Panasonic Toyota Racing driver Cristiano da Matta reflects on the Italian Grand Prix, his tyre blow out at 200 mph, and more...

"On the back of a three-day test at Monza, we came to the Italian Grand Prix targeting a top ten grid slot and a top eight race finish. Despite a highly encouraging start to the weekend, the Italian Grand Prix was an ultimately disappointing race for everyone at Panasonic Toyota Racing.

"We proved early in the weekend that our TF103 was fast enough to score championship points - but we came away with nothing to show for our efforts after both myself and my team-mate Olivier Panis were forced to retire from the 53-lap race. This was only the third time this year that I have not been classified in a grand prix.

"My race only lasted for three laps after I suddenly felt a big vibration at the rear of the car and lost control of my TF103 on the lap four. There wasn't a lot I could do to prevent my car spinning into the gravel trap - luckily it wasn't any worse considering I was on a maximum speed approach to the Parabolica.

"It was very strange and difficult to say at the time exactly what caused it. The most likely explanation is that I picked up some carbon fibre debris left on the track following the incident at the back of the grid at the start of the race, which punctured my rear left tyre.

"Who knows what I could have achieved had I kept going in the race? I had only just found my rhythm when the accident happened. I didn't make a great start. I lost one place going into the first chicane, but I reclaimed my 12th place grid position after a retirement at the front end of the field. The balance of the car felt pretty good over the opening laps, so I am sure that I could have challenged for a point if I had kept going.

"I was really pleased with how my car's handling improved from Saturday to Sunday because it was quite difficult to drive during Saturday afternoon qualifying. The car was oversteery at the start of the lap, but I managed to hold it together through the two chicanes at the start of the lap. Then, at the Ascari chicane, which is at the start of the third sector, I hit the inside kerb on the way in and the back came round, losing me two or three tenths-of-a-second. If I had not made that mistake, I think my time would have been the same as Olivier's, which would have set me up well for a strong race.

"In terms of speed, my car was at its best during Friday's low-fuel qualifying run because I found a really good balance quickly in Friday morning's practice hour. I set the fourth fastest time, having driven a really tidy lap because I attacked the braking zones, but I didn't push too hard and miss my braking points. It is not often that a driver says the lap was perfect, but that was close.

"So, from the disappointment of Monza we go to our last big testing week of the season. We are running cars at both Barcelona and Jerez in Spain, testing new parts that have been designed specifically for the last two races of the year. The team's third driver Ricardo Zonta will be on testing duties in Jerez, whilst I do two days at the Catalunya circuit. Olivier will also be in action on Friday at Circuit Paul Ricard to conclude a busy testing week ahead of the remaining two races of the year in Indianpolis and Suzuka.

"I am looking forward to racing at Indy because I never raced at the track during my years in America, so it will be a nice feeling to race there - hopefully with a few points to show for it at the end of the race. I will be celebrating my 30th birthday this coming Friday and I can't think of a nicer belated birthday present!"

Cristiano da Matta.



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