We may be heading into the 2004 F1 season, but the Panasonic Toyota Racing team are looking a little further into the future with new technical director Mike Gascoyne predicting that the Cologne based squad will take their first victory in 2005 and the world crown soon afterwards.
"To turn the team around, that is not a challenge, I can do that,” he told the BBC. “The challenge is to make them world champions. I think it should be possible to become winners relatively quickly because Toyota do have elements in place that the other [two] teams didn't have. I want to do that very quickly so we can go on and challenge for the championship. We have to be winning races in two years' time - by 2005 - and challenge for the championship the year after."
Gascoyne, who begins his first day of work with the team today after leaving Renault, knows that the top four teams, Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault, are out of reach in terms of competitiveness in 2004, however he doesn’t think fifth place Is that unrealistic.
"Toyota are very committed to winning the world title and have taken a very measured approach. We would have to aim at being fifth," he added. "It's not about results in the first year, it's about the set-up of the team and then the results come afterwards. I do think it is realistic to aim to be fifth. Whether it's achievable, I'm not in a position to judge.”
The team will continue with the same driver combination they had in 2003, French veteran racer Olivier Panis and rookie Cristiano da Matta. Gascoyne has faith in both men’s abilities and as for their contender, the TF103 he can’t wait to add his special input and start making improvements until the ultimate goal is achieved….
“The drivers are good enough - Olivier Panis is quick and very experienced and Cristiano da Matta showed some fantastic flashes last season. The engine looks to be very good. Chassis-wise, it can be much better aerodynamically, and the car suffered during braking and on corner entry. And in terms of the team's general set-up, they were weak. When they were racing for fifth place at Indy, for example, they threw it away. I feel it's a fairly similar situation to Renault. There are good people and a lot of resources. Toyota undoubtedly have less experience but they have greater resources and greater commitment. They are behind in some areas and ahead in others. Certainly they are incredibly determined to do it. The line I received is whatever they go into in Motorsport, they don't stop until they have won it."