Team Principal of Panasonic Toyota Racing, Ove Andersson and President of Toyota Motorsport, John Howett discuss Toyota's second season in Formula 1 from a managerial perspective talking about the drivers, the F1 regulations, the success stories...
Team Principal of Panasonic Toyota Racing, Ove Andersson and President of Toyota Motorsport, John Howett discuss Toyota's second season in Formula 1 from a managerial perspective talking about the drivers, the F1 regulations, the success stories and the lessons learned. Both men also look ahead to 2004 with production of the team's TF104 car already underway and change within the technical structure over the crucial winter development period.
Q: How would you rate progress of Panasonic Toyota Racing this year?
John Howett: I agree with Ove, I am pleased with the year but not really satisfied. We want to get to the sharp end of the pit lane, but that takes time. We know in which direction we should be heading and we have built firmer foundations this season, which we can build upon for 2004. Generally, we have seen some impressive performances from the whole team this year, particularly in qualifying, but the race results have been elusive.
Q: John, what are your thoughts on Cristiano's performance this season?
Howett: Cristiano has performed exceptionally well in his rookie year. He has a very strong mental character, which he has displayed on numerous occasions this season. When we have had problems, he is able to simply get out of one car, get into the T-car and push to the limit with no complaints. He's totally focused and very stable. His biggest setback this year has been lack of knowledge of many of the circuits on the calendar, but he will be on a level playing field with everybody else next season, so I am sure he will make great strides in 2004.
Q: Ove, are you satisfied with Olivier's performance this season?
Andersson: I am more than satisfied with what Olivier has achieved this year. He has been instrumental in developing the car and the team over the course of the last twelve months. His technical ability is renowned and he is able to pinpoint problems quickly and more importantly come up with solutions. I do not believe we have given either Olivier or Cristiano the car to match their talent, but this is something we hope to rectify in 2004. I admire Olivier's commitment and dedication to Toyota and - together with Cristiano - he has been a real motivation for the team at the track and in Cologne.
Q: How have Olivier and Cristiano gelled in their first season with the team?
Andersson: In my opinion Olivier and Cristiano work very well together and they have been a big asset to Panasonic Toyota Racing. Both of them are very different in terms of personality and style, but this combination is a successful one. I was never in any doubt of their driving ability and in some instances they have surpassed my expectations, but if we had been in the position, as a team, to give them better tools, we would have had even better results.
Howett: Olivier has lots of F1 experience and technical know-how and Cristiano is still learning. They have worked well together, there has been a good atmosphere and that has been positive for the team. They are good motivators and they deliver the speed when we can get the car in its sweet spot. I'm very happy with the job they have done for us this year, but I'm sure that next year will be even better.
Q: Did any races particularly impress you this season?
Andersson: In all honesty, there were several races that really impressed me. I think the qualifying lap from Cristiano in Monaco was pretty exceptional considering the demands of the circuit and the fact that it was his first time driving there. And Olivier was eight-tenths quicker than everyone in one of the sessions in Hungary. From a race point of view, fifth and sixth in Hockenheim was excellent. And the Suzuka qualifying laps from both drivers were impressive, even if we benefited somewhat from rain late in the session.
Howett: Early in the season, we lost the opportunity to pick up what would have been valuable championship points, but as always at the start of the year, it is possible to take advantage of others misfortune. The first race in which we demonstrated our real potential was for me in Barcelona. This was also the first track of which Cristiano had prior experience, and he really came showed what he can do. Throughout the season we had flashes of real competitiveness, like qualifying in Indy, the race result in Hockenheim and being P1 in the practice sessions in Brazil, N?rburgring and Hungary.
Q: What are realistic targets for next year?
Howett: You can never tell, but the ambition for us is to become a top team as soon as possible. I think that whatever the results are, we need to be able to fight with the top four or five teams. It doesn't mean to say that's where we need to qualify or finish, but we need to demonstrate that we can push them. This year we are beginning to hang onto their tails, if not consistently. Next year we've got to be more consistent and try to mix it at the top.
Andersson: We will not really know where we will stand next year until the new TF104 car is ready and testing. In my mind, we are still lacking experience, but that is something that only comes with time. The performance of the car is good when we understand how to work with it on the different circuits. The tracks all have different behaviour according to weather conditions and their states on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You have to understand them to know how the car should be prepared relative to that. And this is where experience counts for a lot. We should be aiming to improve on our qualifying positions next season, looking to the top 6 or 8 on a regular basis and convert that into tangible race results, something we have not been able to do in 2003. We were comparatively close to fifth in the constructors' championship this season, so in my opinion, this should be within our reach in 2004.
Q: What about your personal highs and lows for the year?
Andersson: For me, the results we had at Hockenheim (fifth and sixth) were a highlight, but to have a Toyota leading for 17 laps at Silverstone has got to be the memory of the year. That was something I never dared dream about, regardless of the circumstances in which it was achieved.
Howett: I'm more involved in running the organisation at the factory in Cologne, so the priority is more about how we cope with the problems we face during the race weekends. It's about how we react and come out making the right decisions and how well people are working together. It is a constant learning curve, so you don't, therefore, put your finger on one particular high but you get satisfaction out of seeing the organisation mature over time.
Q: Ove, have the new rules been responsible for F1's rejuvenation or have there been other factors?
Andersson: I do not believe that you can say clearly one way or another. The new regulations have mixed the grid up, no question, but on the other hand you have also had greater competition this year. If you add everything up, it was a highly successful season. Take Suzuka qualifying as an example, the wet weather resulted in poor qualifying results for the guys at the front of the championship, but helped us lock out the second row of the grid, which all in all made for a heck of an interesting race for the spectators!
Q: John, when you are in charge of a manufacturer's programme, are regulation changes just before the season starts worrying?
Howett: I really don't think that last-minute regulation changes are worrying. As long as there is some indication and some stability, it's reasonable. You just have to accept the changes and get on with it. They are the same for everyone and I don't think it matters that much. I think we sometimes focus too much on ourselves instead of looking at the public. What we are here for is to perform and to deliver good motor racing. Formula 1 needs to be good, with people enjoying it.
Q: What is the plan for the winter? How is the TF104 progressing?
Andersson: We are running a similar winter programme to the one we had in 2002. We will be testing with an intermediary car, the TF103B, from late November, which is essentially the TF103 with new engine and new gearbox. With the revised technical regulations that are in place for 2004, which require us to produce an engine that lasts an entire race weekend, our focus will be on engine durability and driveability. We will also carry out tests to work on every single aspect of the new car from aero to tyres to mechanical evaluation to get us in the best possible shape before we head to Australia.
Howett: Everyone at Toyota Motorsport in Cologne is actively working on preparations for next season. We must first investigate and debrief the 2003 season to determine our approach for next year, but production of the TF104 is already well underway. Just because one season is finished does not mean we can rest on our laurels. F1 development is ongoing and accordingly so too is our work at the factory. We are determined for better things in 2004, and will do all we can to make significant steps up the championship ladder next year.
Q: What do you make of the new weekend format for next season and the 18-race provisional calendar?
Andersson: There has been a lot of discussion about the race weekend schedule for next season and ultimately it has been a decision made not just by the teams, but there are also sponsors and race promoters involved. It is the race promoters who understand what makes a grand prix weekend successful for the spectators, so in my opinion teams cannot take a strong position on this matter. Generally speaking, I still think that a continuous re-evaluation of Formula 1's rules and regulations is essential to maintain F1's status as the pinnacle of motorsport. We need to keep the sport fresh and exciting for the fans around the world, but likewise make sure it remains challenging for the teams involved.
Spa is an historic place and one of the more challenging circuits to race on, so I am pleased to see it back on the calendar next year. It is located just down the road from our factory in Cologne, so it is also beneficial to us logistically.
For Toyota, Canada is a very important market, so I am also very happy that it is back on the provisional calendar for 2004. The Canadian Grand Prix is one of the few races during the season where you can feel the enthusiasm of the fans, and the whole of Montreal is transformed into a sort of street festival. Canada is also a very important market for Formula 1. North America is an area where F1 is comparatively weak and needs to build up its image. Although its status on the calendar is still provisional, I sincerely hope it is back on next season.