Toyota's Olivier Panis looks back over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend Q: How did it feel being back at Spa? Olivier Panis: Like most F1 drivers, Spa-Francorchamps is absolutely my favourite track and I really enjoyed being back there. Racing...
Toyota's Olivier Panis looks back over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend
Q: How did it feel being back at Spa?
Olivier Panis: Like most F1 drivers, Spa-Francorchamps is absolutely my favourite track and I really enjoyed being back there. Racing drivers love high-speed corners and places like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont are tremendous to drive.
Q: There is a lot said about Eau Rouge. What do you feel about it?
OP: The first time anyone sees Eau Rouge, they can't really take it in. On a circuit map it does not look like anything special, but when you actually see it, he direction changes and the gradient are unbelievable. You come racing downhill into it, and then it shoots uphill with a blind exit. The exit has been changed a little and as the cars have more grip from the developing tyres, it has become easier to take it flat-out. But you still need to talk yourself into it. The head knows you can do it, but the throttle-foot still wants a confidence lift! When you go through flat-out for the first time you still feel impressed.
Q: Why did only Toyota opt to take the harder Michelin tyre?
OP: As a team, I think we had an excellent Belgian Grand Prix and we made all the right strategy decisions. I think it was a good decision to opt for the harder Michelin compound. Normally there is a compromise involved. The harder tyre has a much better race performance, but it is not the best option over one lap, but we decided that it was more beneficial to have a stronger race pace, especially given the uncertainty of the Ardennes weather. The weather forecast we had received from Meteo France was for rain on Saturday, but a dry race. In those conditions, the FIA obviously permits teams to switch to wet tyres for qualifying and then put dries on again for the race, so we hoped that we would not have to endure the qualifying disadvantage. In the end, our strategy worked out perfectly.
Q: How was your qualifying lap?
OP: We opted to run a very long first stint in the race, so we put a lot of fuel in the car for qualifying. We had lost the majority of practice time on Saturday morning due to the heavy fog and rain, so qualifying was always going to be a lottery. When I went out for my first run, I had a very understeery car, so the team made some improvements in between the two sessions. The track was still very wet from the morning rain, so I went out on full wet weather Michelins. I was pleased with my lap, but I did not expect to be lining up ninth on the grid. We benefited from others mistakes and misfortune and with our strategy, I was very optimistic for the race.
Q: What happened at the start of the race?
OP: I got quite a good start from ninth, but the first corner at Spa - the La Source hairpin - is always a big bottleneck. Entering La Source, I found one of the Saubers in the middle of the circuit going slower than I expected and I ran into the back of it. I damaged my nose and front tyre and had to come into the pits straight away for a repair.
Q: So how did you still manage to score points?
OP: There was an accident further round the first lap which brought out the Safety Car and meant that I didn't lose too much time in the pits. Although I was not as high up the field as I had expected to be, I was still confident. After that opening lap, Ricardo had gone up to tenth position, so I thought we could still get both cars in the points.
Q: Were the tyre failures in the race a big concern?
OP: There were a lot of problems with tyre failures during the race, but you can't worry about things like that as a driver. We had already had a puncture with Ryan on Friday, but we could see from the data that his tyre started to lose pressure immediately after he had hit the Bus Stop chicane kerbing, so I was not concerned about the job that Michelin had done for us. In fact, I think their performance in Spa was very strong.
Q: What did you think when you saw Ricardo's car at the side of the track three laps from the end?
OP: I was back up into the points with three laps to go and Ricardo had gone from last on the grid up to fourth. After the third safety car period, I just thought that Toyota was going to score a well deserved double points finish, so I couldn't believe it when I saw Ricardo retire. The engine has been a tremendously strong part of our package all year, so the fact that we lost fourth place due to an engine failure was just typical of some of the luck we have had this year.
Q: Did you think you might have been able to do anything about Klien and Coulthard in the closing stages of the race?
OP: I had some difficulties of my own at that stage of the race as well. There was nothing I could do about Klien and Couthard getting past me. Starting after a Safety Car period is when having the harder tyre works against you. The tyre takes longer to come back up to temperature and while it is doing so, you don't get as much grip. We were the only Michelin runners on the harder compound so, rather than being able to put pressure on Klien in front of me, I was in trouble from Coulthard, behind me.
Q: Is your 8th place any consolation?
OP: We should always be pleased when we score points, but I think, as a team, we deserved more than one point from the Belgian Grand Prix. We made all the right decisions throughout the weekend and the entire team worked very professionally, so to come away with one point is not much consolation, to be honest.