Q&A with Toyotas Pascal Vasselon 01 Aug 2007
With Toyota missing out on points at the Nurburgring, Pascal Vasselon, the teams senior general manager (chassis), is hoping for better luck in Budapest. Thats if he can recover from his neck injury first
Q: First of all Pascal - your neck brace. Will it be gone by Hungary?
Pascal Vasselon: I hope so! I woke up on Friday morning at Silverstone with this pain in the neck. The root cause is an old judo injury. When I was younger I damaged muscles around the spine many times. I have one vertebra which moves too easily and over the last 20 years Id say Ive had a stiff neck around 30 times. Usually it lasts just a day or two and then the vertebra goes back into place. But this time it just got worse and worse. I had a scan and found out that this time it was herniated. Probably these things get worse with age!
Q: Did you compete at judo to a high level?
PV: Well, to a national level in France actually, when I was 17 or 18. I stopped because of injuries, as the risk was not compatible any more with my studies. It is an aggressive sport - good preparation for F1! When you train and compete intensively, you get injured several times per year.
Q: You lost out in the Nurburgring lottery but how strong were you pre-race?
PV: It was looking similar to Silverstone, which was one of our best weekends in terms of outright pace when you look at qualifying and Ralfs (Schumachers) race speed. We were actually a bit disappointed in qualifying at the Nurburgring. We were expecting to fight for sixth place and we failed, not by a lot but we were hoping to do better. The pace was there, the set-up work was going well and we had a clear direction. We thought we would be ahead of Renault and Red Bull.
Q: How different a challenge is Budapest?
PV: At the Nurburgring we used medium-high downforce and in Budapest it is very high downforce because the average speed is low. In Hungary, you can really add downforce and gain lap time even if you bring quite a lot of drag. You tend to gain more from downforce than you lose from drag. This circuit has low efficiency requirements.
Q: How much factory resource do you allocate to such a specific set-up?
PV: You always try to make the best use of your resources and it would be silly to allocate a big percentage for one race, so they are allocated according to the percentage of races done with a given downforce package. We know pretty much in advance at which downforce/drag window we will operate and then we allocate resources according to the number of races in that window.
Q: The final part of the lap is quicker now. Has that impacted on cooling at all?
PV: Hungary is one of the places where, effectively, we have cooling problems for the brakes and engine. Not because it is a high braking energy circuit or because there is a lot of full-throttle running, it is because the average speed is low, which simply means the cooling is low. So yes, as soon as you speed up part of the circuit you reduce that a little but in terms of average speed it was not a massive step. It is still a low average speed and so typically you expect some cooling problems, especially from the engine side because usually the ambient temperature is quite high. That doesnt affect brake cooling because the temperatures are so much higher but with engine cooling the average speed and the ambient temperature at Budapest needs managing. It brings us towards the highest engine cooling level.
Q: What did last years unusually low ambient temperature mean for you?
PV: Last year was really interesting and challenging and with a full dry weekend could have been a very good weekend for Toyota. We had made a different tyre choice compared to the others. Budapest is usually hot and you gain quite a lot by going with a soft compound tyre because of the nature of the asphalt - it has very low micro roughness, which means low grip. But last year the very soft compound was graining and so we decided to go a good step harder than the others. And then the weather was much cooler so the soft compound, which was relying on a relatively high minimum surface temperature to survive, was totally out of the picture. With our tyre choice we were looking quite good but then in the race we had rain and couldnt take advantage.
Q: What do you think of Hungaroring as a circuit?
PV: The tracks are a bit like the regulations - we all face the same conditions and you just have to do the best preparation you can. But I suppose if you were analysing the enthusiasm factor, probably Budapest would not rank with Spa. But it has generated some good races. In 2003, on a track known for how difficult it is to overtake, Ralf span in the first lap, restarted at the back of the field and finished fourth!