Interview with Toyotas Pascal Vasselon 24 Mar 2009
With the TF109 quick and reliable during pre-season testing, Toyota have muscled their way into real contention for the 2009 season. Here Pascal Vasselon, Toyota's senior general manager (chassis), reflects on the teams hectic preparations over the winter months and reveals what he hopes to achieve over the coming races
Q: Are you satisfied with the TF109 so far?
Pascal Vasselon: We can only be satisfied with what has happened so far with the TF109. Our winter season programme went extremely well in terms of reliability and mileage. We have been able to complete a huge number of laps before the race season starts; in fact we are very close to what we did last year with two cars, despite the restrictions we have this season. In terms of reliability we are very happy even if we are working hard to fix some small issues, as is always the case with a new car. In terms of performance as well we are satisfied, although obviously we are looking forward to seeing the pecking order when the racing starts. We have a quiet confidence we should be able to fight close to the front at the beginning of the season.
Q: Are the drivers happy with the TF109?
PV: Yes, the drivers have given very positive feedback. They are pleased with the drivability of this year's car; it is very easy to drive, very forgiving. Part of this is a consequence of the regulations which make this car less sensitive to disturbance but part of it is also because our aerodynamicists have done a good job at making the aero package less sensitive to wind and ride height.
Q: Has testing been compromised by bad weather in pre-season?
PV: Yes and no. Despite the restricted test days and bad weather we have achieved incredible mileage in 2009 pre-season testing - around 10,000 kilometres. However, it could have been better because we had two disturbed test sessions; the first in Portugal when we spent a complete day in the pits and the second in Bahrain where two days were disrupted by a sandstorm. But the beauty of Bahrain is that when you have one valid test day the track is workable from 8am to 5.30pm without interruption. That's why, despite these two disturbed days, we still achieved huge mileage in Bahrain. At this time of year the Bahrain circuit is suitable for testing for much longer than European tracks, where you have to wait until mid-morning for reasonable track temperatures and then in the late afternoon the temperature drops. We came back from Bahrain with no regrets; we did huge mileage and completed over 800kms in one day alone.
Q: What was missing with the TF108? Why was it good but not a winner?
PV: The TF108 had no weakness, there was no problem to cure; the bottom line was we were missing some raw performance. We were reasonably competitive at the start of the season and we sustained a good development rate which kept us regularly in the points and around the podium. Towards the end of the season we were really able to fight at the front and Sao Paulo was a good example when Jarno (Trulli) qualified second with more fuel than most drivers around him. Brazil was probably our best race last year in terms of raw speed because we were really on the pace of the winning cars.
Q: Will the order in Australia be essentially the same for the rest of the season?
PV: In pre-season everyone says we have to wait until Australia to understand where each team is, but really Melbourne is not totally representative. Historically Melbourne doesn't give a true picture of the hierarchy because it has a very specific track lay-out and asphalt. From a technical point of view we will assess our competitiveness after the first three races. That is when we know where we are and when we will make decisions about TF109 development and the development of the 2010 car.
Q: With no in-season testing, surely there will be fewer developments on the car this year?
PV: That is only partly true. For sure the testing ban makes some of the development more difficult. For example, the extensive track validation required for fundamental gearbox or suspension changes will not be possible any more so those changes would be a lot more difficult. With the TF109, these items have had the required mileage validation and we are not expecting major changes so it's no problem for us. As we all know, the main performance driver in Formula One is aerodynamics and here development will go on. There are restrictions because of the agreement to limit aerodynamic capabilities but we will still see teams bringing updates to the track throughout the season. These developments are quite straightforward to evaluate in Friday practice. So the relative performance of the cars will not be fixed this year and we will still see cars progressing at different rates during the season.