Q&A with Toyotas Pascal Vasselon 19 Aug 2008
Timo Glocks second-place finish at the last round in Hungary has put Toyota in a buoyant mood ahead of this weekends European Grand Prix. Here the Japanese teams senior general chassis manager, Pascal Vasselon, discusses his predictions for the forthcoming Valencia race...
Q: What is the key to preparation for Valencia, an unknown new circuit?
Pascal Vasselon: In a way it is business as usual in terms of the way we prepare for a new track. We started from the information provided by the FIA to put forward some speed profiles and this time we got some additional information because there was a race for F3 and GT cars before the Grand Prix. That gave us the opportunity to collect some data. We sent a couple of people to look at the logistics and to gain technical data with regard to driving lines. So we are probably a little better prepared than for other new tracks.
Q: What are your first impressions?
PV: For a street circuit it looks quite impressive in terms of run-off areas and the width of the track. The circuit is very, very wide and reasonably fast. We expect it to be in the mid range of downforce and quite severe on brakes. At the beginning we expect that the grip will be quite low but that should improve throughout the weekend. The downforce level will be very different compared to Hungary because the average speed is relatively high and so everyone will try to drop downforce while being mindful that the grip level appears to be very low.
Q: Some Formula Three drivers mentioned kerbs being a potential issue. Do you have concerns?
PV: These are the kind of details that will have been sorted out before the Grand Prix weekend. We were especially concerned by the swing bridge. Because normally it moves to allow boats into the harbour, there is a three centimetre gap in width and a couple of millimetres gap in height. It seems it has caused a few issues in F3, so we will monitor the situation very closely.
Q: How important is the surface in terms of looking after the tyres?
PV: That's extremely important. The tyre choice is already done but it will be the decisive factor in whether we use primarily the soft or the super soft tyre from Bridgestone's range and it will also influence downforce levels.
Q: Will free practice on Friday therefore take on added significance in Valencia?
PV: I think we can expect quite a lot of running but probably not at the beginning of the session when the track will be very dusty. But for sure we need to collect a lot of data and I think we will see significantly more running than on a well-known track.
Q: Do you enjoy the challenge of running at a new track?
PV: It's always an added challenge to have no reference and you have to think more about what is comparable. It's just more interesting to try to find the dominant performance factors before our rivals. It will be a very busy weekend and we expect that logistically things might be a little tense just because it's a new situation, but I expect everything will be okay in the end.
Q: What was your reaction to Timo Glocks second place in Hungary?
PV: We were very pleased with our performance in Hungary, it goes without saying. Our pace was really good, especially with Timo who, as well as finishing second, was fighting for the top three in qualifying. In fact his first lap time in Q3 was the second best of the session when you take into account the fuel loads, just behind Hamilton. Fifth was his best qualifying result and maybe the team's best this season in terms of overall pace. Timo's race was also excellent and he was very close to Kovalainen's McLaren in performance terms, so he finished on the podium on merit.
Q: Do you have the feeling that Timo is getting stronger after half a season's experience?
PV: He is getting better and better, in both qualifying and the race, and looks very promising. He has been strong several times already this season and showed a particularly good race pace in Hockenheim, so Budapest was not a one off. Timo is obviously finishing his learning phase. Jarno (Trulli) was perhaps a couple of tenths down in comparison at Hungary but he was not quite as happy with the set-up, he had a heavier fuel load in qualifying and he was also on the second race for the engine whereas Timo had a fresh one. So both cars were very competitive in Budapest, which is very good for the team.
Q: Are you confident that you can capitalize on the ten points in Hungary and retain fourth place in the constructors' championship over the rest of the season?
PV: That is our target and over the past four races that is the place we deserve. But in Formula One you never know what is going to happen and we certainly don't underestimate what teams such as Renault and Red Bull can do. In terms of performance since Magny-Cours I think we can challenge BMW for the third quickest package. Valencia will also show how well teams can react to new conditions and how well they predict what will be the main performance factors. It will be interesting.