Sepang technical insight with Pascal Vasselon

Panasonic Toyota Racing heads for the heat and humidity of Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix and round two of the 2008 FIA Formula 1 World Championship this weekend. Pascal Vasselon gives us some technical insight.

Can you explain the challenges of the new regulations for the 2008 season?
"Our preparation was speeded up by introducing an interim car at the end of 2007. The first thing to concentrate on was the four-race gearbox, which we wanted to put as much mileage on as possible. We had a target of 2,500km with the first gearbox, and it went smoothly. The second thing was the new standard Electronic Control Unit (ECU). To meet the demands of the four-race gearbox the design items have a long lead time and so if you face a problem you have to fix it early to produce the new parts for the start of the season. With the standard ECU we also wanted to be able to run early, understand the system and fix any bugs, and we are still fixing bugs. We also had to work on the driver aids ban of course. The combination of ensuring reliability as well as learning the systems was a lot of work."

What was Timo Glock’s gearbox issue in Melbourne qualifying that cost him five places on the grid?
"It was not related to the hardware. It was connected with the control system, a consequence of the standard ECU. It’s quite complex in terms of settings and we are still in the learning process. I think several teams have had a similar kind of issue to us with various systems and it is certainly the type of issue that we would not have had with our own system, because we knew it so well."

A lot of people went off the road in Melbourne, including Timo; was that the lack of driver aids?
"Perhaps part of it was just typical Melbourne. It used to be a bit like that in Austria too, at Zeltweg, where you were used to seeing cars spinning. I think the major contributor is the low grip characteristics of Albert Park. Certainly it has been amplified by the fact that the drivers have to be more sensitive with the throttle."

Normally we see it on Friday in Melbourne but less so once the circuit rubbers in, but it seemed to continue throughout the weekend this time?
"For sure, the likelihood of mistakes now is just higher. On a good lap the performance drop without driver aids is not much but there is a greater risk of mistakes the longer that people run."

Do you think the cars looked more spectacular on the track without driver aids?
"The feedback I got, because I don’t spend a lot of time looking at the TV pictures when I am studying data during the sessions, is that the cars are more spectacular. That’s what we want and it looks as if it’s going to be good."

Were you been happy with the pace of the TF108 in Melbourne?
"I think we had a few surprises with the relative performances of the cars but all-in-all in terms of our relative positions in qualifying and our pace in the race it went as expected, although obviously we are not happy at all with a double retirement in the first race of the season. I think in qualifying there was some disappointment we were not closer to the front-running cars but both cars looked quite competitive in the race. It was just a shame we had the battery problem with Jarno’s car when he was looking sure to finish in the points close to the podium. Timo performed well in the race after a double contact at the first corner and he showed a decent race pace until his final accident. We will never know how much the car had been damaged at the start. He did a good job overall. He has not raced in Formula 1 since his limited program in 2004 and to qualify ninth was a very good effort and he was consistent in the race."

With the lack of driver aids, will we see lots of differences from circuit to circuit. For instance are there are a lot of braking zones and low grip areas in Melbourne compared to Malaysia?
"Yes. In Melbourne we met some issues concerning braking stability and downshifting which we have not seen so far in testing. That was specific to Albert Park’s low grip, which makes the car balance globally more inconsistent. But we are looking forward to Malaysia because in terms of grip and tire warm-up is a totally different circuit. Normally there are no grip issues in Malaysia, the warming up is there and so you are really dealing with the quality of the car, whereas in Melbourne there can be grey areas. Malaysia can be a better indicator of car performance."

Will there be anything new on the car in Malaysia?
"No. The timing, with just a week between the races and the trip schedule to the other side of the globe, does not allow it." Source Toyota

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