Panasonic Toyota Racing driver Cristiano da Matta reflects on the United States Grand Prix, finishing just outside the points in ninth, and more...

"Indianapolis really suited our TF103 and I am really disappointed that neither Olivier [Panis] nor I was able to get any world championship points in the United States Grand Prix.

"The car was fast everywhere: down the long start-finish straight our engine proved how strong it is by setting competitive top speeds, and the car also handled really well through the twisty in-field section.

"Ultimately though, our weekend was to be shaped by the weather. The Friday morning session was ruined by wet-dry conditions so that none of the teams could learn much. Then, in one-lap qualifying in the afternoon, my run was ruined by the arrival of rain just as I was starting my quick lap. The car was on a knife-edge the whole time and kept jumping out of shape, but I pushed hard and was pleased with my lap time because I was only 2.3-seconds off the pole time, which was set in totally dry conditions.

"There were big thunderstorms on Friday night, which meant that the track was still wet in the first 45-minute session on Saturday morning, much as it had been on Friday morning. It was the same for everyone, but it meant that we were running just to get knowledge of the track, rather than being able to work on anything specific for second qualifying or the race.

"I remained confident for second qualifying, but during the 15-minute warm-up session, we opted to switch to the spare car because the engineers noticed a potential problem with engine overheating in my race-car. Because you are not allowed to change the car between qualifying and the race, we decided not to risk the engine for the race.

"Although the spare car was set-up for me, that only means that the pedals and seat position are already set, so the team doesn't have to lose valuable time changing them. However, no two cars are the same and I am sure I lost a few tenths in qualifying because the spare car had never turned a wheel prior to Saturday afternoon. There was nothing actually wrong, but you need ultimate confidence in the car in one-lap qualifying, and it is impossible to get that in just one lap.

"All things considered, I was very pleased with ninth position on the grid and it was great for the team to have both of its cars in the top 10. Olivier's third place showed the full potential of our car. America is a big market for Toyota, so there was nowhere better for us to put in our best combined qualifying performance of the year.

"Our race was a completely different story. When the rain started to fall in the early stages, we ran the risk of pitting early for wet tyres because we thought that the showers would gradually get heavier. Unfortunately, we were wrong and the rain eased off, forcing us to pit again soon afterwards for slicks. At this point, we were already a lap down and any chance of scoring points was very slim.

"To make the situation worse, I was then given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane, which put me two laps down and out of the points. To finish ninth with all these problems makes me wonder what I might have been able to do if I had a normal race. A strong points finish, for sure.

"We have to finish the season on a high in Suzuka in two weeks' time. We have a new specification engine for that race, so I am hopeful of a points finish, especially as it is Toyota's home race and one that should suit our TF103 car well. It'll be a great way to end my first F1 season!"

Cristiano da Matta.



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