Toyota's Ricardo Zonta looks ahead to the Italian Grand Prix Q: How have you been enjoying your return to a race seat with Panasonic Toyota Racing after so long as third driver? Drivers parade: Ricardo Zonta. Photo by Brousseau ...
Toyota's Ricardo Zonta looks ahead to the Italian Grand Prix
Q: How have you been enjoying your return to a race seat with Panasonic Toyota Racing after so long as third driver?
Ricardo Zonta: I have had a very enjoyable time since becoming race driver for Panasonic Toyota Racing. When you race, you get more used to it every time and now my confidence is coming back. I was very emotional and a little bit nervous in Budapest, but going into Spa I was a lot calmer and more focussed. After a good performance, like we had in Belgium, you start to feel very relaxed in the car.
Q: How much has your work on Fridays changed?
RZ: My Friday practice sessions are completely different now, as my work is now more specialised. I still have to do some long runs, but with only two sets of tyres rather than six as a third driver, I have to pick only the very best to try out. That makes a difference, especially around a long circuit like Spa where the more laps you do, the more you improve from a driving perspective.
Q: Spa turned into a rollercoaster weekend for you, ending up with you narrowly missing out on fourth place. Talk us through it.
RZ: At the Belgian Grand Prix, I thought I could qualify well, but we had a wet session and I pushed so hard in pre-qualifying that I made a mistake. The mechanics did a fantastic job to make so many repairs to the car in just a few minutes. I asked to put a lot of fuel in the car because I knew the performance of the car would be compromised by my spin, but it was still disappointing to line up 20th.
Q: So how did it feel to be running as high as tenth by the end of lap one?
RZ: It was a great feeling to make up ten places on the opening lap of the race. I wasn't getting too excited though, because I was not sure how our car would perform in comparison to other teams. When I saw that the cars behind were not catching me, I told myself, 'Okay, I've made some places, now just keep going.' I felt very positive and thought I could maybe get one point. But when I saw so many of the other drivers having problems and making mistakes, I got more and more hopeful.
Q: At the restart after the final safety car period, did you even think you could sneak up another place and take Toyota's first ever podium finish?
RZ: I thought that a podium was possible in the last part of the race because I actually assumed that Kimi Raikkonen still had to make a pitstop. So after the safety car came in, once I'd seen in my mirrors that the Sauber was too far behind me to attack, I set about putting pressure on Rubens Barrichello in front and concentrated on getting to the finish.
Q: Did you have any prior warning from the engine?
RZ: I had no warning that my engine was going to blow. When I tried to go through Eau Rouge, it just stopped. I started to press everything in the cockpit trying to work out what happened. I was full throttle downshifting, doing everything I could, then I saw the smoke and realised the engine had gone. I didn't really believe it, three laps and only 18km from home. Looking back, while it was disappointing not to bring home the points, I was still happy to be on the pace and show that our car was competitive.
Q: On paper Monza looks like it should suit the Toyota better than some of the other circuits on the calendar.
RZ: On paper, Monza is a circuit that should suit our car. It's a medium-fast speed track, where the engine makes a difference, so that should help us as the torque of our engine is very good.
Q: What are your favourite memories of racing at Monza?
RZ: I didn't race at Monza in F3000, but I've had some good moments there in F1, especially in 2000. That time I found myself back in 15th early on, but I overtook so many cars in the race that I was up to third by my pit stop. I changed my strategy and finished sixth, but it was a good race for passing and I had a lot of fun.
Q: What's your favourite part of Monza's circuit?
RZ: I especially like the Parabolica corner. It's a real driver's corner - compared to most of the corners on the calendar, you really feel that driving style can make a big difference there. Arriving in seventh gear at 350-355kmh, we downshift three gears and then speed off. As a driver, you can really feel the speed and the exit is very long and you can play with the car there.
Q: Does the Parabolica change in different conditions?
RZ: The corner depends a lot on the tyre degradation and, from the first lap on a new set of tyres to the last, it changes every time. We must always find a different limit of what the car can do and not exceed it at all. It is really down to the driver.
Q: The team completed a three-day test at Monza last week. What did you work on?
RZ: Having a test session so close to the race weekend enables us to work more closely on set-up and tyre evaluation. Olivier, Ryan and me completed over 400 laps during the three-day session, which gave us plenty of time to improve the balance and carry out a lot of back-to-back runs looking mainly at tyres and traction control. I hope that our homework and preparation leads to some points for Toyota on Sunday afternoon.