Will Toyota Still Be on the F1 Grid in 2010?

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Will Toyota Still Be on the F1 Grid in 2010?
Toyota TF-109 testing in Portimao

Toyota TF-109 testing in Portimao

In the immediate aftermath of Honda’s F1 withdrawal announcement all the remaining car manufacturers including Toyota confirmed their commitment to Formula One. The December statement from Toyota however had word “currently” placed right next to word “committed”:

“Toyota is currently committed to succeeding in Formula One and to reducing our costs. We are contributing to the FOTA activities which will achieve significant cost reductions whilst maintaining the spirit of the sport. We hope FOTA’s proposals and activities will be given the widespread support they deserve as they provide the sound, stable base Formula One requires at this time.”

That already that time sounded like very carefully crafted statement stating the intent to continue in F1 but at the same time leaving the door open for possible exit. All the talk about other teams disappearing ended (temporarily) following the cost cutting measures agreed on by FIA and FOTA.

Most of the attention has turned to Honda search for new owner of their Formula One team. But then came the launch of Toyota’s 2009 challenger (TF-109) and all the funny talk surrounding it.

John Howett, Jarno Trulli and Tadashi Yamashina

John Howett, Jarno Trulli, and Tadashi Yamashina

First Jarno Trulli suggested that a race win in 2009 is necessary for Toyota’s continuing presence in F1:

“Toyota’s message has been very clear: we carry on with F1, however we all have a great responsibility to try to bring home the maiden victory, which could be decisive for the future. We need to do that in order to justify the reason to stay in F1. I won’t say it is vital, but it is very, very important nowadays.”

I admit I expected someone from Toyota to come out and dismiss any doubts about their commitment these words from Jarno Trulli might have created. But instead the team’s president John Howett said pretty much the same:

“We need a strong season. If we have a weak season we have no future. Whether we really have to win to stay is difficult to stay, but we feel we have to win. It is our desire and our passion shared by our people in Cologne. We feel we must win, and then we can cement and secure a very bright future in F1.”

The icing on the cake for me however were the words of Toyota’s team principal Tadashi Yamashina:

“Honestly speaking, we are also struggling to stay in F1. We discussed lots with the Japanese management, but fortunately Mr. (Katsuaki) Watanabe, our CEO, convinced the bosses to stay in F1. As John mentioned, Toyota are doing some cost reduction to get some better performance, but we are still alive and, from that sense, this season is very important. Even if the headquarters had some operational loss, we spend their money to fight to win a race, so it is very, very important for us to win this year.”

Not only did he confirm the importance of race win for Toyota’s survival in Formula One. He also made it clear that there were discussions in Toyota about possible pull out from F1.

Toyota guys have very little to show for the billions they probably spent on their Formula One adventure. Between 2002 and 2008 Toyota took part in 122 races, scored only one fastest lap, two pole positions, six front row starts, and eight podium finishes. The best results so far are Trulli’s second places in Malaysia and Bahrain back in 2005 and Glock’s 2nd place in Hungary last year.

It does sound like combination of the current economic slump and another underachieving season may be deadly for Toyota F1 team. They better ask their buddies in Honda for name cards of the unsuccessful takeover candidates, just in case…

Photos: Toyota Motor Corporation

Will Toyota still be on the F1 grid in 2010 ?

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