Interview: Hope Springs Eternal for Positive Panis

Monaco handed Olivier Panis his greatest day in Formula One seven years ago and the thrill of that lone win still drives him on.

Interview: Hope Springs Eternal for Positive Panis

Monaco handed Olivier Panis his greatest day in Formula One seven years ago and the thrill of that lone win still drives him on.

But while the 36-year-old Frenchman, a surprise winner in the rain with now-defunct Ligier in 1996, yearns to repeat the feat in Sunday's race, his hopes belong more in the realms of fantasy.

Toyota's current car is not looking like a dream machine. The oldest man on the grid was 18th in Thursday's first qualifying ahead of his Brazilian rookie teammate Cristiano Da Matta.

The only car slower than them on the tight and twisty circuit around the streets of the principality was the Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who failed to complete a lap after the engine dumped oil across the track.

The day left Panis, usually one of the sport's eternal optimists, struggling to find a positive.

"We worked really hard to improve the balance of the car but we haven't found the grip, just like the last Grand Prix in Austria," he said in an interview. "I think what we need to do is work really hard together to improve the car. I think we can.

"Some people have already improved their cars, that's why we are going a little bit backwards at the moment. I think the development of the car is not quick enough," he added.

Pressure Problems

While Toyota have scored points this season, with da Matta sixth in Spain, Panis has had five non finishes in his six starts, despite being the only driver to have outqualified his teammate in every race.

Toyota can hardly blame Panis, suspension and gearbox failures putting him out of the running in the last two races and fuel pressure problems in the first two.

Monaco is a race where drivers skim the barriers, power through hairpin corners and blast from the Mediterranean sunshine into the darkness of the tunnel. It requires faith.

"The one thing that is very important for Monaco is that you need to be confident with the car to push 100 percent," said Panis. "If we find a good balance to be confident then maybe we can have a good race because here the most important thing is to be there at the end."

It is an old racing adage that to finish first, first you have to finish. Panis, even though he believes miracles are best left for religious shrines, is proof that great things come to those who wait.

Only four cars finished in 1996 - still a Formula One record - and the race was stopped after two hours on the 75th of 78 scheduled laps.

"It was a long time ago," said Panis. "I have great memories but now I really want to do it again, that's why I stay in Formula One and why I am so motivated to win again.

"I think it is every driver's dream to win Monaco. It is such a special circuit, such a special atmosphere. It is so difficult. If you win, you feel you have made a big effort. Everybody wants to win this one.

"You need to compromise, to be confident and to be at the finish. It is not easy to do it, really."

Panis, now the only French driver left in Formula One, says his affection for the tiny principality has its limits.

"I like the place, particularly at race time, but to live here all season is not my way," he said. "I pay French tax. There is no point living here in a small apartment and paying French tax. I live in Grenoble and have a big house."

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