Toyota race driver Cristiano da Matta looks ahead to the Australian Grand Prix Q: How different does it feel to be going to Melbourne with a year's experience rather than as a rookie? Cristiano da Matta. Photo by Brousseau...
Toyota race driver Cristiano da Matta looks ahead to the Australian Grand Prix
Q: How different does it feel to be going to Melbourne with a year's experience rather than as a rookie?
Q: How do you set about improving on your impressive first year?
People may expect more from me this year, but I feel I already improved a lot during the course of 2003, and in this off-season period. Motor racing is a team sport and there are always areas in which to improve.
Q: In what ways does your experience help?
What really helps is that having been through certain situations, I know what to expect, rather than having them all completely new to me. That applies both on and off the track - like the experience of trying out different set-ups and knowing how to get the most out of the tyres.
Q: What are your main memories of your F1 debut in Melbourne last year?
I didn't have time to have any emotions on the grid because no one knew if it would be a wet or a dry race, and there was a bit of panic about deciding what tyres we'd be starting on. In the end we did well to opt for the correct tyres, but unfortunately the main thing I remember is making a mistake and going out of the race on lap nine.
Q: Did you enjoy Australia?
I raced in Australia many times in Champ Cars and the atmosphere of race in Surfer's Paradise was unique. I still have good memories from the Australian GP in Melbourne last year - I like the city and I like the area and it was my F1 debut, so it was an experience I will never forget.
Q: How much can fans judge how the season will pan out from what happens in Australia?
Australia is still a very big reliability race. Many cars have reliability problems and historically not many cars finish the race so it's not a perfect race to compare performance for the rest of the season. You need to wait at least five races so you have a good picture of lots of different types of circuit.
Q: Are points a realistic target in Melbourne this time?
We never know exactly what people have been running at the pre-season tests, so until we have a direct confrontation with everyone else, we don't know exactly where we stand in comparison. Our car has proved to be quite good in terms of reliability in testing, which will be important in Melbourne, so points are a realistic target.
Q: How important is it to get a good result in Australia?
Australia is the first race, and everyone gives a lot of importance to the first race but it's an 18-race championship this season, so it's just one race out of many. Of course if you start well it's much better but if you don't, it's not the end of the world.
Q: How do you think the new engine rules will affect you?
Basically, you can't have any engine failures during the race weekend otherwise you're in trouble. I don't know about the other teams, but at Toyota we haven't had many problems with reliability on engine mileage so hopefully we won't have any restrictions to the amount of running we can do on Fridays. We will be much more limited on the amount of tyres we can use than by engine reliability. As the rules only allow us to use three sets of tyres, the engine should not be a problem.
Q: What about the new qualifying rules?
The new two-run qualifying on Saturdays will not make any difference to the way in which we approach the sessions. Between the runs, I guess I'll just have to sit and wait...