Q and A with Panasonic Toyota Racing President John Howett
How do you assess the season so far for Panasonic Toyota Racing?
The start to the season has been quite encouraging. Over the first five races the car has been relatively quick, and we have had some positive race results. Jarno is very positive about the baseline of the TF108 while Timo has shown a lot of flashes of high performance and future potential and it is obvious he is becoming more relaxed with the car as the season progresses. However in Turkey we didn't get the result we expected and we have to fight to find more performance from the car.
What about the season in general?
I truly believe that Formula 1 is generally in very good shape, scandals excluded. People have a tendency to talk down Formula 1 but we have one of the strongest and most popular sports in the world and I think it is more competitive now than it has been for a long while. If you look at the gap between teams, it is very close this year and that is something Formula 1 should be happy about. Obviously the loss of Super Aguri was a shame but in general Formula 1 is commercially very strong; we have some of the biggest corporations in the world involved and the global reach is greater than all other sporting events, with the exception of quadrennial events such as World Cup football and the Olympics. Formula 1 may not be perfect, it certainly can be improved, but it has plenty of reasons to be positive. Perhaps more focus should be placed on this.
Is there one particular reason why Toyota's results are better this season?
Our results this season are an improvement on 2007 because the car is basically better, there is no question about that. The ideal operating window on the TF107 was small and getting the car set-up for optimum performance was difficult at a lot of tracks last year. When we got it set-up in that zone we looked pretty good, better than our results at the end of the season suggested in fact. This year's car has a much wider operating window and this helps the drivers and the engineers to get the most out of it. Both drivers saw this immediately at the Bahrain test, when they felt the car was more stable and drivable.
Is it possible for Toyota to close the gap to the top teams?
I think in Formula 1 almost everyone has very similar resources and we are all pushing hard, so closing the gap is always going to be difficult, there's no denying that. Our goal this year is to get to a higher level within the second pack and hopefully latch on to the top three teams. I actually believe the middle pack is closing up towards Ferrari, McLaren and BMW, although it is not easy. But this is the pleasure of the remorseless challenge of Formula One.
What impact do positive results have on the team members?
I believe it is a privilege to work in Formula 1 but one has to say that results make people happy and when people are happy there is a more positive general atmosphere. The work ethic of the team is as strong this year as it was last year; that has not changed and the whole team is working flat-out, as it always has done. It is perhaps more rewarding to see that hard work reflected in results but don't forget, we exist to win so although it is pleasing to see a step forward this season we still have a way to go before we are truly happy.
What are your impressions of Timo after five races?
I am really impressed with how he has performed. I think he is developing very well and his confidence is growing. We are very happy. He has shown an ability to really pull out a quick lap in qualifying, although unfortunately a car problem in Turkey ended what would have been a very good lap. We are looking forward in the next few Grands Prix to really seeing his full potential. He's got the speed, there's no doubt about that, and the results are going to come soon.
What about Jarno's season so far?
I think he has confidence in the car and he is really sparkling this year. He feels happy and has been delivering in qualifying and following that up with an extremely strong race pace. He has demonstrated that, given a competitive car, he has the capability to fight at the front -although this appears to have surprised some, it is no surprise to us. We are very pleased with his performances.
And how about Kamui, your third driver?
Kamui had a good GP2 Asia campaign and delivered some strong, fighting performances. He has had a reasonably strong start to the main GP2 Series and has already won a race, which is impressive for a driver in his first season at this level. We'll watch him and see how it goes but I think he is a serious contender to be rookie of the year. He's developing all the time and is clearly a prospect for the future.