to put them outside the right operating window. That makes it more difficult for the driver to attack a corner with the confidence that a bit of sliding won’t put him in the gravel. It’s actually quite hard to attack with these tyres. You have to be very clean and that explains the difficulties some drivers have, particularly those who are used to sliding the rear tyres. This season that approach doesn’t work so well.

Q: Are you confident that Toyota can return to the head of the midfield group at Magny-Cours?
PV:
At Indianapolis we were comparatively not so strong in the low grip/low downforce configuration compared to where we were in Barcelona, although Jarno gave us a very good race. We are looking forward to being back to the baseline package which we have focused most of our effort on. We are hopeful of another strong points-scoring performance.