Ove Andersson is the human face of Toyota, the single most prominent person working in the second largest automobile manufacturing company in the world. And not for no reason - he has been involved in the running of their motorsport arm for longer than most fans have been watching cars driving around - which is why the recent announcement of his retirement came as a shock to so many people around the world.
Andersson became involved in motorsport in a way familiar to many Scandinavians - he simply took his car out and went racing in local rallies near his home town of Uppsala, Sweden. Starting in 1962 he worked his way up through the ranks, eventually joining the Lancia works team in 1967 (with whom he won the Spanish Rally) and fitting in sports car races (most notably the Daytona 24 Hours) whenever the calendar allowed.
1971 was his big break - he signed with the dominant Alpine Renault team, and immediately won the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally before going on to claim the European Championship the following year. It was at this time that he also started his long involvement with the car company with which he would become so synonymous - Andersson Motorsport was formed in 1972 in his home town to prepare and race the Toyota Celica 1600GT in international racing, taking ninth place on debut at the RAC Rally.
Andersson continued to spread his time between running his nascent company and driving for other manufacturers (including a few races with current Ferrari Team Principal Jean Todt as co-driver in 1973), taking a World Rally Championship win at the Safari Rally in 1975, the same year that Toyota claimed their first win in the competition with Hannu Mikkola (at the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland). It was the spur Andersson needed; he moved his company to Brussels, renaming it Toyota Team Europe (TTE) to reflect the increased involvement coming from the motoring giant.
Retirement from active racing focused Andersson's mind on the team, and he set about building on the relationship with Toyota. He moved the team once more in 1979, this time to Cologne, setting up shop across the road from the company's major manufacturing plant in Germany so as to cut down the time it took for improvements to come down the pipe. TTE concentrated on specialised rallies during the early eighties, in particular the Safari, claiming wins before making a concentrated effort on the championship later in the decade.
The effort paid off - TTE won four driver's championships, three manufacturer's championships, and an astonishing 43 wins before withdrawing from the series in 1999.
Andersson sold TTE to Toyota in 1993, securing his own financial future and that of the team in one stroke. And with the pecuniary might of the auto manufacturer behind him he began to explore other areas of motorsport - in 1997 the team commenced the design process of the sportscar which was to compete so spectacularly at Le Mans the following two years. The team's cars lead easily both times, falling away from a win in the 23rd hour in the first race before claiming second in 1999, and would have gone on to ultimately claim the top spot if the team hadn't switched focus to Formula One.
Toyota would not have come to Formula One were it not for Ove Andersson. The board of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) were certainly aware of the sport, and were particularly covetous of the public relations help their great rival Honda had gained over their years of competing (and winning) in the sport over the years, but it was Andersson (no stranger to the TMC board, even then) who had built up the motorsport arm of the company to such and extent that it was a possibility.
Andersson knew of the board's interest in competing at the pinnacle of motorsport and made his pitch - give me the resources and I'll build the team you need. It worked - TTE became TMG (Toyota Motorsport GmbH), the funds were transferred to build a start of the art factory on their existing site, and the process of building a new Formula One team from scratch begun.
It was Andersson too who persuaded the TMC board to let him go his own way - it had previously been assumed that a manufacturer wishing to enter the sport should approach an existing team as an engine provider - whereas he understood the public relations gold mine that would come from the team creating everything under one roof and competing under one name - Toyota.
The importance of this one decision can be seen by the direction Formula One has taken since that time - Renault is constructing everything in-house under their own name, as is Jaguar (with the help of sister company Cosworth); Mercedes has a substantial shareholding (which is rumoured to increase in the very near future) in partner McLaren, and BMW have moved to strengthen ties with partner Williams in what many assume will be a prequel to buying into the company. The major manufacturers have since seen the light PR-wise of Andersson's prescient decision.
Another facet of the build up to the team's debut in Formula One was the people - TTE had a large number of people whose abiding love was motor racing, and motor racing people intrinsically want to be in Formula One to show their abilities against the best competition there is. Andersson understood this, and built the team around the people he already had, guaranteeing loyalty and a sense of family in a paddock famous for its fickleness.
Being based in Germany, far away from the garagistes in England, gave the team another reason to pull together. Not that they needed many - a large number of the senior positions were filled by people who had worked together for as long as they could remember. Team Manager Ange Pasquali has been with the team for over decade. General Manager of Operations Richard Cregan has been there for over two.
Bolstered by specialist appointments as and when the need arose (Chief Designer Gustav Brunner was brought to the team in 2001, and more recently Technical Director Mike Gascoyne came onboard) the team worked together, for each other and to help build Andersson's dream. The first engine was bench tested in 2000. A chassis was built and tested at circuits around the world in 2001. And the team made its racing debut with Allan McNish (formerly a Toyota sportscar driver) and Mika Salo piloting the red and white cars in Melbourne in early 2002.
But time was running out for Andersson. Toyota has always had a policy of compulsory retirement at the age of 65, which dates back to company chairman Dr. Shoichiro Toyota, who himself retired to the position of honourary chairman when he reached the milestone. Cognizant of the need to maintain stability in the infancy of the team (and in an extraordinary gesture for a company, which clearly showed the respect they held for the man) Andersson was given a one year reprieve so as to calm the waters and steer the team through what is a traditionally difficult time for a Formula One team - its second year.
Time was finally called on 19 December 2003, when the team quietly slipped out a press release stating that Tsutomu Tomita, chairman of TMG, was to take over Andersson's position in the new year. Tomita commented that "we can not thank Ove enough for his contribution to Toyota Motorsport's activities and achievements. Ove's move is along the lines of Toyota's policy which sees its employees taking up new roles at certain points in their career within the company. From next season I will manage both the company and the race activities together with President John Howett."
Andersson was to be kept on as an advisor to the company. He noted at the time "I want to thank Toyota for having given me chances in its various motorsport activities, and I am proud to continue to support the company in my new role. Thirty years ago I started with three people in Belgium. Since then I have set a lot of targets and I have achieved them together with Toyota. Together, we manufactured Toyota's first ever Formula 1 car. When it appeared on the grid at the Australian GP in 2002, it was an amazing feeling for me that I will never forget. I am sure Toyota will succeed in Formula 1 and I look forward to seeing its first victory in the future."
And that, seemingly, was that.
* * *
Or was it? At last week's launch of their new car Tomita was front and centre, thanking everyone for coming and making the right noises about the coming season before, remarkably, handing over to Andersson for a few words. As usual he put the focus squarely on the people who make up the team: "We've been in racing now for four years - I think we have learnt a lot. This is our fourth car, and I've always said the biggest challenge is maybe not the car or the race itself, but it is making a team out of so many people. I can see that this is starting to gel together nicely, and therefore I believe this season we are going to make a big step forward."
Richard Cregan, who has been friends with the man for half his life, explained the situation thus: "We had a situation where Ove was at the retirement age within the TMC companies, and the great thing is we've kept him as an advisor so we get the best of both worlds - we have Tomita now as Team Principal, and his experience and relationship with TMC obviously is a great influence for us, and we've kept Ove as well - so we've got the best of both worlds.
"What he's doing is advising - he's there in an advisory role for Mr. Tomita or whoever from the top management, so that's basically what he's doing on a day to day basis. It's been in discussion obviously with top management of TMC and ourselves, so this is a decision that they took last year."
Handing over power in a company can sometimes be difficult - TMG President John Howett saw it this way: "To me it seems to have gone very smoothly - I mean, Ove hasn't really left, he's still here and there's a lot of value he can offer. So to me it's hopeful he'll still come to a lot of races. I don't think it's politicking or anything - he honestly adds a lot of value, and has a very good view.
"Toyota has a rule on age, and it has a rule on, if you like, changing people's roles - I mean, we change every three or five years - as a Toyota employee I know every three or five years I'm given a new challenge. I don't think there's a time set (for his period as advisor) - I guess maybe if he starts to find the travel too much or the pressure too much. I think in some ways he's quite happy to take it a bit easier, not come in every day but maybe three or four days a week, and it's all up to him."
And what of the new man in charge? Tomita has a very large pair of shoes to fill as team principal at Toyota: "Mr. Andersson had a long history to the motorsports - more than 30 years - and he did a very big job for Toyota. Therefore we will keep him eternally until he wants to retire. I cannot say (how long he will stay), but it will be decided by Ove Andersson. He is now an advisor from many aspects, for example for the political and technical, and the many, many aspects of human relations."
On the day prior to the launch Andersson took Tomita to a team principals meeting in London, to introduce him to the men he will be competing directly with from now on. "Yes, and it was really the first opportunity for me" Tomita enthused. "It was really very amazing - the atmosphere of that meeting, it was frantic! But very motivated and lively - very interesting!" Andersson himself noted in his own dry style that "I went yesterday with Mr. Tomita - whether or not he will want my company in the future we will have to see! It was a good meeting yesterday, and a very relaxed meeting - no aggravations, just a discussion of what we want, what we don't want - I think it was a good meeting."
DC: How does it feel to watch this car launch, the first one that's not under your control?
Ove Andersson: I think it's nice to see - I believe I've been involved in the beginning, and it's nice to see the continuation.
DC: What is your role as a consultant actually going to entail?
Andersson: Well, representation of the team in certain places - I hope my experience can be of some help in some areas.
DC: Obviously you'll be talking a lot to Mr. Tomita as he takes over - what will that involve? Will you be going to races and so on?
Andersson: I will be going to races - I don't know if I'm going to all of the races, but for sure I will be going to a few.
DC: So how long are you looking at doing this consulting position - will it be ongoing, will it be forever, will it..
Andersson: Well I don't think it will be forever - there is an initial period of three years.
DC: And it can potentially go on from there?
Andersson: Well potentially, if I'm still alive and warm and kicking, yes!
DC: It's a very Japanese concept to have someone senior retire and then keep them around to consult forever and represent the firm.
Andersson: Yes, I believe so - it's what they call a soft landing!
DC: So how does it feel now that you've had all of that pressure taking off your shoulders after so many years?
Andersson: When you realise that it's going to happen obviously it's pretty hard to accept initially, but now for me it makes a lot of sense - I can still be involved. And now I can criticise - before I was always criticised!
So after thirty years of involvement at Toyota motorsport the name on the top of the masthead has changed, but the man is still there to help steer the course. In the week before the launch Andersson found the time to take a Group A Celica out on a frozen lake in Sweden, which would have been unthinkable if he was still in charge. He is looking forward to doing more historic rallying, and now has the time to do so when he wants, between jetting off to the next Grand Prix.
Life could be worse.
At the launch of Toyota's new Formula One car, on January 17th this year, newly appointed team boss Tsutomu Tomita was clear on their objectives for the season: "Everyone in the team is fully committed to rapid, continuous improvement and teamwork, and it is my firm belief that this will allow Panasonic Toyota Racing to make its biggest step forward in 2004." There was good reason to feel confident – the team was rolling on from top three qualifying positions in the last two races of the previous season, the car was lighter, stiffer and more aerodynamically efficient than its predecessor, the resources and finances were in place to help propel the team up the grid, and they had recently brought Mike Gascoyne on board, the man behind the rebirth at Renault.
"We are looking to make real progress [towards] the top teams this year," Tomita, who took over as team principal at the start of the year, continued. "I believe [we] will achieve point-scoring race results during each F1 weekend in 2004. I also believe we can score our first ever podium finish."
It hasn't quite worked out that way; the team has a total of eight points for the year to date, and they are in seventh place in the Constructors' Championship, only one point ahead of the struggling Jaguar team.
There are a number of reasons for Toyota's disappointing form. This year's Championship has been unquestionably tough, but excuses get short shrift in Formula One, and the team has recently made a number of changes aimed solely at moving their performance forward.
The most outwardly obvious of these was the replacement of Cristiano da Matta as race driver by the team's third driver Ricardo Zonta. "Well, it was a very difficult decision, a difficult thing to do," Technical Director Mike Gascoyne noted on the move in the Budapest paddock. "Ultimately you can say Ricardo qualified 15th and Cristiano qualified 15th at his last race so what's the difference, but I think you've got to give Ricardo a little bit of a chance - I think he has performed really well.
"There's been a mixed reaction (to the driver change) – I think it's quite interesting when you get the feedback - 50% have said 'I'm surprised it took you that long', and the other 50% have said 'poor old Cristiano'. I think all of us say poor old Cristiano – sure, he didn't deserve it – but ultimately are we right? Well it's a tough call."
The reaction has been curious; there doesn't seem to have been any outraged commentaries about the move, and da Matta had failed to set the paddock alight with his abilities during his time there. On the other hand, there hasn't been a large groundswell of support for Zonta either – mostly the move has been seen as giving Zonta one last bite of the cherry to prove his worth to a generally unforgiving series. "There are no rights and wrongs," Gascoyne continued. "Ricardo has performed very well, and we wanted to take a look at what he can do in a race situation. It's a very difficult call for the positive sides – the downsides of it, sure, Cristiano can't be blamed for our lack of results this year because he's driving a car that blatantly isn't quick enough, and we've been very open about that. Having said that, as a driver you are at the sharp end and you stand by your performances, and there have been disappointments on his side as well.
"But when you look at the positives of the change we get to see what Ricardo can do, to see whether he can be one of our drivers for next year, and we get to see Ryan (Briscoe, replacing Zonta as third driver) in a Grand Prix environment to decide whether we should invest in him further. We made some changes in terms of engineers and in the race team operation with a view to next year, because next year we're going to have Ralf [Schumacher] and we need to be working in a better way. So there are a lot of positives that could come out of the changes, but ultimately are we going to get better results? I don't think we'll get any worse results – whether we get better results, come and see me at the end of the year and tell me whether I was right or I was wrong."
In a way, the removal of Cristiano da Matta is the most minor of the recent moves made by the senior Toyota management. They've replaced one Brazilian driver with another in a car that even Gascoyne admitted was not up to the job, and the new driver is certainly going to be keen to prove his worth. More strikingly, the management structure of the organisation has been given a shake up, with a number of engineers being moved around and two senior members of the team being left standing when the music stopped.
Since its inception, Toyota's F1 team has had a reputation for being top heavy managerially. Last year, in an interview with Atlas F1, Richard Cregan noted that "if you compare us to probably any of the other Formula One teams the words 'top heavy' do come to mind. But [Toyota Motorsport president] John Howett came on board at the beginning of this year, and obviously John has to have time to come in and review everything to see where he's going with the team. He's already started to do a lot of constructive changes within the company to make us more efficient."
A year on and the changes are taking shape. "When we started in Formula One," Cregan says today, "we obviously had a structure in place that at the time we thought to be the best for the job at hand, and we quickly realised we had too many people at the track, and we had to make sure we had the right people at the track. This process was in motion over that time, and then Mike came on board at the end of last year with the experience he has, and this obviously added a lot of experience to the team.
"With Mike on board we sat down and said okay, what do we need to do to make this an efficient operation, an efficient team that can handle a good car, good drivers and can go out there and win races? And we sat down and started to work on that, and this is part of that process. And it will make it a leaner operation, it will make it a more efficient operation, and above all I believe that when we get our car for 2005 and the updates for this year, then we as a team will be able to handle them and get the best out of them. That's what it's all about."
The two major changes made were the removal of Ange Pasquali from the role of Team Manager (Cregan has been since moved into this slot from his previous position as General Manager of the F1 Operation) and Norbert Kreyer from his role heading up the Race and Test department.
John Howett had an explanation for these moves: "Norbert Kreyer really decided that he'd like to leave us, at his request; he found it quite difficult to work with Mike, and he himself made the decision that ultimately he wanted to leave. So taking that opportunity we decided that we really needed to lean down the organisation, because we had some overlap I think in the area of Norbert, Richard Cregan and Ange, so we then decided that we would actually restructure the race organisation as a consequence of that change. In the end we're running the format that we wanted to run next year, and we've got six races to actually look at the organisation and format to see and test whether it works."
In a company the size of Toyota, overlap is a big concern. "When you look at it in terms of the team manager role," Gascoyne explained, "Richard Cregan and Gianfranco Fantutsi beneath him basically fulfill the role of team manager and logistics - now that's a role I'm used to being done by two people, and we also had Ange Pasquali here, so there were three people doing it - we basically rationalised that and made it more efficient.
"The race and test department included the race team; it also included a lot of R&D functions – vehicle dynamics and the test bench, seven point rigs and all of that. My feeling was that this was an incorrect way to be set up; I think those roles should be far more design orientated and led roles, rather than race and test – testing the car we've got, I want those tools used in a predictive way to make the next one better, not to work out why this one doesn't go very well.
"Formula One should very much have a design led philosophy, and we were reacting, not predicting. So really the race and test department has changed from quite a big department to a much smaller department that is just going racing, and really that's why the position of Norbert became less important. In the end, with mutual discussions, he didn't want to continue in that role with those changes, which was understandable, and it was very much a mutual decision. Whereas with Ange there was a necessity to slim down the operations."
It is clear that Gascoyne has been very busy since starting with the team, and there is a lot of speculation in the paddock as to what the 'Gascoynification' of Toyota will mean for the team. The team existed before him, and although the Technical Director has a clearly large say in the operation, the moves are not all down to him. "I think that if you want to knock holes in a wall, you put the lintels in first before you take the doorways out," Howett noted, "so for me it's not a Gascoynification – Toyota decided we wanted a technical director; we selected Mike. I think you can expect ongoing changes as we focus on our objective – those will be made as they need to be. Mike is an important part of the team, but we've also got [Technical Director – Engine] Luca Marmorini on the engine side, and to me it's a clear Toyotaisation really – it's us taking the team to where we want it to be."
Formula One runs on the backs of an enormous number of people, but communication lines between them all are important – if people don't know what they are supposed to be doing, things are done poorly. The departure of Pasquali is understandable from this point of view – three into two doesn't go – and despite his issuance of a press release where he acknowledged his "shock and surprise" at the move, from the outside it makes sense.
The departure of Kreyer is different – he remains with the team until the end of December for a start, and the position he held was becoming much reduced in the short term. Kreyer, a former engine builder who was given his position when the team brought in Marmorini from Ferrari to effectively replace him, was relatively unhappy about his diminishing stance in the company, and, as Howett acknowledged, a fractious relationship with Gascoyne (which Gascoyne edged away from: "I think we disagreed professionally, but hopefully not personally") couldn't have helped.
The role of testing in Formula One is changing, as Cregan, who now takes a larger role overseeing testing, noted: "I think the way the regulations are going, and the way the agreements and the discussions (have been) among the teams, certainly the target is to reduce the amount of testing that has been done. What I do believe is that it will emphasise how you do your in-house testing, so your test bench area becomes very, very important, and your assimilation departments and things like that, and that was all part of how we've done our reorganisation."
With the increase in the number of races over the last few years, a process that looks to continue next year with 19 weekends held aside for the Formula One calendar, the emphasis in testing is moving away from just putting in the miles to what Howett describes as "reducing testing as a volume and going for quality rather than quantity." It's a process that all of the major teams are undergoing, and Toyota simply cannot be left behind.
But any change in personnel will have an effect on those who remain, and given the family nature of the team and their staff it is a concern for future productivity. "I think whenever you change anything it causes a degree of uncertainty," agreed Howett. "I've been with Toyota for a long time, but Toyota is a company that changes – the culture of Toyota is always to scrap and build or find a new dimension. So I think it's culturally totally in line with Toyota, and I sincerely hope we don't destroy the family spirit that we have, and the close working relations.
"Whenever you change, you know people are to some extent uncertain about it, but on the other hand one has to change to deliver the performance that you want to achieve – I think we have to be open to change in the future as well." Gascoyne took it a step further, noting: "I think internally there's a lot of frustration that results aren't better, and a lot of people can see that things need to be changed - I would say in the factory that all of the changes have been received fairly positively."
Making these moves has given Toyota another advantage – with the new drivers next year will be a vital one in their history, and they can effectively take the remainder of this year as a practice to make sure things work as smoothly as possible in the future. "I think it gives all of us the opportunity to experience the different drivers, the different positions, the position changes that have taken place, and I think that's very positive," Cregan noted.
"We have the six races until the end of the year to see how everyone performs, to look at it closely, and then when we prepare for next year, take that into consideration, and then put our team together for 2005. But I think what has happened on the operation and team management side, the people who have been changed around are the same people who have been on the track, and we look at it like we have a team of good people and we just have to be sure that they're in the right positions. I think so far it's worked quite well, considering all of the changes for this weekend."
The last word, as ever, goes to Gascoyne - a veiled warning for those who have written off the Japanese giant's hope of future glory. "When you put a load of changes in place, you have to do six months of changing things and then actually you don't have much time to get the update through. When we design next year's car, what we've done in six weeks we've got six months to do, and it's a much bigger step forward. So I'm very confident, to be honest, because I've seen it before, I know it works, and I know it's happening.
"We said seven months ago we'd have an updated car for Hockenheim, and that meant we had to do all the work, and then design the parts, make them and get them there - it was a big update and we hit it and got it there. In the past they've done things in the wind tunnel, made them and then the car's no quicker, but we did a lot of changes, worked in a particular way, updated the whole of the car, made it, and had exactly the sort of gain we expected.
"That really vindicated the process, which was exactly the process that I've used to make cars successful in the past. So now it's there, it's in place, and it's going to work. It's now just a matter of time – it's not if, but when. The great thing is if you can have some good results it motivates people, makes it so much easier to do. And when you have results everyone in Japan relaxes. At the moment it's quite (hectic), but then again that's what they pay me to put up with – I've got to be strong and say ‘no, I know it's going to be right, we've got to keep doing this', and you've got to keep everyone motivated and going until the results come along.
"It was the same at Benetton in the middle of 2001 – I was going to get sacked, Flavio was going to get sacked, everyone was leaving, it was all rubbish – but that time the year afterwards everything was great, everyone wanted to join us, and everything was sunny. That'll be the case here – we're just going through the difficult bit – but as I say I'm very comfortable and very happy that we're on the charge now."
Cristiano da Matta, Formula One Rookie of the Year 2003. There's something no one expected to say when Toyota announced they were giving the amiable Brazilian his Formula debut as a reward for winning the CART championship for the Japanese car making giant last year.
Of course, he didn't have a lot of competition for the title. Justin Wilson (2001 Formula 3000 champion, beating Mark Webber along the way, lest we forget) spent half the year at Minardi, half the year struggling with the poisoned chalice that is the green car next to the swift Australian, so he didn't have much of an opportunity to show his wares. Likewise for the man he replaced at Jaguar, Antonio Pizzonia. Ralph Firman had the unruly Jordan to deal with, along with the vastly experienced Giancarlo Fisichella as a teammate.
So he backed into the rookie honours, then, much as, his critics would have it, he backed into the CART championship the year before. All the good drivers were already gone they said, off to the IRL (along with most of the good teams) or to Formula One. And yet he took seven poles, seven wins on the way to one of the earliest season clinches in CART history against the likes of Michael Andretti, Bruno Junqueira, Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. And no one ever suggested that those guys are duds.
And yet he still felt the need to talk the championship up in the face of his impending move. "There's a bunch of guys over here that are a lot better than a lot of the guys that are in Formula One" he said. "If you are a real racer, your personal satisfaction is higher in CART," was another gem, along with "If you are a real racer, a real sportsman, then the personal satisfaction is much higher over here (in CART)."
That sort of talk doesn't win you many friends in Formula One, and fans of the sport outside of Brazil howled that he had no respect for his new home. Come the end of his first year in Formula One, however, and his position had softened:
DC: You've now completed your first season in Formula One – was it what you expected?
da Matta: "It was more or less what I expected – lots of ups and downs for myself and the team. We have to concentrate more next season to be consistent, but a lot of things for me were new. I learnt many things – I think (I've) already been through the steepest part of the learning curve. I have to keep learning, keep focused, keep pushing so I can learn everything as quick as I can and keep on improving, get the consistency we were looking for this year, get better results, points often and so on."
DC: How different have you found it from CART? The cars are different of course, but the racing, the organisation and everything – how different has it been?
da Matta: "The racing is all the same – just driving different cars, competing against different people – but it's the same. Maybe for someone from the outside it is completely different, but for (the driver) who is driving the car, working with the team and concentrating on the result, concentrate on your driving – it's all the same thing. What is (going on) all around you, you don't see."
Toyota felt they owed him a shot at the big time for bringing home their first championship, and they announced at the final race in Suzuka 2002 that da Matta was joining Olivier Panis for the company's second year in Formula One as a reward for his efforts. Da Matta was thrown into a heavy testing programme over the winter off season to familiarise him with the car and the team, starting slowing and working his way up to the benchmark – his seasoned teammate.
So how long did it take da Matta to come up to speed? "We thought that the tests that the team (organised showed) I was able to learn a lot right from the beginning," da Matta stated in the Suzuka pitlane a year after that fateful announcement, at the conclusion of his eventful debut year in Formula One. "So I had a good feeling for the season, for Formula One, and for what I can do here quite early.
"Of course, I think it was mostly due to the amount of testing I did in winter – it was quite heavy, a lot of testing going on, and a lot of days in the car on the racetrack – so I was able to get through the new information, new things, and just get used to everything quick. It helped me a lot, and I think that's why right from the beginning of the season I had a good feeling about the season, about Formula One, and about what I could do here."
Da Matta started off with laptimes a long way off the pace of Panis, as can only be expected, and over the months brought his times down and down until they were comparable to his teammate, but laptimes don't necessarily reflect racing ability. If the slow build up was planned, then when did he feel he was at the right level for racing in Formula One? "Well from my point of view I think I'm still improving, I'm still learning, and that never stops. It's difficult to say – in the first race in Australia on the first qualifier I think I was pretty much already on the pace. Of course I've improved from there on, but I was at a stage already that was somewhat reasonable.
"When I started this year I didn't have any expectations – I thought it was too early to set some targets for the season. I think (only) somewhere in the middle of the season I thought maybe I would be able to end in the top ten of the championship. It didn't happen." Da Matta came 13th with ten points. "Together, driver and team, we made some crucial mistakes and crucial times, and we missed some precious points on many occasions. That's why we're not in the top ten."
Moving from no expectations at all to being annoyed at not finishing in the top ten is quite a turnaround for a rookie in a team still wet behind the ears, but it's a reflection of how well da Matta came to grips with the sport.
The workload of Formula One drivers on a race weekend is remarkable – every team has a number of people employed to organise their timetables, to make sure that they are always doing something and get the best return from the hefty salaries the drivers enjoy. But how different is the workload between Formula One and the other categories of motorsport? "Well you see, you have to remember in CART there are twenty races, not sixteen, and a schedule that is not so well spread throughout the season.
"So some parts of the season you are a lot busier in CART than in Formula One, but in the beginning of the season, in March and April for example, you are much more busy in Formula One than in CART – that's the time you are traveling overseas to race – so it's quite tiring. At the end both series are quite demanding on you, and you have to be physically ready, mentally ready, focused, and really with a lot of gritted teeth."
There is an intrinsic difference between the cars in CART and Formula One – a Formula One car is lighter and nimbler than a CART, with a normally aspirated three litre V10 engine and traction control versus a turbocharged 2.65 litre V8 without traction control, for a start – and the previous CART transfers (most recently Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve) have used the winter off season between the series to run an extensive training programme to get used to the new car.
Da Matta was no exception to the rule. But how different are the cars, and how differently do you have to train to drive them? "Driving a race car for me I don't think is physical at all," da Matta stated, "I'm used to doing things that are a lot harder than driving race cars!" Da Matta is a noted keen cyclist, competing in many bicycle and triathlon races as time permits.
"So for me maybe the Champ Cars are a little bit more physical on the shoulders, especially on the shoulder muscles because you don't have powersteering, and on the arms maybe are a big part too. Formula One is harder on the neck, but it's still nothing – the biggest enemy you have when you drive the race car is dehydration, and that's what you have to look at, at least for me when I drive the race car. I race bicycles - in the racecar I have the engine and everything else, so it doesn't give me any hard time!"
DC: What has been the best moment of your Formula One career so far?
da Matta: "For enjoyment definitely it was Silverstone – the race wasn't one of my best results but as much as I enjoyed that moment, that was the best for me – to lead a race."
DC: I guess you could say I'm here, I'm leading, I've made a mark
da Matta: "Yeah! It's not that it was only a few laps, and it's not that there wasn't anybody trying to pass me – I was not out in front and by myself – so with what I had in my hands I think I did what I could, and to lead a race is something that I haven't done much this year, not since last season, so it was just a good feeling to refresh my memories again."
There have been a lot of low points for Toyota this year, as can be expected in any team's sophomore year – there were the problems with fuel vapourisation at the start of the season, and Monaco was as a tough weekend as well, with seemingly everything that could go wrong doing so over the weekend, at least for his teammate Panis. "Monaco - I had a good race there," da Matta gently corrects, "I finished ninth behind all the top four teams, so I had a good race – it was actually one of the races I quite enjoyed."
So what were the low points of the season for da Matta? "The low point is that I'm not going to be able to finish top ten – that is very … I'm disappointed. The most disappointing race was probably … let me think... maybe Monza – I qualified much worse than I thought, and I felt like I could have qualified (higher). And I didn't really do the race – I only had three laps and that was it."
Monza was a strange race for Toyota. It's no secret that the team has one of the most powerful engines on the grid, and as such a high speed track like Monza should have been manna from heaven. But it was not to be – both drivers struggled in qualifying, with Panis starting from ninth and da Matta twelfth – and they both suffered premature finishes due to mechanical gremlins.
Was there a specific problem that the team suffered in Monza? "No, no particular problem. Reasons - there are always reasons, but technical things we thought we were on the top of (arose) and we couldn't set them up properly for Monza." Whatever it was, the team sorted the problem out – they had three top four starts in the final two races of the year, which is useful to carry into the off season as the team prepares next year's challenger.
With the new car design well underway, what are your hopes for next year? "We have little bits going in the windtunnel now," da Matta confirmed, "and also we have the new engine running on the dyno – I've seen pieces of it, yeah. Our aim is to close the gap that separates the four big teams to us right now, try to be closer to them more often.
"We seem to be quite close to them sometimes, on some tracks but not everywhere, so if we can make it more consistent that we are just a bit behind them, and maybe even in some places if we can mix it with the top eight a little bit, that would be I think a great achievement for us for next season."
After the season da Matta returned to Brazil for a well deserved holiday and recharge, but returns soon to testing for next year. It will be a big change from last year's winter testing, so how will he approach the impending tests? "It's a completely different thing for me, because last year I came into the winter just thinking about myself, to learn how to drive the car as quick as I could and learning everything as quick as I could.
"Now probably my main concern is passing information to the team. I know what (parts on) the car will be important for performance during the season on certain tracks, when it's hot, when it's cold, so maybe I will be able to be a lot more specific and not only concentrate on my driving so much." The 2003 season proved that da Matta was worth his spot in Formula One, as well as showing that his team are quick learners. It would take a brave man to bet against the combination moving up the grid next year.
Toyota have done things differently to most of the new teams on the grid from the start. Entering the sport last year, they took a deliberately low key approach to the sport in comparison to the other new teams – BAR set high expectations well before their first race, while Jaguar had a massive publicity campaign highlighting the Big Cat's entry to the sport, both suffering very public failures. Learning from the mistakes of others, Toyota took a full year to prepare their first car for racing before stating that they simply hoped to be judged worthy of being in the sport. This quiet approach meant they avoided the embarrassment suffered by others, as well as allowing the team to feel their way in a sport that was largely new to them in their own time.
The second year is a tricky one for a Formula One team – they will want to do better than in their first year, but have far less time to prepare than previous. Looking at the numbers, they managed to improve: two points for two lucky sixth positions in 2002 became 16 points in 2003. The new points system helped - under the old system the team would have only scored 4 points - but the team managed 19 top-ten qualifying positions - 6 in the top six - and 3 top six finishes.
Ove Andersson, the man who has been in charge of Toyota's Formula One adventure from day one, is the man who decided on this low key approach to the sport, and he is following his plan to the letter.
DC: How do you think your second year in Formula One has gone?
Andersson: "Normal common sense tells me it's gone reasonably well – I don't know what you can expect from a team in our position, but that's what common sense tells me. And then maybe my ambitions tell me it's not as good as I hoped it would be, or as it looked like it could be if it wasn't for our inexperience showing up very badly in certain places."
DC: Such as?
Andersson: "I mean Indy is one place I suppose, and Monaco. We had the problems at the beginning of the year, where I believe for Australia and Malaysia we had a good car but we had this silly problem with the fuel vapourisation or whatever you call it. It was basically the fuel boiling, and without that we could have done a lot better. But that's life, and we are learning, but it's a lack of experience I would say."
DC: You seemed to improve from last year, though; do things better compared to last year
Andersson: "Yeah, but we are also doing a lot of things wrong! As I said to you, my common sense says yeah we have nothing to be sad about because we have learnt a lot, we have probably had results that could be expected, and that's it. But on the other hand you have ambitions, and I don't think those ambitions have really been met in a way."
DC: How much difference is there between the first and the second year?
Andersson: "I think looking back - take away the mistakes we have made - the improvement in the car itself between last year and this year is very big, and in my own mind I think we have kind of caught up a third of the way behind where we were last year. But on the other hand the whole field has drawn closer if you look at the differences – this year (the gaps) between the teams are a lot smaller, so it affected very much our real position in the field.
"Also, the car this year was much better, but again our understanding of how to set up the car for the different circuits hasn't really... I mean, this is where we keep falling on the nose all the time; the car has potential in it, but we don't really know how to bring it out for all the circuits, we don't understand how the circuits are developing over the weekend. And they do - there is a big difference you actually experience between Friday and when the race comes on a Sunday.
"It's difficult to understand when you come new into Formula One because the tarmac is black and, you know, it's a hell of a difference if the winds are blowing in different directions. You have to understand what to do with the car in order to cope with those things, and that is obviously where we are reasonably lost at the moment. I hope that this year puts a lot of this kind of knowledge into the system."
DC: How do you improve it, then? Is it just a matter of bringing more people with knowledge into the team?
Andersson: "It's a matter of learning – the guys have to understand the car, and they have to understand how they relate the car to the circuit and the changing conditions on the circuit. Look at Ferrari – them they come to a circuit, Michael [Schumacher] gets in the car and goes, and immediately they are doing a competitive time. The same to quite a big extent for McLaren. With Williams you don't have quite the same situation as obvious as that. I think Renault are coming on quite well in that direction also. But I think this is where for us there are a lot of problems."
DC: But is it a question of just bringing someone in, who knows these things, to improve the team?
Andersson: "No, I don't think so. I think you need to have a certain experience with the car in certain conditions, you have to understand the car. Today I don't believe it's a matter of bringing a lot of people in who know; it's a matter of bringing the people you have working together, positively together, and communication inside the team and operation is important.
"For sure you need the know how in the operation somewhere, obviously, but it's not only that, because if those guys - who are, lets say, superstars in their own areas - don't fit in the organisation or don't work within the organisation, then it doesn't really help you."
DC: Your philosophy has always been to build the team together, letting them learn together and move up together...
Andersson: "I think it's the only way, yes."
DC: It's a very long term plan though; in the short term you risk problems
Andersson: "Well, for this you need to have some key people that bring the know-how required."
Speaking on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, Andersson was unable to comment further, but the subsequent appointment of Mike Gascoyne as technical director of the team's chassis prgogramme is a perfect example of Toyota's desire to resolve the short term problem of inexperience.
It was a shrewd decision: Gascoyne has an admirable track record in the sport, and his position allows him to work with both Luca Marmorini (technical director of the engine programme) and Gustav Brunner (Toyota's chief designer), focusing both programmes in one direction. Brunner for one has been very supportive of the appointment, subsequently stating that "for some months, I have supported the idea of having a technical director with F1 experience in order to improve the overall efficiency and working practices of the technical areas at Toyota. With his extensive F1 background, Mike is the ideal person for this job."
DC: Are you happy with how the team has been working together?
Andersson: "It's getting better, there's no doubt about it, and there's still a long way to go. But I think we have made big steps forward this year."
DC: How about the engineering side? Are you happy with the level of improvement, the flow through of new parts and everything that comes from that?
Andersson: "No - we have been too slow, especially in the first half of the year we were slow. It was quite obvious that we didn't bring any improvements to our car basically until Silverstone – I mean, we had the problems to sort out from Australia and Malaysia and a few other struggles we had which obviously took attention away from actually making the general improvements on the car. But we are too slow in this area, and this is something we have to speed up."
DC: The design philosophy for Toyota over the last two years has been a conservative one – the first year necessarily so, and the second year improved upon it but was still conservative
Andersson: "Well I think that maybe McLaren did a very innovative car, but it didn't work for them! For me you make the car, you learn from that car and try to understand where you have the weak points so when you make the next car you try to improve those weak points, and that is how you continue to progress. I think these great innovative ideas maybe they are fine, but also very often they are not a way.
"You can fall in a big hole, which McLaren did with the MP4/18. I think it probably had a lot of innovative ideas in it, although I don't really know, but in the end for me the safe way is to improve step by step. We measured last year's car, we twisted it, did everything, and we found this area and that area to improve, and now we have done the same with this car to try and find out where the weak points are in suspension, camber changes and all this, working together with Michelin to see what they want and so on.
"And for me this is a way that we can progress, and I think this is exactly the way that Ferrari have been doing it as well – they have developed the same idea, but they have done it over a period of time. It means you can maintain a direction. If you have a great bright idea you can do something that is very innovative and you go away from your line – but I think there has to be a red line through that; there are physical laws, and if you try to bend them you fall in a hole."
DC: Cristiano da Matta won the CART championship last year but he is new to Formula One, and there were question marks about how he would perform. How do you think he's done this year?
Andersson: "He's doing very well. I like Cristiano as a person, and he's a very determined little man. Obviously next year he has to deliver, but I think it was basically Toyota's wish to give him a chance in Formula One because of winning CART for them, which was very important, and we'll have to see how he shapes up next year."
DC: So has he performed as you expected?
Andersson: "In my mind, yes, he has. I mean, right here and at this time I think he has performed extremely well in the Japanese GP qualifying, but as I said next year he really has to show some colour because now he knows the circuits, he knows the team, he knows basically the ins and outs of Formula One. Of course, he's maybe limited by the knowledge of the team."
DC: The other side of the driver equation is Olivier Panis, who has years of experience. How important has it been to Toyota to have someone like him on board?
Andersson: "Very important. I know there were a lot of question marks and so on about us changing both of our drivers at the end of last year, but Olivier is very important to the team – he's a good motivator. He's a bit emotional maybe from time to time but he's French, so you have to forgive him for that! I think his experience brought a lot to the team, and he is a big help for the engineers."
DC: What about his relationship with Cristiano? How much of a help has he been in getting Cristiano where you need him?
Andersson: "They work well together, and obviously Cristiano looks at what Oliver is doing and they have no secrets, so from that point of view they are a good team working together. Fair against each other, shall we say."
DC: So Olivier has been important from an engineering perspective, but what about as a driver?
Andersson: "I think we have to talk about the driver in relationship to the team and what we are giving him. Olivier is an excellent driver, and he has shown that on a number of times. For sure he has the speed, and he's in the right frame of mind if we can prepare him the right tools."
DC: He is also the oldest driver on the grid, in a time when there are many young drivers coming through into the sport. Do you think age has much effect on the driving?
Andersson: "Because he's older? No, I don't think so, not if you have the right motivation and talent. I mean, I can only speak from my own experience as a driver - which I have been, and I have been growing old - and in that sense I think that if you like to do well and are committed, then maybe you have to work a little harder to achieve the same things when you grow older, but provided you have the right motivation and so on then it's not a big difference."
DC: Looking towards the future, I understand you have a hybrid car coming through now
Andersson: "Yes that's right, for the middle of November we have a hybrid planned. The new car, the T104, will be ready in January, and so when we start testing in the new year we should have the complete package ready. In November we have the engine and the transmission and some suspension modifications ready to start testing, so the engine for next year is already running on the test bed and has been for some time."
DC: So it's just a philosophy of get it all ready as early as possible, and test the hell out of it?
Andersson: "Yeah, to understand. Mainly then it's durability testing of the engine, because next year we have the one engine for the race weekend, and we have some modifications to the gearbox that need to be durability tested, and then obviously most of the different rear suspension and so on that goes with that."
For the 2004 season new regulations have been introduced regarding the use of engines under the auspices of saving costs for the smaller teams. Each driver will be allowed to use only one engine over a three day race weekend; any time an engine is replaced or rebuilt the driver will move back ten spots on the grid. Use of the spare car also constitutes use of a new engine, which will mean that any off track excursions in free practice will be extremely costly.
DC: How much of an impact has the one weekend engine rules made on the team?
Andersson: "Well this is what we need to understand at the moment! Obviously the target is to improve the reliability of the engine to such an extent that we don't need to reduce the performance of the engine too much, but this is something that we still need to find out. I believe if it goes the way we'd like it to go, then you run slightly reduced performance on Friday and Saturday up until qualifying, and then you have to take out what you have in there for that and the race as well. So we shall see how this works."
DC: So you think many teams may basically be sandbagging in the early parts of the race weekend until it counts?
Andersson: "Until it gets to qualifying itself, I believe so. You have to do it, because obviously you want to take the maximum out of your package when it comes to the qualifying and the race, and up until then you will only run as much as you need to understand the car set up, the gear ratios and all of this."
DC: Wouldn't this have an effect on setting up the car in the free practice sessions, though?
Andersson: "You mean the engine performance? Yes, that's what I'm saying; you need to run enough to understand, although obviously you can't reduce the power too much because then you can't understand what happens with the tyres or with your traction controls and electronics or whatever. Anyway, I certainly believe that there will be careful usage of the power until the race is coming up!"
DC: Is your new engine an evolution of the 2003 one, or have you gone for a new approach because of the rule changes?
Andersson: "Well maybe you better ask the engine people, but it is my understanding that the basic concept of the engine is the same but certain details have had to be modified to achieve the necessary durability.
DC: I have to ask – the prediction game – what are you hoping to achieve next year?
Andersson laughs "Well I hope we will improve," he responds, adding: "I would say next year we can be a sure fifth position in the Constructors' Championship, and that would probably be the highest we could put it – closer to the boys in front."
DC: Podiums? Poles? anything like that?
Andersson: "Let's just say it would be nice if we could manage a couple of podiums next year."
Barcelona was always going to be the acid test. They've done so much testing at the Circuit de Catalunya that the drivers know the track like the back of their hand, and the engineers could find the right setup blindfolded. Most of the teams have the same advantage, though, so there was a chance it could be all for nothing. "Challenging competitively for points on a regular basis in 2003" - that was the target Toyota team chief Ove Andersson set at the launch, some four months ago, for the Japanese car maker's second year in Formula One.
But the first three races came and went, and there were no points to show for their work. In fact, there were hardly any race finishes at all. And should they fail at Barcelona - the venue they know so well - they'd have to re-adjust their targets of four months before.
But first, before Barcelona, they had to face the challenge of Imola.
People like to think of Toyota as the corporate suit of Formula One, as the guys who went racing because someone in the Japanese head office decided it would be good for sales and released the funds to do it, making sure all the while that their suite in the Paddock Club was well stocked. This view conveniently disregards the fact that Toyota has won the CART championship, is competing well in IRL, and dominated the World Rally Championship for years. You don't win this much, and in such diverse championships, simply as a function of marketing. The men building the Toyota Formula One team are racers first and foremost - they know the hard work involved in building a team from scratch and are realistic about their expectations in the short term. But long term they are here for one reason alone - to win.
Last year's debut was a success on their terms. Andersson, the avuncular team principal who has built the Formula One team from the remnants of the old rally team, described their objectives on debut as competing without embarrassing themselves, an objective which was achieved by the two sixth placed finishes the team brought home over the season. Last year's car was an inherently conservative one, with an unadventurous aerodynamic package surrounding an engine which impressed the paddock from day one.
Having put down the foundations of the team, this year's objective is to move forward, and there is no question that this is happening. The team is trying to emulate the in-house training regime of Williams - a team famous for decades as a hotbed of engineering talent - and bring their staff up as they progress. There are strong signs that this is being achieved, without recourse to stealing staff from the other, more established teams as would have been expected from a start up endeavour.
The car is definitely fast - the speed traps at the races so far have shown the astonishing speed that Toyota TF102 has - although it has suffered from some unreliability. Olivier Panis, the genial Frenchman who joined the team at the end of the season last year, bringing with him his renowned testing abilities to the young team, agrees and approves of the car to date. "We have the speed," Panis confirmed at Imola, "and that is the most important thing, to be honest. I prefer to have the speed and then take a little bit of time to fix all the problems we have and to carry on during the season. Because if we have a bad car when you start the season, it means the season is already gone."
Bringing Panis on board was a smart move - he has been fast throughout his career, but more importantly his time as a tester for McLaren showed that he is one of the few current drivers who can actually appreciably improve a car's performance over a season. Now in the twilight of his racing career, the move to Toyota is shrewd for both team and driver - he can push the car forward (as well as provide a mentor for the team's new driver Cristiano da Matta), and he can also stay in the sport he loves for a few more years (Panis holds a two year contract with the team).
Sitting in the Toyota motorhome under the Imola sunshine, Panis is clearly a happy man - he is at home with the team, and it shows. "I feel very positive about the team," he smiles. "I think we have a very nice factory, a very nice team to do well. The base of the car we have this year is very promising - okay, we haven't proven it yet, but I think we have a very good package. Definitely I know we have a lot to do to continue to carry on; to improve the car, to improve the people, to give them more experience. But I think we are in the right direction."
The team suffered earlier in the year from a number of problems on the car, primarily fuel feed mishaps, which while not essentially mechanical in nature have contributed to an image of unreliability in the eyes of the public. "It is little bit of a shame, because we don't have some big problem," Panis says. "But if we fix the small problems we have, then we might score points quite quickly. After we score points I think it will be a big help for the people we have, and we can carry on with the rest of the season. I'm quite positive."
This is obviously a concern for a young team like Toyota. Success breeds success, and bringing points home can only improve the morale for the relative newcomers back in the factory. "We have some good people, like Gustav Brunner, and we have some very good people in the wind tunnel, and they know very well Formula One from the past," says Panis. "We have some very good people, very good and with experience, but definitely we need to grow up with everyone. And sometimes this is not easy to do, but it's why they employed me also."
Another reason they employed Panis was to provide a proven benchmark in the car to gauge the achievements of da Matta, the 29 year old Brazilian who was brought into Formula One after winning the CART championship with Toyota last year. There were question marks about this decision when it was announced, but Panis believes the young driver is proving it was the right one to make. "I think he's on the right way," Panis says. "He is definitely working a lot, because he (has to) learn the circuits, learn many things in Formula One. But I think we continue to put everything together, and I think we show something to everyone that we are competitive. I have a very good relationship with Cristiano, and I'm sure he's there. Cristiano knows very well the team and the car, and he has some good results."
DC: I remember you saying you drove last year's car…
Panis: "It was a disaster."
DC: How does it compare to this year's car?
Panis: "Definitely some stiffness is different. The front and rear suspension this year is working much better, but it is just the downforce."
DC: The aero is just much better?
Panis: "Oh yes, a lot. I mean, it is just 2-seconds a lap quicker. But we simply have to continue to improve the car's aerodynamics and downforce like everyone, we need to improve. We have a very good engine, but we need to continue improving it during the season. I think everyone is very concerned and very concentrated to that."
DC: It seems the improvements made with the engine in the off-season were essential
Panis: "It has improved, yes - performance wise, driveability. It is just a really good engine. For me, I think Toyota is one of the best engines on the grid. I don't know - this season it is difficult to know - but I think I would put maybe BMW on the top and Toyota not too far behind. But I think our engine is in front of Ferrari's and Mercedes's."
Andersson is more conservative in his thoughts on the matter. "I'm normally very careful with my judgment on that," he states. "I think that I am quite happy with the car itself - the car is definitely much, much better than last year's. Taking everything into consideration, last year we were 3.2 seconds off pole position, and now we are 1.1 or something like that."
Andersson's stylish rectangular glasses under his shock of white hair, and the mischievous smirk which is never far from his face, lend him an air of affability at odds with his role as team principal in charge of one of the largest teams in the paddock. The team members clearly love him, and there is great respect too for the man who built the team from the embers of Toyota's massively successful rally team. Andersson is the only man in the racing team referred to as Mister in a team full of people who refer to each other by their first name.
In Imola, Andersson was upbeat about his team's prospects for the future, even if the season hasn't shaped up quite as planned. "Well so far it hasn't been shaping up at all!" he exclaims, laughing, his heavy shoulders shaking with mirth. "We had the silly problems in Australia and Malaysia with the fuel pressure. Yesterday here we had a struggle, and we'll see tomorrow what kind of fuel loads people are running, but I think considering the situation I am quite happy."
When discussing the car's evolution, Andersson is as moderate in his remarks as ever: "There are some small details, not a lot. But if you look at the whole car, then the engine has a little bit more power - we can rev it a little bit higher than last year's engine; this year we have a seven speed gearbox instead of a six speed gearbox; we have composite suspension in the front - last year we didn't have that. I mean, it's a lot of small details - we can't really say we have another 20 horse power more, you know, but I think it's a general improvement of the package."
DC: Do you think the aerodynamics have improved?
Andersson: "A lot, a lot, a lot."
DC: Is this something you have focused on, or is it something that has come with running in Formula One for a year?
Andersson: "For me, aerodynamics is the most important thing in Formula One."
DC: So what do you think can be further improved on the car?
Andersson: "Aerodynamics is still, I think, our weakest area. There can be some small improvement through mechanical testing, maybe, but where we can gain a lot is aerodynamics."
From the outside it can appear that the team is run as a corporation rather than a racing team, with an increased management structure announced at the new car's launch earlier this year. Andersson agrees, noting that it's the Japanese way of doing things, and it is something that he has become used to over the year. This approach is at odds with most of the paddock, which has traditionally had one or two people at the top, allowing for a faster turn around of ideas. "This is something that we will have to see," Andersson comments, laughing, "and I wouldn't like to make a statement in the press about this - I might have my own opinions on this, but I keep them to myself!"
The San Marino Grand Prix on Sunday saw the team bring both cars across the finish line for the first time this year - a clear sign that progress was being made, although no points were forthcoming. The team was not changing their focus for the year just yet. "I think our target has to be the one we started with," Andersson affirmed after the Imola race. "Okay, we have failed in the first three races, but we have a new aero package coming for Barcelona which should give us some tenths. We looked at it in the wind tunnel, and we will try it in reality next week.
"So come to Barcelona and if we haven't changed there, then I suppose we can back down from [the statements we made] when we launched the car."
On Friday in Barcelona the drivers brought back the team's best qualifying performance ever - fourth and sixth - with Panis maintaining his sixth place on the grid in the following day's qualifying session. Da Matta was less lucky, only managing 13th on the grid, which Toyota's team manager Ange Pasquali attributed to massive oversteer picked up on his hot lap.
Pasquali has been with Toyota for over ten years, working in team management on the WRC and Le Mans projects as he moved up the ranks and becoming the general manager of the logistics department in 1997, which meant that a large part of the responsibility of building the F1 programme and facilities fell on his shoulders. The Corsican's enthusiasm for team is obvious - it's been such a big part of his life for so long now - and he was only too happy to talk at length about where he felt the team was headed, on a stiflingly hot Saturday after qualifying, fielding phone calls from Carlos Sainz and juggling queries from the team as he did so.
"We have worked a lot, and we have overcome a lot of problems, but it is never enough and you always pick up new problems," Pasquali begins. "This is the building up of experience. But we still have a lot of to do, because Formula One is a world which is moving extremely quickly, and this is something you have to always bear in mind. We have cured some problems but we still have to improve on Fridays - we have to be quicker in [finding] the correct set up on Fridays, and this comes with experience, especially when now Free practice is only one hour.
"So this very important - we have a young team but people are pretty switched on. I have to say that at the moment we have done four Grands Prix, and of these four GPs we had four times the correct strategy. We were not perfect - because we weren't quick enough or we had problems, like fuel feed or other problems - but at least we know we got it right, and this is quite encouraging for the future because we hope that when we've got the speed that everything is going to match together and we're going to come out with something nice."
Along with everyone else, Pasquali points to the car's engine as its strongest asset. "I think the engine has improved a lot," he confirms. "The engine department is very strong, and (engine department general manager) Luca Marmorini is really on top of everything. So it has improved a lot, and the drivers are very happy. Okay, last year there were different drivers, so this year it is difficult for them to compare in a race condition, but according to the winter test they are quite happy with the engine - the evolution has been good."
The aerodynamics are clearly the weakest point of the car, but Pasquali sees strong progress in this area over the team's short history. "The aerodynamics is a big improvement," he states. "If you compare last year and this year, it's night and day. I think our aero department is doing a good job. Of course, as I said, Formula One is a fast world, and you're never quick enough in terms of new parts and new ideas, you're never quick enough. But we're satisfied at the moment; at least we're on the right direction."
And the progress Toyota has made in such a short period is remarkable, although the lack of points was clearly a worry for the team. On Saturday at Barcelona everyone at Toyota was looking forward to the race, and Pasquali summed up their expectations: "We want to be in the top eight at the end and to score that first point. In fact, I think it wouldn't be unrealistic to say a top six finish… A top six would be plausible, would be reasonable. But a top eight will be already a big satisfaction because it means we will come back to the factory with something to give to our people."
This is something that everyone at the track comes back to: bringing back some points to the factory to help them improve their morale, to give them something to have faith in. "I think the morale is good," Pasquali notes, "because people see it boiling in the pot - it is there. So the morale is good because this keeps the people excited. Of course we were disappointed after Australia, after Malaysia, after Brazil, but this is instantaneous disappointment - when we are back at the airport it's finished, because we are already into the next race."
DC: What do you think Toyota is aiming for at the end of the year?
Pasquali: "Well to be honest the cherry on the cake for this year would be our first podium - getting a top three once. That would be a real achievement for us." DC: And if this podium was to happen, where would it be most likely?
Pasquali: "Well, I don't know where it would be, because it is difficult to make estimation, but as soon as possible would be fantastic! Otherwise, I think Monza could be the place."
DC: Because it's a power circuit?
Pasquali: "Yes - Monza could be one of those, and Hockenheim shouldn't be bad either. I would have said Spa, but it's not on the calendar anymore. And why not Suzuka? Of course, Suzuka would be fabulous because it would be at home, but if it could happen earlier it would be nice as well. Either way, at the moment we have to concentrate on keeping the line, you know, and stay within the line, which is the line of the learning curve, and make sure that we correct at every Grand Prix the mistakes we have made in the one before."
Toyota indeed are learning from their mistakes. For example, the fuel feed problems of the first two races have been solved. And with both cars making it to the finish in Imola - and both drivers putting an impressive performance in Friday's qualifying - expectations were running high at the Toyota Spanish motorhome come Saturday afternoon.
"We were very happy with Friday's qualifying times," enters Richard Cregan, general manager of Toyota's F1 operations, "because Friday's more a true reflection of the car's performance than Saturday, since everyone is preparing for the race and you never really know. So yesterday we were really pleased - we had a few things to sort out because we had a new aero package on the car, and we were trying different things and working closely with the factory. But by yesterday afternoon obviously we were very happy, especially with Cristiano's performance, because it was good for him to finally outpace Olivier. So psychologically as well it was really good."
Cregan has been with Toyota Motorsport since 1984, working his way through the ranks of the various programs the team has run from his start as a mechanic to becoming the right hand man for Andersson, and it's clear that he loves the company that took him from his native Ireland to Germany, and which has been his home for almost two decades. His day job is to essentially maintain communication channels through the company, and with over 600 employees this is no mean feat. This means, though, that race weekends could essentially be seen as a sort of break, a chance to weigh up the achievements of the team so far and how they can improve.
"I think you have to look at our car overall as a package," Cregan begins. "Our engine is very, very strong. I think we have a lot of work to do on our suspension, and our aero is the biggest area for improvement, because of the amount of work you need to be doing just to keep up with everybody else. There's still a lot of potential in the car for the aero side, and I think by the next couple of races we'll hopefully see that."
A vital aspect of any modern F1 team is the work process, running new parts through the factory. It's not a sexy subject in comparison to the on track activities, but one that Cregan sees as essential to the team. "That's where we have to improve," he states. "I said this in the beginning, when we started with the team two years ago: if you want to be successful in Formula One you have to maximise that ten-day period between races. You need to be able to go back on a Sunday night after the race and literally have something new going on the car the following Friday, whether it be aero or a suspension part or something like that.
"We're not doing that as yet, but that's what we have to achieve. Because if you don't achieve that you're not going to be a winner, or at least you're not going to be a sustainable winner - you might win the odd Grand Prix, but I think to get up there with the other top teams, like Ferrari or Williams or McLaren, and be consistently good, then I think that's where the effort to reach is enormous. And by far we haven't reached that yet."
He's very direct on what needs to be done within the team to reach this point: "I think we're probably weak on the technical side, in the sense of having only one direction. I think we need to work on that. We need to improve our approach, our development. But we recognise this, which is the first step to getting it right, and we've made some changes in the company as to how we do things. And we're seeing the benefit of it now."
Given his position in the company, Cregan is ideally placed to comment on the perceived top heaviness of the management structure within the team. "Yeah, I think if you compare us to probably any of the other Formula One teams the words 'top heavy' does come to mind," he smiles. "But I think you have to bear in mind that we're in a transition period at the moment - we went through a lot of changes at the end of last year, and then (Toyota Motorsport president) John Howett came on board at the beginning of this year, and so obviously John has to have time to come in and review everything to see where he's going with the team. He's already started to do a lot of constructive changes within the company to make us more efficient.
"I also think that what makes us a little bit top heavy is, obviously, being affiliated with TMC. You're obviously going to have a big input [from the mother company] to see what we're doing, because we're spending their money, and so they have to keep an eye on things. I think we're probably top heavy in the sense of pure management, but when it comes to technical ability or technical management, that's an area we have to work on, and I think we're probably weak there."
Which is an obvious dilemma for a young team such as Toyota: it is better to go on a shopping spree and pull in staff from the other teams, or to build up from within? The only high-profile member of staff to come from another team is chief designer Gustav Brunner, who was lured away from Minardi among much acrimony and threat of lawsuits.
"Well we're certainly trying to build people up from within," Cregan comments. "We feel that that's the way to build success in the long term. You will always have to review what kind of ability you need to bring from the outside - that's always under review - but I think that if you want to be successful long term then you have to build success within the company, and what John is trying to do at the moment is to work from within, with the people that we have, and then obviously in the case of necessity to bring in knowledge from outside the company."
It's a difficult balance to find - any new team will take time to work well together, but at the same time there is undoubtedly pressure from the team's parent for success. "I think we're faced with a paradox in that sense," Cregan confirms. "We want to build a home-grown F1 team, while Japan wants success as soon as possible. Those things are running in parallel, and it's a matter of how you manage it, and the perspective of the media outside, and at the same time what we're expecting from ourselves and the length of time we think it's going to take.
"Formula One is a tough business, and I think so far we haven't done too badly. We're only in our second season, but the expectations have certainly risen this year - you can feel it - and obviously by the end of the season we're going to have to provide continuous results."
DC: How is Cristiano fitting in? Is he up to speed with everything as far as the team is concerned?
Cregan: "Yes, no problem. He's very good, and there's a very good relationship between himself and Olivier - I think in many ways Olivier has been his mentor into F1, and he's helped him a lot, a lot more certainly than he would need to [help] in a normal situation - and this has paid dividends because now they're working very close together on the car, and that's helping us as a team as well."
DC: With a new driver there is a period where you have to see if you can trust his testing feedback, and so on. Is he past that stage now?
Cregan: "Yeah, no problem. I mean, in the beginning obviously he had to adapt to Formula One, and Olivier helped him do that. Obviously he's a very talented driver - that we know, or he wouldn't be here - but now he's really come into his own. I feel this weekend might be the start of his Formula One career as such, because he has outpaced Olivier, he has done very well. And the other thing you have to remember is that he's never driver on all the other circuits before, except maybe in Brazil, and so this Grand Prix is an acid test for him as well." DC: Although he's had the pace in the races, it didn't seem to come in qualifying, and that seems to be turning around a little bit for him now.
Cregan: "Yeah, I think the big thing with qualifying is, you know, whereas in the past you had your twelve laps, so you had basically four chances at a good lap, and then you were able to tune your car, tune your suspension, work on your tyres, but now it's basically you get one shot at it, and the guys have to be physically and psychologically ready, and that's not always the case with a lot of the drivers. I think we're working on that as well, the same as a lot of other teams, in how to prepare the drivers for this one-lap qualifying."
Cregan agrees with Pasquali that the power circuits will be an advantage for the team, but he suggested that there could be some surprises in store over the season. "Well we made a lot of comments last year, and it ended up that the tracks that we thought we were going to be weak on, we were strong on" Cregan laughs. "You know, at Monaco last year we had a great run with Allan [McNish], and I think Olivier, having won there in the past, is very strong there. Our car at the moment is maybe weaker than we'd like in the aerodynamic area, so maybe we can do something in places like Monaco or Montreal, I don't know. But we want to be regularly finishing in the points wherever we go - that's our target.
"I mean, we certainly have the same goals, where we want to be a regular points finisher this year, and you know, we want to fight for a podium position - that's our big target this year, and still is - we haven't changed that. We've reviewed how we're approaching it, and we have changed a few things along that line, but the target's still the same."
The acid test of Barcelona was a success - Cristiano da Matta brought home three points for his run home to sixth place, and Panis was unlucky not to have brought some more back to the team. When da Matta walked back to the team's motorhome the other Toyota members surrounded him, clapping him on the back and hugging him like a family would do to a son who had done well in his exams.
Da Matta himself was matter of fact about his achievement. "It feels good, happy - 3 points is 3 points, it gets us somewhere in the Championship," he said after the race. "Of course we need to keep on working, we need to keep on pushing - I think we've been a little bit with ups and downs in our car performance from track to track, and I hope we can continue to find consistency and just keep on working."
DC: Just how good is this car?
Da Matta: "I think the car is quite good, but we're struggling a little bit on set up from place to place. I think some times we could have arrived at some of the tracks with a better set up, but I think if the car is able to run well in Barcelona it should have been able to run well in some other places too." DC: You've had a few problems; nothing major with the car, but just things that have happened - do you think that you've got through the back of that now?
Da Matta: "Well I think if you consider the last three races, in Interlagos, Imola and here, then we didn't have - apart from pure performance problems - we didn't have any mechanical problems, we didn't have any little thing that mess up our performance. So I hope that on the reliability side we have these things sorted out, and we have to keep pushing."
DC: Do you think this changes any goals for Toyota, or for you yourself?
DaMatta: "I think it's a natural process of improvement. I think we cannot rush it. The team is only in its second year. But I think it's great to get a sixth-place finish. In fact, I'm very upset that we didn't beat the team's previous best result, but this result today happened because of our performance, it happened because we were quick, not because we were lucky or anything."
Cregan was walking around the paddock like a proud father after his first child has been born, a smile spread wide across his face, and the constant phone calls he received from various well wishers is a reminder of that too - all he needed was a large cigar to complete the picture. He was proud of the team as a whole, but particularly of da Matta.
"You know," he says, "it's ironic because I was talking to you the other day, and I was just saying that this will be the start of Cristiano's F1 career. And I really felt that, because of all the testing that he's done here. He was confident before the race, and it's great for him. A lot of people ask when a driver comes over from the USA if he's able to hack it, but Cristiano showed it today - he's able to play with the best of them.
"I don't know if you're aware that Mr Akuida is here, and Mr Toyota is here. So obviously it's points at the right time for that, you know. From that point of view it's right timing - this is our fifth race, and we kind of said to ourselves this year that we wanted to be constantly scoring points. We were pretty disappointed with the first three results mainly, and to be able to get some points after finishing in Imola, it's a step.
"So for the whole team it's a big motivation, especially since we pushed very hard to get an aero update here, which was initially meant to be introduced in Austria, so it's good for the guys in the factory as well."
Among all the partying at the Toyota motorhome, Gustav Brunner was a notable absentee, having stayed back at the factory to bring further aero improvements to the upcoming races. Still, there is plenty of work to be done. "On the high speed tracks we've certainly got the power, but we're not great in low speed corners, we're not able to carry the speed through, and I think that really sums it up for us," Cregan says.
This will be the focus of testing for the team for the remainder of the year. Toyota have a heavy testing schedule, and Ricardo Zonta has been brought in this year to help the race drivers with the workload. "Basically you're looking at every second week you're out testing," Cregan confirms, "which is a heavy schedule for the drivers. We have Ricardo as a test driver, and that's working out really well. You have to be careful not to overuse the race drivers, as you have a heavy race weekend and then they go off straight into a test.
"But now that we brought forward our aero package, we have a few other little bits and pieces up for testing, to hopefully try and help for Austria. Obviously we're working on Austria and Monaco at the same time, so we have to be sensible, but if we can consistently finish in the points in the next few races, we should try and build on it. I think if you get a result where you get a few points you just have to use it as a springboard, and if you fail to do that you lose a big opportunity to move on, really."
Clearly, Toyota are going to do just that. They have the budget, the personnel, the drivers and the equipment to push further up the grid, and it is only a matter of time before they do. On qualifying performances alone Toyota is on par with many of the more established teams on the grid, and their results in Imola and Barcelona show they are working through the reliability problems they suffered earlier in the season.
The speed was already there, and now reliability is catching up - it's only a matter of time before the big boys at the other end of the paddock will be worriedly looking in their rear view mirrors at the red and white cars from Cologne.