The 2004 season has been somewhat of a disappointment for Toyota. Confident a strong finish to the '03 campaign would launch them through the winter months and into the current season, the Cologne concern have struggled with a car that refuses to...
The 2004 season has been somewhat of a disappointment for Toyota. Confident a strong finish to the '03 campaign would launch them through the winter months and into the current season, the Cologne concern have struggled with a car that refuses to go whichever way the driver points it. The relative inexperience of ex-CART champion Cristiano da Matta is showing as the Brazilian fails to deliver much in the way of results.
Teammate Olivier Panis is F1's elder statesman and while the likeable Frenchman has also found the going tough, he appears more confident than his team mate who is perhaps becoming disillusioned with F1. An optimist if ever there was one, Panis is hopeful that although Toyota will probably choose two new drivers for '05, the team is starting to progress -- and that Toyota's technical director, Mike Gascoyne, has served to increase performance.
"We started the season quite badly," Panis said in Wednesday's press conference in Monaco. "However, Grand Prix per Grand Prix, we keep pushing, we keep going and I'm sure that Mike Gascoyne in the team will be a big help. We start to feel the effect of what he's doing right now and I think we will keep improving."
"It's true that in qualifying we have done a good job sometimes, particularly at the last Grand Prix at Barcelona I did a very good lap, and I'm sure that Michelin helped us in that. You know on the first lap they are really competitive. But after that, I had a hydraulic failure and I didn't finish the race. That's a bit of a shame when you're in a good position, but I just need to be positive every time, keep pushing the team, working together, impose good stability and keep improving."
There can be no mistake that the signing of Mike Gascoyne from Renault was a massive boost for Toyota as the team looks to a bright future. Rumoured to have the largest budget in F1, Toyota certainly has the means to reach the top. But how influential has Gascoyne been since his arrival?
"I think we have a quite a big team," commented Panis. "A lot of people is quite good, but sometimes nobody has the right idea to take the right direction. But Mike has been in the business for a long time, he knows exactly what we need to achieve to have a good car and now he pushes the people in the right direction more or less all the time. This, I'm sure, for the future, is a big help. But now, what we need to do is to be patient, to help improve the car in the middle of the season, like a big step forward and after that I think we will be in the right direction."
With grand prix racing entering the most hectic two months -- six races in eight weeks -- F1 teams face an uphill struggle to find performance gains via private testing. As a result, many 'new ideas' will be first tested when the cars hit the track for the first time. Panis was pleasingly open when questioned whether Toyota will move forward further still or keep the status quo and wait for mid-season when they will update the car.
"I think the guy to speak to is Mike," the Frenchman declared. "But I don't think we have a lot of things, because we are more or less preparing a new car for the middle of the season. It's difficult to do both. Now I think we need to carry on with what we have, do the best with the car we have. If you start to cry it doesn't help, you know? Keep pushing and wait for the new car and we see afterwards, but I don't think we will have a lot of new things before the new car arrives, which should normally be in Hockenheim."
Ever the optimist…