Frenchman Olivier Panis moved to Panasonic Toyota Racing last year, here he talks about his first season with the Cologne based squad, the highs and lows, the TF103 and loads, loads more. Enjoy...

Q:
Olivier [Panis], the 2003 F1 season is now over. How would you assess the Toyota TF103 - it's strengths and weaknesses?

Olivier Panis:
I have to say that the first time I tested the car I was very impressed by the potential compared with last year's car. I think we were happy during the winter tests, looking competitive - better aero, better mechanics, better engine. For me the weak point has been the inconsistency during the season. At some places we were quick and some places we were not, but I think we have learned a lot and have some good pointers for next year. The engine is one of the best I have ever driven, and I hope with the new rules next year that say we have to use just one engine over three days, we can maintain the power output and keep the reliability.

Q:
Has the car achieved what you thought or did you expect better results?

OP:
I think what we didn't achieve is to translate the competitiveness of the car into good points-scoring results. Many things happened to show we were quite quick but then we had some hard times, like Imola, Monaco and Austria, but everybody in the team worked very hard to improve the car and show we were on the right path. We managed to improve the car a lot during the season. If people say we were quick during the winter tests but then didn't prove ourselves, it's true, but for a variety of reasons. Did I expect better race results? Yes, of course, but I think we demonstrated that the car was quick and that we have the potential for future seasons. What we achieved in Hockenheim with Cristiano da Matta and me in the top six was what we should have achieved in most races this year. Our qualifying performance was very encouraging. In only two races, did we not have a TF103 in the top ten on the grid, and in Indianapolis and Suzuka we qualified on the second row. For a team in its second season, this sort of performance is highly commendable.

Q:
You have a lot of experience of different F1 cars, where would you put the TF103?

OP:
On occasions this year, the TF103 has really impressed me and it has looked highly competitive, for example at Barcelona, Indy, and Silverstone. You sometimes feel really good pushing to the maximum but you don't know why you are a little bit away. It is something that we have to work on and improve over the winter, but I expect next year's TF104 to be capable of scoring points regularly, and who knows what else could come?

Q:
Was the team's strong performance at the Spanish GP the result of a lot of testing at the Barcelona circuit?

OP:
Our success in Spain was not entirely down to the fact that we tested a lot there. It is more relative to the circuit and the overall package - the aerodynamics you have and the stability of the car. I tell you, when I see the resources we have, the factory we have and the people we have, we can definitely improve all the time. It is unbelievable everything Toyota has done this season - not just at Barcelona.

Q:
How did you find left-foot braking for the first time this year?

OP:
Well, this is very bizarre because I never used my left foot for many years, particularly for heavy braking, but this year I didn't have any choice, due to the tightness of the cockpit around the pedals, with the room needed for the steering column. I am using it now and at the end of the year I feel like I've driven for 10 years like this. I don't have any complaints about it. Of course I did karting, which is left-foot braking, but then in F3 I was braking with my right foot because you had a clutch. It seemed more natural to use the right but this year, as I say, there was no choice. I needed 10 laps and then I felt like I'd been doing it all the time.

Q:
Looking back at the season, what were your personal highs and lows?

OP:
I feel frustrated not to have scored more points because we had the chance to. But on the other hand I'm positive about the job we did as a team. We pushed hard in qualifying and worked really well with the new rules for most of the time. From the speed point of view I'm quite happy. It's never enough until you win a race but I think we are heading in a good direction. The most disappointing race was Indianapolis, when we'd qualified extremely well in third and then we made the wrong pit call. As soon as I went out on wet tyres and realised the rain was not getting heavier, I knew any chance of a good result was all over.

Q:
Is it easier to make progress with a car over the winter or during the season?

OP:
When I compare to some teams I have driven with before, I feel that Toyota has made a big improvement during this season. I think that after Silverstone where we had the new aero package, we have been trying to improve all the time, working really hard with Ricardo [Zonta] too, and I think what we have achieved during the season is impressive.

Q:
Looking at the team overall, where can the most progress be made?

OP:
I think everybody has learned a lot and the team stability is improving. We still need to improve a lot but everybody is pushing towards it. The work of the team at the track and at the factory in Cologne has been one of the things that have impressed me most about Toyota.

Q:
How long does it take to establish a good working relationship with a team?

OP:
For me, the relationship I have with the team was good right from the first test. But, of course, I have been in the business a long time and I knew my race engineer Humphrey Corbett from Prost. But in general we had a big welcome from the team and worked closely straight away. That included Cristiano when he arrived. Toyota is still young and I think that taking two new drivers was okay for 2003, but to mount a challenge to the top teams in the upcoming years, I think that stability within the team is important.

Q:
What do you think of F1's new rules?

OP:
Sometimes we were lucky because the weather conditions helped mix it up in conjunction with the new rules. But I think they still work anyway, really. One lap qualifying really is tough but it's good fun too. It is never easy to produce the perfect lap, but when you have only one chance it adds pressure for sure. And for the spectators the race has mixed grids, cars that are quite close, different winners. It's good for everyone.

Q:
What can be done to improve the F1 show. And does it need to be improved?
OP:
We have had a terrific season, but if we have more cars fighting in the top six next year maybe it can be even more fun for everybody, ourselves included.

Q:
What is a realistic target for 2004?

OP:
I think the target for us is to be consistent and score points constantly. Basically to take any opportunity we have. I am reluctant to set any specific targets until the new car, the TF104, is ready in January.