The Panasonic Toyota Racing team had a mixed year in 2003, with many highs, and also a fair few lows. Here president of Toyota Motorsport, John Howett looks back on the season just gone - their second in F1, reflecting on the performance of the drivers' and also the team as a whole. He also looks ahead to 2004 - with production of the team's TF104 car already underway...

Q:
John [Howett], how would you rate progress of Panasonic Toyota Racing this year?
John Howett:
I am pleased with the year but not really satisfied. We want to get to the sharp end of the pit lane, but that takes time. We know in which direction we should be heading and we have built firmer foundations this season, which we can build upon for 2004. Generally, we have seen some impressive performances from the whole team this year, particularly in qualifying, but the race results have been elusive.
Q:
What are your thoughts on Cristiano [da Matta]'s performance this season?
JH:
Cristiano has performed exceptionally well in his rookie year. He has a very strong mental character, which he has displayed on numerous occasions this season. When we have had problems, he is able to simply get out of one car, get into the T-car and push to the limit with no complaints. He's totally focused and very stable. His biggest setback this year has been lack of knowledge of many of the circuits on the calendar, but he will be on a level playing field with everybody else next season, so I am sure he will make great strides in 2004.
Q:
How have Olivier [Panis] and Cristiano gelled in their first season with the team?
JH:
Olivier has lots of F1 experience and technical know-how and Cristiano is still learning. They have worked well together, there has been a good atmosphere and that has been positive for the team. They are good motivators and they deliver the speed when we can get the car in its sweet spot. I'm very happy with the job they have done for us this year, but I'm sure that next year will be even better.
Q:
Did any races particularly impress you this season?
JH:
Early in the season, we lost the opportunity to pick up what would have been valuable championship points, but as always at the start of the year, it is possible to take advantage of others misfortune. The first race in which we demonstrated our real potential was for me in Barcelona. This was also the first track of which Cristiano had prior experience, and he really came showed what he can do. Throughout the season we had flashes of real competitiveness, like qualifying in Indy, the race result in Hockenheim and being P1 in the practice sessions in Brazil, N?rburgring and Hungary.
Q:
What are realistic targets for next year?
JH:
You can never tell, but the ambition for us is to become a top team as soon as possible. I think that whatever the results are, we need to be able to fight with the top four or five teams. It doesn't mean to say that's where we need to qualify or finish, but we need to demonstrate that we can push them. This year we are beginning to hang onto their tails, if not consistently. Next year we've got to be more consistent and try to mix it at the top.
Q:
What about your personal highs and lows for the year?
JH:
I'm more involved in running the organisation at the factory in Cologne, so the priority is more about how we cope with the problems we face during the race weekends. It's about how we react and come out making the right decisions and how well people are working together. It is a constant learning curve, so you don't, therefore, put your finger on one particular high but you get satisfaction out of seeing the organisation mature over time.
Q:
When you are in charge of a manufacturer's programme, are regulation changes just before the season starts worrying?
JH:
I really don't think that last-minute regulation changes are worrying. As long as there is some indication and some stability, it's reasonable. You just have to accept the changes and get on with it. They are the same for everyone and I don't think it matters that much. I think we sometimes focus too much on ourselves instead of looking at the public. What we are here for is to perform and to deliver good motor racing. Formula 1 needs to be good, with people enjoying it.
Q:
What is the plan for the winter? How is the TF104 progressing?
JH:
Everyone at Toyota Motorsport in Cologne is actively working on preparations for next season. We must first investigate and debrief the 2003 season to determine our approach for next year, but production of the TF104 is already well underway. Just because one season is finished does not mean we can rest on our laurels. F1 development is ongoing and accordingly so too is our work at the factory. We are determined for better things in 2004, and will do all we can to make significant steps up the championship ladder next year.

 

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