Toyota's Ricardo Zonta looks ahead to the first Chinese Grand Prix Q: This week the Formula One teams are heading to China for the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix. What are your impressions of the new circuit from the map and the simulations you've...
Toyota's Ricardo Zonta looks ahead to the first Chinese Grand Prix
Q: This week the Formula One teams are heading to China for the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix. What are your impressions of the new circuit from the map and the simulations you've seen?
Ricardo Zonta: From what I have seen of the Shanghai International Circuit, I would say that it is a medium-to-high downforce circuit. It's not high downforce because the straights are very long, but it has some very twisty sections. It will be important to have a very stable car under braking - and especially on change of direction. There are also some corners where traction will make a big difference - just before the straight sections - like turns 3, 9, 13. Also turn 15, which is a flat corner before the last turn into the start-finish straight.
Q: Can you see any obvious overtaking places?
RZ: It looks like the final section - all the way from the exit of turn 13 to the exit of turn 16 - will be the main overtaking area. There aren't any other obvious opportunities for passing.
Q: What other sections will make a big difference?
RZ: The first few corners won't be much help for overtaking, but they will be a real test of a car's balance. The first few corners are very slow, taken in second gear.
Q: How much fun do you expect the circuit to be?
RZ: Every corner presents a different challenge, but you can only tell whether or not they're enjoyable when you get there. The circuit looks to be slow, but it may prove better fun from inside the car. In any car, but especially in an F1 car, you can enjoy the driving, but it depends above all on the grip and balance levels.
Q: How does going to a new track change how things work on a race weekend?
RZ: Going to a new circuit does not mean that we have to work harder, but we must adopt a different strategy. The drivers spend the first few laps - normally around half a dozen - just getting used to the track.
Q: What particular problems does running on a new track present?
RZ: The surface is always slippery before Formula One cars have driven round a new circuit because there is no rubber on the track. That means that the balance of the car does not work perfectly at first, especially during the first hour of practice.
Q: How does that affect working towards the tyre choice?
RZ: We can only start working on the tyre comparison, which is very important, after this initial period, once the rubber has started to go down. Even then, because the track is so slippery you may have to go back and try everything you do again after a few laps because of the grip level that has built up.
Q: Normally teams go to circuits with a huge amount of data to fall back on. How much is known in advance when you go to a brand new track?
RZ: Of course we have simulations back in the factory, which can help a lot to give an idea of the downforce and gear ratios required. But there is no way of knowing about the grip level until you get there as it's only by driving the car that you can feel that. Still, we will accumulate all the information we need for the race weekend by the end of Friday as long as we do enough running with the car, also making full use of Ryan in the third car.
Q: Can going to a new track have the effect of making grids and results less predictable than usual?
RZ: I think that new circuits can often make the results of the race more unpredictable because the job we do with the team to improve the car makes more of a difference. When you go to a track where teams test all the time, the experienced teams can have a package that is extremely appropriate for that circuit. But when there's a new circuit there's a bigger chance for the rest of the teams to make an impact - and that applies to Panasonic Toyota Racing too.
Q: What's your plan for the run-up to China?
RZ: I will arrive in China on Tuesday and the plan is to do some training there and also to visit Shanghai. I've been to China before, but not to Shanghai itself, so it will be a nice experience for me.