Ricardo Zonta Q&A

A couple of years ago Ricardo Zonta was the next big thing, but at the moment the 24-year-old Brazilian is in a career limbo. Like fellow McLaren and Mercedes protégé Nick Heidfeld, he's suddenly become a little unfashionable, mainly because Jenson Button has moved the goalposts in terms of what the F1 world expects from newcomers.

Ricardo Zonta Q&A

FIA F3000 champion in 1997, FIA GT champion with Mercedes the following year, and highly-rated as an F1 test driver, Zonta seemed set for stardom when he joined the ambitious British American Racing project in 1999. However, the year proved to be a disaster even for the never-say-die Jacques Villeneuve, and Zonta - learning about Grand Prix racing and hampered by an early season injury - had a difficult time.

This year the car and engine package is much more competitive, but while Jacques has began to appear at the sharp end of the field, the Brazilian is still struggling to make an impression. He finished sixth in the high attrition race in Australia after Mika Salo was excluded, and outqualified Jacques with a promising eighth at his home race. In Spain last weekend he again followed Salo home in a respectable eighth place. However, overall it's been a disappointing season so far, and the monster testing shunt after a suspension failure at Silverstone certainly hasn't helped. A driver doesn't lose his natural ability overnight, but if he loses that all-important career momentum, it's hard to regain it. Adam Cooper spoke to the man from Curitiba.

Q: First of all, how did your weekend go in Barcelona?
"We tested the week before, and we changed the balance of the car a lot. When we came for the race weekend everything was completely different from the test. We kept the car the same because we believed it was the track, but the track didn't change before Saturday, so we were a little bit delayed on set-up. We found a direction in qualifying only on the last set of tyres, but it was too late. I started very well, and I think I made up for the problem I had in qualifying. It is really difficult to overtake, and I couldn't get closer to Salo, because you lose too much downforce. I was trying to save the tyres and save fuel. We stopped a little bit earlier and we lost some time because we put more fuel in for the second stint, and he had a really fast stop. In the end I caught him again; the difference was eight seconds, and in the end it was less than 0.7s. I think it was a great race for me. The problem is that I cannot qualify the car in the top 10, but I can race in the top 10."

"Sometimes in qualifying I've chosen the wrong tyres. In Australia I chose the hard tyres. I think Brazil was a great one, where I found a good balance of the car. Imola was my first time there, and I couldn't qualify very well. At most tracks I'm having some problems with the balance for qualifying. If I could improve that it would be a lot better in the races."

"We have good support from Honda. When we want more power they try to improve. They push the team, they try to look at the problems and try to help. The chassis has some improvements, but not that much compared with last year. The biggest thing is the engine. The new engine we have now is very good in qualifying. In testing at Jerez Honda want to try another step which is going to help in the races."

"Of course he is the first driver and has more support than me, but if I cannot show my potential in qualifying, how can I say I am faster than him? I should improve my qualifying and then I should be at the same level as him."

"Yes. When we come to the weekend I never do tests for qualifying. Maybe I need to risk a little bit more for qualifying, because the balance for full tanks is one thing, and low fuel is another."

"Jacques drives with a lot of understeer, and for me it's too much. I tried to play with his set-up last year, but I did not find any solution for the understeer."

"Frustrating! I had a lot of motivation in myself to have a good result that weekend, and before qualifying I had this accident. If it had been qualifying, it wouldn't have been so bad! I was in the hospital just watching the TV, and I was not very happy. The problem was I broke three bones. I came to Barcelona, and it was bad for me because Jacques qualified the car very well! He was good at Imola too, so the best two races the car had, I didn't have the opportunity to drive."

"Yes of course. If I don't have any good results or show my potential now, how can I be in this team or go in another team?"

"Yes. But I'm putting my own pressure on myself, so I need to find out where the problem is in qualifying."

"It happened very fast! It was unbelievable. It was in the morning, it was the third lap, and at the end of the straight I lost the front wheel, and came straight to the barrier. I couldn't believe it."

"Of course it's difficult when you come to a fast track like Barcelona. I was not confident enough in the fast corners, because I've had three big crashes already. I think for the next races like Nurburgring and Monaco will be OK, but in Spain I had a little bit of a problem in the fast corners. However, I did improve a lot."

"Sometimes, yes."

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