McNish must work faster, says Salo

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The virtual world of Formula One has turned into reality for Toyota here and now the harshness of the environment is beginning to bite.

For the first time Toyota, Grand Prix racing's newest team, are testing alongside the other world championship contenders and the scale of their task is taking on a meaningful dimension.

Mika Salo, Toyota's senior driver, is among the minority of the team's personnel familiar with the high intensity of Formula One. The other driver, Scotland's Allan McNish, has enjoyed success in sports cars, notably at Le Mans, but at 32 has yet to make his debut in Formula One and Salo is administering the benefit of his seven years' experience at this level.

The Finn said: "Allan is great to work with, but he has got to learn to work fast. He's used to driving for a two-hour stint and then talking to his engineer for two hours. It's not like that in Formula One. He's very good technically, but he has to explain the feedback faster. He's got to stop thinking and act."

The season opens in Melbourne, on 3 March, and Salo hopes that by then McNish and the rest of the team will be prepared for the tight schedules of a Grand Prix weekend.

Salo said: "In Australia, Allan will learn very quickly that he has got to be on it. He will have to bring his briefing down from two minutes to 30 seconds if he wants things to be done in time. It's the same with the team. I have had to bite my tongue because I have to recognise there are a lot of inexperienced people here."

McNish, 32, acknowledged this is a step into the unknown, but believes he will be attuned to the demands come the first race. He drove the car here for two days before resuming test duties at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France.

He said: "Since the launch of the car the interest has gone up to another level and now we are at the business end of things. It's hard to say how it will pan out from a personal point of view. Mika is very experienced and very quick. I realise I've got to learn a little about the Formula One business, but I'm ready to go."

Only 10 per cent of Toyota's 55-strong racing team have previous Formula One experience. Most of the mechanics arrived here from sports cars and rallying. The planning for this venture has been meticulous. Pit stops have been practised twice daily at the factory. But nothing, they can see, can properly prepare them for the job they now confront.

Richard Cregan, Toyota's F1 general manager said: "You can practise all you like, but that is completely different from doing it under pressure of race day, with the world watching and knowing that half a second really makes a difference. That is something that you can't simulate.

"Our mechanics are highly skilled, but Formula One is a different discipline. We know they can do the job, but the first race will be something of a shock to the system. We have to be on our toes right from the start. The key thing in Australia will not be so much the drivers as how we gel and perform as a team.

"There is no pressure on us for instant results, but Toyota is putting its reputation on the line and we need to produce for them sooner rather than later."

Salo believes an early breakthrough will provide the team with the assurance to underpin their season. He said: "There is usually a high rate of attrition at the first race so if we can finish we could get into the points. It would be great to get a good result early because that would give the whole team a psychological boost.

"It would mean such a lot to the people at the factory. They have been working on the project for three years and seen nothing for their efforts. It would be fantastic for them to have something to show for it."