Interview with Cristiano da Matta

Toyota's F1 rookie Cristiano da Matta talks about CART, the new Toyota TF103 and the forthcoming season. Q: You won last year's CART championship in the USA. Why did you decide to join Panasonic Toyota Racing in Formula 1? I have been driving...

Toyota's F1 rookie Cristiano da Matta talks about CART, the new Toyota TF103 and the forthcoming season.

Q: You won last year's CART championship in the USA. Why did you decide to join Panasonic Toyota Racing in Formula 1?

I have been driving Toyota-powered cars in CART for 4 years, so I am not a new Toyota driver in that sense. I think moving to Formula 1 is a big career opportunity for me, but it did require a lot of thought. I achieved one of my goals by winning the CART championship and now it is time to face a new challenge. Of course Formula 1 is the top motorsport series in the world and I am joining a team that has a very big chance of progress and chance of being a winner in the next few years.

Q: What are the main differences between CART and F1?

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Toyota Racing.
Well, there are many differences between F1 and CART. On the technical side, I think that Formula 1 is a little bit more sophisticated, a little bit more diverted to technology. From a physical point of view, an F1 car has to have a minimum weight of 600kg including driver, so it is much lighter to drive than the CART car and also the much higher G-forces are more demanding on the neck. On the car itself, I think that having grooved tyres is another quite big difference in Formula 1 compared to CART. Additionally, the size of the team differs between the two motorsport categories with more people in a Formula 1 team than in a CART team.

Q: How do you think the 2003 qualifying rules will affect you?

I have some experience of this kind of qualifying from CART last season, so it is not totally new to me, but now I am in a new car with a new team. I think that getting to learn the track as quickly as possible is going to be the biggest challenge, but at the moment I am fully concentrated on learning the car and just getting used to Formula 1 in general.

Q: Are you looking forward to your debut race in Melbourne?

For sure, I cannot wait. I have been driving in the F1 car a lot since November, but although testing is really important to develop the car to its optimum, nothing compares to actually racing.

Q: How is your relationship with your new team-mate Olivier Panis?

Olivier is a really good guy. He is such a normal, nice person, with his feet on the ground. He is also very helpful. He told me from the first day we worked together that if I need anything, I only have to ask, so I am very much looking forward to working closely with him.

Q: How has testing been going this year?

We have had a couple of tests at Paul Ricard in France and also in Spain, at Barcelona and Valencia. I am quite happy with the progress we have made, although some days have been more productive than others for various reasons. I am only just beginning to get a feel for the TF103 race car, and I still have another couple of tests before we head off to Australia for the first race of the season, so I am in a positive frame of mind.

Q: What are your first impressions of the TF103?

I have not done enough laps in the TF103 yet to get a complete understanding of the car, but my initial impressions are very positive. I can already feel a big difference between the TF103 and the TF102B interim car. I have now got quite a good feel for the new RVX-03 engine having done a lot of kilometres in the TF102B. I am pleased and impressed with its power and driveability. I drove a Toyota-powered CART car in the States, so I know that the Toyota engineers will continue to make constant improvements to the engine over the course of the season and I am looking forward to making good use of it.

Q: How many of the current F1 tracks are you acquainted with and will you have enough time to learn the tracks you do not know?

I drove European F3000 a couple of years ago, so I know a lot of the European circuits already. I can learn new tracks quite quickly, so I do not expect too much of a disadvantage. Learning the road tracks will be a challenge. I drove at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in CART last year, so I have some experience there and I have just moved to Monaco, so I'm sure I'll get some practice in a Lexus around there. Of course this year, I am going to have less time to learn the tracks that are new to me than I would have had in previous years because of the new rules. Certainly it will be more difficult at tracks like Albert Park than at circuits I already know, but we have plenty of pre-season tests for me to get to know the car so I am confident.

Q: What does your helmet design mean?

My brother does the design for my helmet. He was a graphic designer at university and some work he had to do was to paint something. He went and did a motocross helmet for my father and then he started to do for his friends because they liked that helmet. Then a lot of people asked him for designs and he started to charge. He has been painting my helmet for 4 years. The design is a copy of my father's helmet. Mine is blue and my father's was red. I preferred blue to red, but the stripes are the same. It has been the same since I started racing when I was 16. I think it is beautiful -- I like it a lot. It is simple and easy to recognise.

Q: How do you spend your free time?

Well, I don't get much free time to be honest, but when I do, I enjoy mountain biking. I really enjoy playing my guitar and just chilling out. When I am in Brazil, I like spending time with my family - my parents and my brothers, Felipe and Gustavo.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Olivier Panis , Gilles Villeneuve , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Toyota Racing