Toyota's Olivier Panis looks back over the United States Grand Prix weekend Q: Congratulations on your fifth place in Indy. Did the performance of the TF104 surprise you? Olivier Panis: We expected that Indianapolis would be one of the more ...
Toyota's Olivier Panis looks back over the United States Grand Prix weekend
Q: Congratulations on your fifth place in Indy. Did the performance of the TF104 surprise you?
Olivier Panis: We expected that Indianapolis would be one of the more favourable circuits to our TF104 race car, but I think if someone had told me that I would be finishing just 37 seconds from the race winner, I might not have believed them. However, we could already see from Friday's practice sessions that we were going to be competitive. The whole team needed this result and the great thing was that we showed genuine pace. It was a great way to celebrate 150 grands prix!
Q: How did qualifying go for you?
OP: I was able to set very good laps in both the first and second qualifying sessions. We lowered the fuel level for the first run and I was third, which was incidentally where I qualified in 2003. When we put our race fuel load in the car, I was still confident of a top ten result. I eventually ended up in 8th place, but only one-tenth-of-a-second from 5th, which showed just how strong our package was around the Speedway. Nevertheless, there was every reason to be satisfied with eighth.
Q: Some drivers said that gusty winds were a factor in qualifying. Did they affect you?
OP: When I attacked my quick lap the wind actually helped me a little bit, but when I finished the lap I had a head wind. It is a little tricky at Indy because the wind can change quite a lot in the course of a lap. But it's the same for everyone, so I don't think anyone can use that as an excuse.
Q: Does that make it hard to decide on race gear ratios, for instance?
OP: It does not really make it hard to decide the gear ratios because we were looking in quite good shape and even if we had a head wind and had to follow another car, the effects were not too great compared with qualifying, when you are alone. I don't think it was a major issue.
Q: At Indy, the longest flat-out stretch on any track suits low downforce, and yet downforce helps in the tight infield. What is the best compromise?
OP: At Indy, you need to be quick in a straight line but we also need to look after the tyres and be quick through the infield. For our car, I think the compromise was quite good because I had good straight-line speed in qualifying and a good balance in the infield. I wouldn't say we had very low downforce, I think we were middle range. Very low downforce means you can be quick in a straight-line, but also leads to sliding and perhaps some tyre degradation, so I didn't think it was the best way to go.
Q: Do you get a sense of the history when you come to Indianapolis?
OP: There is a sense of heritage when we race at Indianapolis. Everyone knows about the Indy 500, which is huge, like the Le Mans 24 Hours. I'm pleased to race at Indy but the F1 circuit itself is not the best one we have during the season, although the American people put in a lot of effort to enjoy the Formula 1. Everyone looks happy.
Q: Did you used to watch the Indy 500 when you were young?
OP: I never watched the Indy 500 when I was younger. To be honest, until I won the scholarship at the Elf Winfield School, I'd seen some racing in Formula 1 but I'd no idea what Formula Renault or Formula 3 was all about. And as for Indy car racing… no idea at all! I think the first time I watched the Indy 500 was when I was in Formula Renault, 1989 or something like that.
Q: So if you weren't aware of racing, what got you into karting?
OP: I played football for a long time and one weekend my father took me to a renta-kart track, just to have some fun. I enjoyed it so much, it felt so good that I asked him to go again. After that I had a proper test with a proper kart and did very well. The guy said, okay, I think you should do this, and so I carried on. I was 13. I liked racing when I was young but never thought about doing it. But when I started karting I really liked it and stopped the football and all the other things.
Q: Did you conduct much promotional work in America prior to the US GP?
OP: On the Thursday of race week, all the drivers did a question and answer session and signed some autographs for the fans in a specially created area to allow the fans a lot of access. I think this is a good idea. We only really do this in Indy, but I think it works. It wins big respect from the spectators and it generates a fantastic ambiance for F1.
Q: The American drivers seem to do it a lot and sell a lot of merchandise as a result!
OP: Cristiano's manager knows the business in America and told me about the NASCAR merchandising and what vast quantities get sold. I didn't believe it! It is massive money, but I think involving the public in things like autograph sessions helps. They are giving something to you when they come and watch, and you are giving something back. Everyone enjoys it more.
Q: Opening up F1 team radios to spectators and TV, as they do in NASCAR, was mentioned again in Indianapolis. What do you think of the idea?
OP: If it is more fun for everyone else, I'm not going to say it's not a good idea. I'm sure some people won't want that, but I think we need to open up our minds a little more in F1 at the moment. We need to give the spectators something more. I'm not saying that spectators are losing interest in F1 but it is always good to offer more. Improved races would help but this year has not been too bad. Sometimes, you would need to control what is being said on the radio, because occasionally drivers get upset and say things in the heat of the moment, which perhaps is not suitable for TV broadcasting.
Q: Finally, you celebrated your 150th GP in Indy, how did that feel?
OP: Celebrating my 150th GP at Indianapolis was very nice and the team produced some special merchandising just for the weekend, which I appreciated a lot. There was a small gathering in the paddock on Saturday afternoon after qualifying and I was shocked by the number of people who came by to join in, even my friend Jarno Trulli was there. We had cake and gifts and a lot more autographs for me to sign, but it was a very enjoyable afternoon. 150 is just a number though and I feel like have the motivation and energy for another 150!! I am looking forward to number 151 in France for my home grand prix in Magny-Cours next week. Before that though we have a test in Jerez to prepare for France and from there we move on to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK this weekend.