Panasonic Toyota Racing arrived in Melbourne in force recently, ready for their much awaited Formula One debut. Sixty members of the race team and three TF102 cars, one for each driver and a spare, are now gearing up for their first free practice...
Panasonic Toyota Racing arrived in Melbourne in force recently, ready for their much awaited Formula One debut. Sixty members of the race team and three TF102 cars, one for each driver and a spare, are now gearing up for their first free practice on Friday.
"This will be a very emotional weekend for me," said Toyota F1 boss Ove Andersson. "Two years ago, our first Grand Prix seemed so far off, yet here we are. So much work has already been done, but there is still a lot more to do. We are a very young team, so we will need time to learn to work together. People keep asking me about my expectations for this year - well, I don't have any. In Melbourne it is important that we qualify and then try to finish the race with both cars."
Along with the team's first F1 weekend is driver Allan McNish's debut as a competitor and the Scot is predictably excited. "At last! I'm now on the verge of making my Grand Prix debut," He exclaimed. "I cannot wait. I've already jogged around the track in Albert Park and it seems like a good challenge, with a mix of fast and slow corners. This is a great weekend for everyone in the team and what people don't realise is that I have been with Toyota for a number of years, first at Le Mans and now in F1. My main goal here is to finish the race and to learn from that experience."
The last year of testing was hard on Mika Salo who has been competitive in F1 before. He gave up his race seat with Sauber at the end of 2000 and took the chance on Toyota."I came to this race last year as a spectator and I didn't enjoy it too much!" He said. "I hated seeing the other drivers out on the track and not being able to join them. Well, this year I can! This weekend will be a mega exciting moment for everyone at Panasonic Toyota Racing because, ever since I signed for Toyota in August 2000, this is what we have been working towards. Testing has gone quite well for us, but we will only know where we are after qualifying on Saturday. I've finished in the top six every time I've raced at Albert Park, but I think it's a bit unrealistic to think we'll do that this time. Our aim must be just to finish."
The first race of the season is always an interesting one and Salo thinks Melbourne is a great place to have it. "Melbourne is a great place to start the season," He continued. "The weather's great and the people are very friendly. The Albert Park track is not the most challenging that we race on during the year, but it's made more interesting by the fact that no-one can test there. It's also the first race of the season, so people are still trying to sort out their cars. There are one or two quick corners, as well as a host of tricky chicanes that combine to make it quite a technical circuit. I can't wait to get started!"
Toyota's journey to Formula One has been a long one, starting back in 1999 when the project was given the go-ahead. Headquarters in Cologne, Germany have been increased in size as well as personel and the team completed over 20,000km of testing miles on 11 different circuits in 2001.