Celebrating Toyota F1 Racing: 2002 and Beyond
Toyota Racing will later today launch the TF109, it will be their ninth Formula One car design to be produced since the formation of the F1 program in 1999.
When it was first announced they intended to enter Formula One as a sole manufacturer of both car and engine, noises came from within the paddock that with the amount of financial backing and resources Toyota had and their relentless ambition it would only be a matter of time before they would become a major and potentially unbeatable force in the sport.
However, seven race cars and one test car on, this view has proven to be incorrect as Toyota still await their first trip to the top of the podium.
The purpose of this piece however is not to criticize what has not been done but instead look back upon what they have achieved at the top level of motor sport since their official entry at the start of the 2002 season and to thank them for their efforts in the sport, which often seem to go unnoticed. Indeed they were and are the first team since Ferrari to attempt to build both chassis and engine under one roof, they were also a completely new birth coming not out of an existing racing team like many manufactures but instead from the ground up. Toyota's F1 Program is a remarkable one that deserves recognition that so often seems reserved for outfits that often shout louder yet with less reason.
It tells you everything you need to know about Toyota racing, that since their debut they have maintained the exact same livery and a large percentage of the same commercial partners; for this is what is known as 'The Toyota way' employing the constant improvement theory of Kaizen to achieve the desired goals.
So, join me as I take a quick look back on some of the key moments, cars and people in their F1 program to date; with the online launch of the TF109 now just hours away.
2001 - Toyota's first (test) car rolls out
A primitive looking F1 design named the TF101 hit the test tracks of Europe in 2001 after Toyota deferred their official entry till 2002. The year was spent gathering data and accumulating miles that was to be put to use in the design of next years car as Toyota attempted to build up a bank of knowledge in readiness for 2002, the driver's of this test car were Mika Salo and Allan McNish
2002 - The Debut Season
Having got through a whole year of Testing the first 'real' racing car was launched in November 2001, continuity was maintained on the driving side with Salo and McNish being kept on for full race duties. The car however had been penned by newly recruited former Minardi designer Gustav Brunner and was much more sculpted in appearance than the previous test car.
The season was always expected to be a learning one with results hard to come by and so it proved, despite a point scored on debut by Mika Salo and another gained in Brazil, just the third race, that turned out to be it for the season as the points dried up completely. McNish failed to score in his only season racing in the sport and his huge crash at Suzuka in practice the final round will probably stand in history as his biggest mark on the sport as a race driver.
2003 - In Come Da Matta and Panis for 03, as well as regular points finishes
In 2003 Toyota showed signs of real progress having completely changed the driver line up of the previous year in favour of Cart champion Christiano Da Matta and Olivier Panis.
The car itself the TF103, again designed by Brunner seemed a rather lacklustre evolution on the previous years model, yet the engine improved thanks to the brains of Italian Luca Marmorini formally of Ferrari giving the team the impetus to push on.
While not a massive leap, these small changes and fresh driver pairing along with an increasing level of race craft from the whole team allowed the team to amass a total of 16 points and an 8th place in the constructors championship. The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the team temporarily running 1-2 at the British Grand Prix.
2004 - The TF104 Comes With big hopes and even bigger failures
2004 should have been a breakthrough year for Toyota, having established themselves as a points scoring team in 2003, the following year was expected to be the one in which they started to get into their stride and deliver on their undoubted promise.
The car was presented at launch, again by Brunner as a massive leap forward over its predecessor and was the result of 10 months solid design work, yet it still appeared rather simplistic and doubts were raised over the ambition shown within the design, for while other teams seemed to be getting more and more aggressive with their aerodynamics the Toyota remained rather 'boxy'.
Da Matta and Panis were retained again to drive the machine, yet almost as soon as the car hit the track the doubters were proved correct, 2004 was not to be the breakthrough season Toyota had hoped for the car was simply not quick enough and instead turned into one that would cost a number of key people their jobs.
On track results were poor yielding only a meagre 9 points as the team slid backwards. As a result Da Matta lost his drive mid season being replaced by test driver Ricardo Zonta, Gustav Brunner would also be marginalised before the season was out being virtually replaced by highly regarded Renault man Mike Gascoyne whose arrival had been planned for some time. Veteran driver Panis also announced his retirement at the end of the season and was paired with Jarno Trulli for the final few races of the season who himself had recently been fired from Renault but had signed a contract at Toyota for 2005.
All in all 2004 was a messy season of under achievement with much blood spilt in the boardroom as the team shaped up for 2005 under fresh leadership.
2005 Brings First Silverware as Gascoyne Delivers Rapid Progress
The year of 2005 will always be looked on as the year when all be it briefly Toyota showed that when they get it right they can and will be a major force in Formula One.
When Mike Gascoyne arrived in the middle of 2004 he froze all work on that years car so as to give the team the best possible chance in designing the TF105 for 2005, and it paid of spectacularly within the first three races.
For the first time in Toyota's short F1 history both men driving the cars were grand Prix winners the team having hired Ralf Schumacher to partner the early arriving Jarno Trulli. This combined with a Gascoyne's quick car and leadership skills led to two second places in the first three races for Trulli and further podiums for both men later in the season.
While Toyota eventually slipped slightly down the field as Mclaren came in to form as the season went on, it was still a remarkable upturn in form which resulted in a total of 88 points, 5 podiums, 2 poles and a 4th place in the constructors championship, the future did indeed look bright.
2006/7 - Sudden Rule Changes and infighting Halt Toyota momentum
Towards the end of the 2005 season Toyota introduced a B-spec car, especially suited to Michelin tyre characteristics, this car was to form the basis for the 2006 challenger, so when it was announced late in the 2005 season Michelin were to withdraw at the end of the season Toyota's whole development path for the TF106 was essentially ruined and this showed in the cars results throughout the 06 season.
The car was nowhere near as competitive as the 2005 model due to the last minute design compromises Michelin's withdrawal had forced upon them as Toyota failed to get to grips with the Bridgestone rubber, this in turn led to arguments at board level that led to the shock departure of the talismanic Mike Gascoyne. His Departure was absorbed within the organisation with Pascal Vasselon taking up 'head of chassis' role but this still left a massive hole in the aerodynamic department which would manifest itself in the teams results and gradual loss of performance over the next two seasons.
For 2006 Trulli and Schumacher remained, managing just 1 podium between them with a final total of 35 points. For 2007 the team remained stable in both driver's and management but the team slipped back still further gaining only 13 points, as motivation appeared to dwindle and aerodynamic upgrades failed to materialise into any kind of performance gain.
Engine Supply Deals show Toyota's commitment to F1
Not only have Toyota come in to Formula One as a Constructor who builds their own engines for themselves they have also been willing to provide customer engines at a time when other manufactures have been far less helpful.
They serve as a fine example of how a works team should operate alongside the independents, having supplied, Jordan, Midland and Williams with customer engines in recent years.
2008 - A welcome return to form
After two woeful seasons Toyota really needed to show something in 2008 and show they did. The arrival of Mark Gillian as head aerodynamicist as well as the consultancy of experienced engineer Frank Dernie gave Toyota fresh direction and the confidence to move away from their failing design path in the new design of the TF108
Vasselon, Gillian and Dernie gave the team the strong technical department and leadership that had been lacking since the departure of Gascoyne, furthermore Dernie's experience allowed the drivers to get their feedback into the 2008 car creating a car that was more 'driver friendly' than any Toyota had been for some time.
Add to this the injection of a quick young driver replacing Ralf Schumacher in Timo Glock and the whole team seemed revitalised and upbeat with Jarno Trulli slipping seamlessly into the role of team leader.
The pair amassed a total of 56 points and 2 podiums taking the team to a solid 5th in the constructor championship.
If Toyota can keep this group of people together I see no reason why they can't start to fulfil their potential and get the respect they deserve, they may not be the most glamorous but F1 would be a poorer place without them and I for one hope the TF109 is the best car Toyota have ever built. Here’s to the next 9 cars!