General Manager of Car Design and Development for Panasonic Toyota Racing, Keizo Takahashi started working with Toyota more than two decades ago, in 1980, when he was responsible for development work on the company's production car engines. The...
General Manager of Car Design and Development for Panasonic Toyota Racing, Keizo Takahashi started working with Toyota more than two decades ago, in 1980, when he was responsible for development work on the company's production car engines. The move to the motor sport division came in 1997, when he developed the turbocharged engine for Toyota's racing programme in the USA.
My role as General Manager of Car Design and Development for the Panasonic Toyota Racing team means that I am responsible for overseeing the development of our race cars in a managerial capacity, whilst Gustav Brunner is in charge of the technical issues related to our chassis department.
Q: What is your assessment of Panasonic Toyota Racing's season so far?
I am more than satisfied with the performance in our second season in Formula 1. The target of this year has been to achieve top 10 qualifying positions and championship points. In the 13 races up to the Hungarian Grand Prix, we have seen a TF103 in the top half of the grid on 11 occasions and we have achieved fourteen points. We have to continue to plan ahead to make progress in the upcoming years. We have already seen a lot of improvement this year, both in terms of car performance and team performance, so we will strive to continue in this way in the remaining races of this season and of course in 2004.
Q: How do you evaluate the job of Olivier and Cristiano this season? I have been very pleased with the performance of Olivier and Cristiano this season. Both of them have developed a very productive and open relationship, which is positive for the team and both have good technical feedback and speed. I strongly believe they complement each other well and have helped develop the car and team to the level we are currently at.
Q: In what areas are you concentrating development?
Development of an F1 car is an ongoing process and we continually try to improve in all areas, but - without doubt - the most important in modern-day F1 is aerodynamics. At the moment we are running our in-house windtunnel in Cologne up to 18 hours per day and we have seen a lot of good results this season. Having said that, this year is the first full year of operation in the windtunnel, so we will see the benefits more clearly in the TF104 -- our race car for next season.
Q: Toyota is currently just one point from 5th place in the constructors' championship. Do you think that would be a strong achievement in your second year?
I think we would be overjoyed with 5th position in the championship, but we remain focussed on our pre-season targets of top ten qualifying positions and getting one car in the points. We will strive to achieve the best possible final championship position. We have to keep increasing our car performance more and more. Nowadays it's not so easy to get to the level of the top teams in Formula 1 but this is our long-term aim.
Q: You can now compete strongly in the midfield. What is the difference between Toyota and so-called "top 4" teams (Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, BMW Williams and Renault)?
The biggest difference in my opinion is that because we are developing both the chassis and engine, it is initially a bigger challenge and takes time to get up the level of the established teams. Having said that, I believe it will be a benefit in the long term. I think the most important thing to have is a harmony between the chassis and engine -- and for newcomers to the sport, this is the hardest thing to achieve at first.
Q: How is work on the new TF104 progressing?
We have started the development of the next Panasonic Toyota Racing F1 car, the TF104. As with this year's TF103, the biggest step forward will be on the aerodynamic side, but we will make progress in every single area of the car -- engine, chassis and gearbox. This is what we have to do
Q: Some leading teams raced their old cars early in the season for reliability reasons and then brought the new one later. What do you think of that approach?
In actual fact, we run an intermediate version of the new car during the winter testing period and then we want to have the new car ready as early the following year as possible, in order to achieve reliability before the season starts. In my opinion, it is very difficult to run parallel programmes with different cars and we can benefit further by testing a lot of things during the season to increase both the reliability and the performance, as we did this year with the TF103 -- the improvements to this year's car have been clearly demonstrated in the second half of this season, particularly in Hockenheim.
Q: What is your opinion on the new sporting regulations? Have they made for a better spectacle in F1?
I think the new sporting regulations are good, especially for the fans and the spectators. The championship is so close with only three points separating the top three drivers -- the competition is still wide open and I think this year has generated a lot of interest. This season has been very competitive and that is good for the sport.
Q: Did the new weekend timetable - with just one hour of free practice on Friday morning - generate more pressure for Toyota as a young team? On a certain level, yes, the new rules have been difficult for us to adapt to as a young team in F1. The set-up time has been much reduced to just one hour of free practice on Friday morning before first qualifying. In fact, we struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season, but on the other hand we tried a lot of things to optimise the set-up and at the moment we are reaching quite a good level on Friday morning. Considering that we don't have anywhere near the same level of racing experience as the other teams, that is quite impressive.