Panasonic Toyota Racing has today launched its contender for the 2003 FIA Formula 1 World Championship to around 400 of the world's media at Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France.
The TF103 car is an evolution of last season's TF102, rather than an innovative or radical new design. It is lighter, generates more downforce and has greater aerodynamic efficiency than its predecessor. The TF103 is the product of a design group led by Gustav Brunner and co-ordinated by Keizo Takahashi.
"We have made gains with this car in every area," says Chief Designer Brunner. "I hope that we have come up with a good compromise between building a fast car, but also a reliable one. That is the challenge in Formula 1."
The team has already gathered a lot of information about the TF103, thanks to an intermediary version of the TF102, denoted the TF102B, which has run since September with the 2003-spec engine and seven-speed gearbox.
The RVX-03 V10 engine is both lighter and more powerful than the 2002 RVX-02. It has been designed and produced in-house by a technical team overseen by Luca Marmorini. "We have already tested the RVX-03 in the TF102B interim car and we have already a good feeling about progress made," says Marmorini. "The priority was to reduce the weight of the engine, but at the same time maintain the reliability of last season's RVX-02."
Some structural changes have taken place within the Cologne-based team, which is common practice in the post-season period in F1. The purpose of these changes is to increase the general efficiency of the team's operations as part of Toyota's corporate philosophy of continuous improvement (Kaizen).
Managing Director of Toyota Motor Corporation, Tsutomu Tomita, remains Chairman of Toyota Motorsport, whilst Ove Andersson moves up to the role of Vice-Chairman of the company to assist him. Andersson will concentrate his work at the track, continuing as Team Principal of Panasonic Toyota Racing. British-born John Howett assumes the position of Toyota Motorsport President and will focus on the factory-based business of the team.
"We have re-aligned people's roles rather than made an outright change to the management structure of the team," says Tomita. "We have reflected on what we learnt in year one and we have implemented these changes in order to progress with our F1 challenge with the most efficient structure possible."
Also new for 2003 are race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta.
Olivier joins the team with nine seasons of Formula 1 experience, including one victory. His experience will prove invaluable to the team as it learns about the TF103 and the revised F1 regulations, which includes a notable revision of the qualifying session.
"I have been incredibly impressed with what I have found at Panasonic Toyota Racing," says Panis. "All the basic ingredients are in place for the team to make a big jump up the grid in 2003, but for me to comment further on how much progress we can make, I need to test the new car. Even then we will have to wait until Melbourne to discover where we are in relation to our competitors."
Cristiano da Matta has been a Toyota driver for four years, having raced with a Toyota engine in the American CART series. The 29-year-old Brazilian won the drivers' championship title in 2002 with seven victories and took Toyota to its first manufacturers' title.
His arrival in F1 marks the start of an exciting chapter with Toyota. "I achieved one dream by winning the CART championship in 2002," he says. "Now I have the fresh challenge of Formula 1. I don't want to make any predictions just yet, but driving in F1 is fantastic and, while F1 cars are similar to what I'm used to in the slow-speed corners, they are much faster in the quick corners."
The team also used the occasion of its car launch to announce Ricardo Zonta as its third driver for the 2003 season. The 26-year-old Brazilian drove in 32 Formula 1 GP between 1999 and 2001 and won the 2002 World Series by Nissan.
In its maiden season last year, Panasonic Toyota Racing picked up two world championship points, qualified in the top 10 on 9 occasions and achieved 18 race finishes, exceeding expectations and earning the team respectability in Formula 1.
The team begins 2003 testing in earnest at Circuit Paul Ricard on 9 January with Olivier Panis at the wheel of the TF103, whilst Cristiano da Matta will run in the TF102B, intensively preparing for the first race of the season in Australia on 9 March. The team has set higher targets for its second season, but remains realistic in terms of its approach.
"I would like to see us challenging competitively for points on a regular basis in 2003," says Team Principal, Ove Andersson. "It is an ambitious target, but we have to aim high this year because we are no longer the new kids on the block. It is what everyone expects from Toyota as the world's third largest car manufacturer and we will do our utmost to achieve this goal."