Ricardo Zonta, Panasonic Toyota Racing's third driver, reveals how his new role testing on Fridays at grand prix weekends has been going so far in 2004. Q: Ricardo, how are you finding your new role on Fridays? "I'm enjoying it. For me, the ...
Ricardo Zonta, Panasonic Toyota Racing's third driver, reveals how his new role testing on Fridays at grand prix weekends has been going so far in 2004.
Q: Ricardo, how are you finding your new role on Fridays?
"I'm enjoying it. For me, the nicest thing is to have a chance to drive at all the world's different circuits, many of which are great places to drive a racing car. It's been interesting because I'm doing a job that helps the team, particularly when it comes to choosing tyres and set-ups, while it gives me the opportunity to go fast and show my potential as well."
Q: How much does your Friday programme differ from those of the race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta?
"All three drivers always start from the same basic set-up. But I have more sets of tyres than them because I only drive on Fridays, so I'm in a better position to compare the tyres. Also, because of the one engine rule, I do more laps to check the reliability. As I do more laps, I have more of a chance to improve the car and to find better things to help the race drivers as well. At the end of the day we see all the results and on Saturday we pick the best things for the race cars."
Q: How much more busy are Fridays than normal test days away from the races?
"Of course, in the test we have plenty of hours to do lots of things, whereas on Fridays we only have two hours of running. Having said that, the free practice sessions are as important as a normal test day. On a normal test we are also working on tyre choice and finding the right things for a race weekend, but on Fridays you already have the best parts and you just have to choose the very best of what you have with you."
Q: Is there even more pressure not to make a mistake than usual?
"Even in a normal test you cannot afford to make a mistake, but if you do, at least you have another chance to keep testing. But on Fridays my results and my comments are very important for the team. If I lose the chance to give them my comments on how the testing is going, then the team takes one step back. The pressure is not only about not making mistakes, though, but also about trying to be consistent on long runs and things like that."
Q: What do you do after Fridays are over?
"Right up until qualifying I'm on standby to come in and replace one of the race drivers if they have a problem. After qualifying, I can generally leave - depending on any PR commitments that are lined up after that."
Q: What other commitments do you have at race weekends?
"I still have to participate in all the technical meetings. There are generally three or four meetings per day, and the third driver has to be at all of them. I went to all the races last year as well, along with all the meetings, but I didn't have to go out on the track."
Q: Was your role particularly important at a new circuit like Bahrain?
"In Bahrain, there wasn't a big variation in the feeling between the different tyres we had. However, based on the laps I did, we were able to make a good choice about which tyres were the best for a long run and therefore the race. That also helped the two race drivers do a good qualifying session on Saturday. So I think everyone in the team realised that my performance was useful for us."
Q: How did you find Bahrain as a circuit?
"The Bahrain International Circuit was nice, but it was very slippery - a similar track surface to Austria. What was best about Bahrain was the fact that you go up and down and change direction, which was very enjoyable. The circuit doesn't really have any challenging corners, but it's very easy to make a mistake and quite a technical circuit as well. Everyone's always excited to come and drive at a brand new circuit, but I still find it more exciting to go to somewhere like Malaysia or Bahrain where it's a lot more demanding for the driver."
Q: You also have to go to every test session. How tiring does it get to be at all the races and all the tests?
"The real problem is the travelling and the jet lag. It's particularly bad with the flyaway races at the start of the year. Last month I drove at Melbourne in the Australian Grand Prix on Friday, stayed till qualifying then left on Sunday morning and arrived in Europe for a test starting on Tuesday. The testing is generally four days every week, which is quite a lot, but it will get a lot easier now that the European season is starting because the jet lag won't be such a problem."
Q: Have you got any idea of how many days you spend away from home in total every year?
"I just take them as they come, and do my best not to count them up! At the beginning of the season I saw my apartment in Monte Carlo about two days per week on average - generally Saturday and Sunday. But during the testing breaks in August and November, I will have more free time. Then I'll go back home to Brazil."