Toyota Formula One press conference Part 1 of 2 G. Thome: Thank you. Welcome to the Toyota Formula One Teleconference. Joining us today is Christiano da Matta and Olivier Panis of Panasonic Toyota Racing. Both drivers will be competing ...
Toyota Formula One press conference
Part 1 of 2
G. Thome: Thank you. Welcome to the Toyota Formula One Teleconference. Joining us today is Christiano da Matta and Olivier Panis of Panasonic Toyota Racing. Both drivers will be competing later this month in the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, September 26 through the September 28. Christiano is making his competitive return to the U.S. for the first time after wining the 2002 CART drivers Championship with Toyota power. In his rookie Formula One season, he's earned eight world-championship points, with the season best sixth-place finish at both the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, and the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim. Christiano also led the British Grand Prix for 17 laps, the first for Toyota Panasonic Racing.
Olivier is a ten-year Formula One veteran in his first year with the Panasonic Toyota Racing. He has six world-championship points in 2003, and a season best fifth-place finish at the German Grand Prix. Olivier has one career fumble, and one victory at Monaco in 1996, and five career podium-finishes. Christiano and Olivier, thanks for joining us today.
C. da Matta: Thank you.
O. Panis: Thank you.
G. Thome: Christiano, the last time you raced here in the U.S. you had recently won your seventh CART race, and just finished earning the CART Drivers Championship. What are your thoughts on returning to the U.S. for the first time to race, especially at a track like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
C. da Matta: For me, going back to the U.S. is going to be quite a thrill, because I lived in the U.S. for six years and I have many friends in the U.S. So I think for me not only to compete again in the U.S., just the fact that I'm going to be back in the U.S., and see some old friends and so on is going to be - I'm quite excited about it.
G. Thome: Olivier, this is your third start at a U.S. Grand Prix. What type of advice would you give your teammate as you look toward the Indy Circuit, and is there anything specific about the track that stands out in your mind?
O. Panis: For me it is the definite feeling that this company, I like it, because it's from Indianapolis. The name of this circuit, it is like everybody knows in the world, and I think it is quite exciting to be racing there. Definitely this year we still think maybe we have the car to do it, and now we need to wait and see where we are on this Grand Prix. But I'm really excited to be going to America.
G. Thome: We're going to turn it over to some questions from the media. Those of you who want to ask questions, go ahead.
Coordinator: Our first question comes from Mr. Dean McNulty of Toronto Sun. You may ask your question.
D. McNulty: Christiano, welcome back to North America.
C. da Matta: Thank you. I'm not there yet.
D. McNulty: Oh, you're not there yet. You're just here by phone. Anyway, Christiano, what I want to talk about is F1 calendar is about to come out, and it's obvious to everyone that Montreal, the Canadian Grand Prix will not be on the calendar. You raced at that track in the CART Series, and you raced this year for the first time in the Formula One Series. I know Toyota is very disappointed not to come back to Canada. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?
C. da Matta: For me, I'm a big fan of the Montreal track, and also for the series, too. So I've been going to Canada to race on my last six years. So seven years with this season. Any other place, I always enjoy it a lot to go race. Last year was my first experience in Montreal. I really enjoyed it. This year was the second time. We had a bit of rain. Wasn't as much fun as last year. I had the car problem, too, during the race, but overall, it was a very pleasant place to go. I would like to have Montreal on the schedule, but the person is not me that makes this type of decisions.
D. McNulty: One more question, Christiano. Talking about CART. You know, you are the defending champion. CART is going through some pains, as it seems to go through every year, but there is a new group of owners that look towards taking the series private, and maybe joining up with the IRL. Do you have any thoughts on that?
C. da Matta: I haven't been following this whole story from very close. I've been just keeping up with the championship from here, and from what I see and what I hope is, I hope they don't join the IRL because I think CART is a much better Series, and I think there has to be one Open Wheel Racing Series in North America, and CART is the one. If they do something, I just hope that the series stays alive next year, and in better shape.
D. McNulty: Thank you very much, Christiano.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Erick Thomas of Raceline Radio Network. You may ask your question.
E. Thomas: Thank you very much, Greg. Hi, guys. First opportunity I've had, Christiano, to talk to you since we had you on Raceline Radio back in the old CART days. Christiano, first question I want to ask, and Dean already asked the first couple I wanted to ask, but I want to ask you about this tire war that's going on with Bridgestone, and it's getting dirty now where the FIA is intimating here that the front Michelin tires may be in violation of the rule. I know the Michelin folks have said some things about the fact that you can't really measure a tire after it's been used, because it distorts it. It seems to me that it's just the big team out there like Ferrari, they're getting their butts kicked here, and they're feeling sorry about it, and they're going to be trying to go at it a funny way here. Any comments about this tire situation, Christiano, first? Maybe Olivier, I'll get a comment from you, too?
C. da Matta: First on the tire situation, I think some people were really used to win races, and now as you said, they're getting their butts kicked. So they are trying to react in not the proper way, I guess. The bad news for them is that we tested a narrower tire here today, just in case, and it was even better than the one we had before. So anyway, we have to thank them for the tip. It was not so bad.
E. Thomas: Olivier, can I get a comment from you on the tire situation, please?
O. Panis: Yes. My comment is like Christiano. I don't know who found the excuse to say maybe the ... Series is not quick enough, and they need to find maybe some excuse. But what Christiano said, I quite agree with him, and happy because today we are testing the new tires in case we need for next week, and it's going even quicker to the last one. I think I'll say, "Thanks," today ... to everybody.
E. Thomas: Sure. Christiano, a quick question for you. When we were talking to you and you were dominating the last season with the CART Champ cars, you has something along the line of some lucky socks that you were wearing in Canada with the Canadian emblem on there. I know this was a long time ago, but I'm wondering if you carried over any kind of superstition like that to your ride with Toyota in Formula One?
C. da Matta: That has never been a superstition. It's just something I like to use, these bicycle socks. I'm still using them.
E. Thomas: Good.
C. da Matta: My PR lady is actually laughing at them here now.
E. Thomas: Another question if I could, quick. Christiano, I've never had a real chance to ask you this and record this. Can you just give us the basic difference, we know all about the technical aspects and the comparison between the CART Champ Car and the Formula One Car, now that you have. Can you just give us a couple of the big differences on what it's like to drive the old CART Cars and the new Formula One Cars, for you?
C. da Matta: Of course the weight difference between the cars and the tires are the two biggest difference that affect the driving style. So I think on the Formula One Car you can break closer to the corner, and you can actually exit the corner a lot quicker, too, while the Champ Car is more a flow-type of driving. You always have to try to keep the momentum up on the middle of the corner, and not so much to attack the breaking and the corner exit. You have always to worry a bit more with the momentum on the corner.
E. Thomas: Christiano, thank. Merci beaucoup, Olivier. Thank you, guys.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Miss Ann Proffitt of Automobile Magazine. You may ask your question.
A. Proffitt: Thank you. First, for Christiano, do you still have your place in Miami?
C. da Matta: No, Ann. I don't have it anymore. I still have Tony's house so that's good enough for me.
A. Proffitt: That sounds about right to me, also. For both of you, and we'll start with Christiano, last year the Toyota team was fickle, just discarding its drivers. How much of a relief is it for both of you to know that your future is secure for the 2004 season?
C. da Matta: For me, it's obviously good, because for me to do a big change in my career as I've done, to only spend one year would be of course quite frustrating. As everybody knows, this takes a little bit to get used to and to learn everything. So I'm glad that I'm going to get a chance in the second season, because I really feel that I can do much better than I'm doing this year.
A. Proffitt: Olivier.
O. Panis: Yes, and for me, I'm quite happy to continue with Toyota, because I feel the future of Toyota is quite really good, and definitely we put a lot for this year to improve the car with the team. But for me, I have already a contract for two years. But I'm quite happy to continue also with Christiano, because he's quite a good teammate. He's quick and he learned very quickly, and I think he's helpful for the team to prepare next year's season.
A. Proffitt: And he has a great sense of humor.
O. Panis: Yes.
A. Proffitt: Also, Christiano, have you driven or even seen the U.S. GP track?
C. da Matta: No. I've seen it many times on the TV only, but I've never driven it. So the first time is really going to be on the race weekend and it doesn't look like a track that is very, very difficult to learn because there is just a complex of a lot of slow speed corners, and of course the long straight. Seems like a lot more difficult to set up the car than actually to learn the track. So hopefully, I'm not going to have any problems there.
A. Proffitt: We'll look forward to seeing both of you there. Thank you.
M: Okay, thank you, Ann.
Coordinator: Our next questions comes form Mr. Steve Ballard of The Indianapolis Star. You may ask your question.
S. Ballard: Christiano, I wonder if you could just sum up your first season in Formula One, if it's been about what you'd expected it to be, and just assess your overall performance for this first year.
C. da Matta: I think, if all the time you look back on your performance, you always feel you could have done better in some aspects. But overall, I'm happy. Of course, I wanted to be in better shape than I am right now. I think there is still a lot of room for improvement. But the progress is going good, and I think I still have to work a lot. It's still not close to where I want it to be, but I'll keep working, and try to keep on progressing. I think the results and so on has been okay. Nothing that I think it's fantastic, but overall, I'm not unhappy. I feel okay with it.
S. Ballard: What about just the cultural differences? Just all the differences between CART and Formula One? Do you feel like you've made that transition pretty smoothly now? Do you feel like you're a full-fledged Formula One driver now?
C. da Matta: No. I think also in that, there's still a couple of things to learn, because first of everything you change into a team, it's completely different size than a CART Team is. In CART you used to work with less people. Things are easier to achieve inside the team. Changes are easier to make from inside the team, because there is more communication from people to people. When you are talking about the team that has over 500 people, some of the things take a little longer to happen, and I don't think I'm still 100% adapted to that. Of course, I still have more work to do in this area, too.
S. Ballard: Thanks, Christiano. I'll look forward to seeing you again.
C. da Matta: Okay, thanks.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Mr. Dan Knutson of the National Speed Sports News. You may ask your question.
D. Knutson: Hello. Olivier, the Indianapolis track is quite unique, but given how the Toyota has performed on other tracks, how do you think it will work at Indy?
O. Panis: It is difficult to judge, because one thing is the low-speed complex is for sure not our strength right now. But by the other hand, the long straight and the power is one of our strengths this year. So it's a difficult one to try to guess. Last year the team didn't have a very good performance there, but this year's car is completely different than last year's one. So we can't judge this year's performance according to last year's run. So in my mind, it leaves a question mark now.
D. Knutson: Thank you. A question for Christiano. Indianapolis is one of the most famous tracks in the world. What do you think your emotions will be when you go down that main straight? True, you'll be going the wrong way, but still, to be out on that track?
C. da Matta: I think for me, the true emotion would be to drive the 500. I think just to drive the normal track is just another normal track. Of course, the oval, it has a lot of tradition, and this will get me thrilled, but just the road coarse, I don't think there is any special feeling.
D. Knutson: Thank you.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Mr. Kurt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star. You may ask your question.
K. Cavin: Christiano, tell us about how much experience you have with Indianapolis, how many times you've been there, roughly? Have you spent a little time? Clearly, you associate some of Indianapolis with the IRL, and it doesn't sound like you're particularly fond of that. Can you talk about how you feel about the place? We don't normally get emotional about these things, but yet it is your first experience in racing there.
C. da Matta: I think the Indy 500 and IRL are two completely different things. I think the Indy 500 is the biggest race in the world, and of course I have a lot of emotions to do with this race. I think I've only been to Indianapolis once. I went there last year to watch the pole day, and that was really my only day in Indianapolis, because before when I started racing CART and Indy Lights, the series' weren't going to the speedway anymore, and the only opportunity I had to go to the track to watch was last year.
K. Cavin: Is that a void in your career? Do you truly consider that as one of the big voids, not to have raced at the 500?
C. da Matta: No. I think I still have time. I'm sure one day I'll end up doing the 500. It's something I really want to, but it's not something that I'm very, very worried right now. I'm of course right now completely focused on the F1 program, and maybe one day if the opportunity shows up I'd like of course to do the 500.
K. Cavin: Thanks.
Coordinator: Our next questions comes from Mr. Brian Truesdale of Bloomberg News. You may ask your question.
B. Truesdale: Thank you. I'm just curious with Christiano, one question. You had mentioned that you said there is only one series that can be in America, and that you had obviously declared your loyalty to CART. The fact that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which runs the IRL, is running the U.S. Grand Prix, are there any mixed emotions about helping an organization that's trying to bury the series that you made your mark in?
C. da Matta: No. Absolutely not. I'm not that type of political kind of guy. Actually, I like the way they are racing in IRL, too. I just prefer CART. I have many friends racing in IRL today, and I like to watch the races. I think they have good racing, but I just prefer CART, because they do road courses and street courses, not only ovals. It's just as simple as that. But for me, I have nothing really against the IRL, just prefer CART.
B. Truesdale: If I could just ask a more general question in terms of the Toyota team. When I did a story about a year and a half ago when the team was starting up, it was said that, "We're waiting. We're patient because we realize it takes awhile to get established." How far do you feel Toyota is down the line into establishing itself within Formula One as a competitive team?
C. da Matta: It's a difficult question, and I think it varies from place to place. It's very funny, because sometimes it goes to some places that people think the whole team is doing a really good job for being in their second year, and be scoring some good championship points and be starting on the top ten very often this year. Some people feel very positive about the progress we've made so far. Also, there is the situation that we go some places and people think we are doing this and that, and we're not getting any better than sixth place, fifth place, a few championship points. I've seen that all. I think for sure, among the other teams, I think we've been proving ourselves this year. And of course last year, too, was a difficult first year. But I think we're just on the progress of improving ourselves among the other teams, to the whole formula One community.
B. Truesdale: Olivier, do you have any thoughts you'd like to add.
C. da Matta: Olivier had to leave, sorry.
B. Truesdale: Okay, thank you.