The future of Toyota in F1

There is a worrying feeling in Formula 1 circles that there could be bad news from Toyota when the main board meets to discuss the company’s F1 programme in Japan. The team management in Europe says that it has had assurances that the operation will continue, but no-one seems very reassured by that. Why? Because the team is sending out all the wrong messages.

For a start, Toyota has no drivers signed for next year, and with Williams jumping ship into the HMS Cosworth there are no engine customers either. Worse still, there seems to be no urgency at all to sign anything and the team seems to be quite willing to see Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock – both decent drivers – going off to other jobs. Admittedly, Trulli and Glock both have flaws: Jarno qualifies brilliantly but rarely races as well, while Glock qualifies badly but races like a tiger. If the two men had their talents combined Toyota would have a mega-star.

The smoke and mirror men are no doubt telling the big wigs in Japan that all is well with the car and that the drivers are no good and that what is really needed now are new stars – like Kamui Kobayashi and Adrian Sutil. Such an idea could get the Japanese execs in Toyota Town in the mood for cheque-signing, but will that really win races? Anyone can create rumours of Kimi Raikkonen or Jenson Button moving to Toyota, but no-one has yet come up with a good reason as to why either man would actually do this.

Kobayashi has done well thus far but it is hard to say with any certainty whether he will be a race winner. And Glock is wandering around the paddock in fairly rude good health so his supposed sniffles and scrunched vertebrae sound like very hollow tales which merely suggest that one cannot trust everything the corporate little wigs in the racing team say. There are a bunch of folk in the F1 paddock who feel that the team will never be a success because the chief goal of some of those involved appears to be to keep their jobs rather than being committed to winning.

In the final analysis, the team has been a money-burning furnace on wheels in recent years and the cynics (of which I am one) sometimes get the impression that the machine lumbers onwards with everyone shovelling money into the fire while trying to figure out how to steer in the right direction…

Back home in Japan, where the frugal folk live and where Toyota is a paragon of careful management and efficiency, they are looking at the numbers and gulping quietly. They need to cut budgets by 40% and yet the team has a vast staff, built up because the money-shovellers have looked in every corner for excuses and created new departments to solve problems that are not the reason for the failures.

This year Toyota has outrun customer Williams in the World Championship but probably did not deserve to do so. Firstly, Williams did not deliver the points that it should have done early in the year (there must be some reason that Williams did not fight very hard to keep Nico Rosberg) and secondly it was, in effect, a one-car team because Toyota suggested (with a cheque) that Kazuki Nakajima was the answer to Team Willy’s problems. Kazuki is a very lovely bloke and he looked like a decent compromise between speed and cash, but alas he ends the year looking like a man with a big future in Japanese GT racing.

The problem for Toyota is that they have created a very expensive factory in a country where laying people off is very tough. Toyota’s investment in the Cologne facility is such that it makes more sense to redeploy people and resources rather than firing them. In order to justify this there would need to be a new goal for the company. A hybrid sports car campaign to win the Le Mans 24 Hours might solve the problem as such publicity would be terrific for the company, which is already the market leader in hybrid technologies and has terrific products. So shifting half the staff and half the equipment on to such a project is an option as they downsize the F1 team to meet the agreed FOTA limits. But is it a good idea to have two high profile motorsport projects at the same time? And that is forgetting also that Toyota has a big old NASCAR programme going on as well.

These are the questions that the board has to consider in mid-November and why people in the team are feeling just a little uncomfortable at the moment… The good news for F1 is that if Toyota does decide to throw the money-shovellers into the furnace, a place will miraculously open up for Sauber and the 14th Entry Crisis will be over.

30 thoughts on “The future of Toyota in F1

  1. Since they’ve signed the agreement, are they allowed to just flunk out of next year’s championships just like that? Also the ‘deathbed’ BMW has no owners yet!!

    Is this history on repeat? all smaller customer teams? But then, the historical tracks are slowly dying away with boring flat Turkeys and Malaysias. Oh well!!!!

  2. ROFLMAO .. You guys must be having a really good time in abu dhabi, so many funny stories this weekend with your article here and the Trulli/Sutil thing. Poor Nakajima though, really feel bad for him seems like such a nice guy when interviewed last time after he got taken out by Kobyashi.. now i wonder what would have happened if it was Kabayashi vs. Trulli this weekend LOL…. and should we be looking forward to a article from you about how glad to see the back of certain money shovellers when they are gone?

  3. In the final analysis I’d rather see unknown-Qadbak-backed-but-still-mostly-BMW-who-themselves-are-still-mostly-old-Sauber take the place than Toyota.

    It’s not even particiularly down to the lack of success of Toyota, even given the squillions they’ve spent, it’s just the complete lack of any emotional response they’ve managed to produce in me, in their F1 “attack”. A team with a complete charisma bypass.

    I don’t like the Kobayashi replacing Glock thing, nothing against Kamui who was actually very entertaining in Brazil but I’ve long suspected it was a flimsy excuse all along for the team to blatantly tug on some executive heartstrings.

    Think Trulli and Glock both deserve seats, I’ll be happy if it does work out Trulli-Lotus and Glock-Renault.

  4. Maybe there’s a deal to be had: sell the entry to BMW Sauber.

    Sell the engine to… someone…

    Use the staff in the WRC.

    If it all goes pear shaped and the team is likely to fold (like BMW at the moment) it’s yet another example of manufacturers walking away when it suits… makes Honda’s exit look very civilised.

  5. I don’t think it helps the Toyota F1’s team that their counterparts in America are doing so much better with their F1 program. Last year, Toyota really broke out in the NASCAR Sprint Series with 10 wins and a another 9 wins this year. Not bad for a manufacturer being in the sport for only three years. That cannot make the boys in Cologne look good in the eyes of management.

    In retrospect, I think Toyota should of went down the path that BMW went and what they have to do in NASCAR; work with an established team to understand the real rewards and risks before jumping both feet into the sport. I genuinely share the feeling many people on this blog have Toyota has not a clue in how to run a racing team. Even after 8 years, they look less competent then the Keystone Cops. I personally think they are better off withdrawing from F1 and focusing on NASCAR and perhaps rallying / LeMans.

  6. Sorry, edit on previous post:

    “I don’t think it helps the Toyota F1’s team that their counterparts in America are doing so much better with their NASCAR program.”

    That original sentence does not make any sense. That what I get for commenting on blogs at 4:00 AM.

  7. My opinion of Trulli has really taken a dive this year, after his behaviour towards Hamilton after Melbourne (leave aside Hamilton lying, did Trulli tell the truth or was he shit stirring?) and now his pathetic behaviour towards Sutil. And yet he was second on merit in the Japanese GP. And Glock was a worthy second in the previous race. Seems a strange time for Toyota to give up, especially if costs are going to be cut.

    But there must be a real possibility that the board will decide to pull out, otherwise the team would have been authorised to sign drivers. They have quite a good car, probably the fastest of the three manufacturer cars at the moment, but they need a better driver. And they will have known that this is the very worst way to go about hiring a top driver.

    And yet if they do pull out, it will show very bad planning/timing. Why did the board authorise the team to sign the Concorde Agreement? Why didn’t they take the long-term decision before that? Doesn’t make sense.

    I think it must be 60/40 they stay in.

  8. I don’t believe in the hybrid competition. Watch out for the chinese, they are closing their export of the goods needed to make hybrid cars. The Toyota Prius uses 2.2 lbs. of neodymium in the hybrid’s electric motor and 22-33 lbs. of lanthanum in the car’s battery pack. Dysprosium has gained significant importance for its use in the construction of hybrid car motors. Terbium and dysprosium are also used in small amounts. A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons.

  9. I’ve never really understood the Toyota brand being in F1. It doesn’t seem to fit. Lexus might fit better. Toyota generally does not make sporting cars – I own a wonderful old MR2 that is one of the exceptions – and doesn’t seem to want to anymore at all. Most of their cars are as exciting as refrigerators. When I drive a Honda or a Renault it’s obvious that people who enjoy driving were involved in the development, Toyotas not so much (sadly).

  10. I genuinely believe that Toyota’s mistake was to base their F1 team in Cologne (where their Rally team was based, before being banned for cheating).

    It is not coincidence that every F1 team is based within a small region of SE England. This is where the expert engineers, mechanics, fabricators, etc. live. It is easy for them to move from team to team without having to move their families overseas, put the children in new schools, and possibly ask their wives or husbands to give up their own jobs. For a team like Toyota based in a fairly dreary part* of western Germany.

    The lure of Ferrari, and the rather nicer location of northern Italy will always make Ferrari an exception.

    Thus, Toyota will only attract a small selection of the people with F1 winning experience; and then only the ones who are willing to move for money. Never the best way of attracting the best people.

    I agree that Toyota has been a complete money pit. And let us not forget, that they have actually been in the sport for 9 seasons. They paid the ‘entry fee’ for an entire ‘ghost’ season, so that they could test at all the tracks without running the risk of looking foolish in front of a huge TV audience. They’ve managed that over the following 8 seasons though!

    I also agree that probably their best bet is an assault on Le Mans. Tie that into the otherwise pointless LFA sportscar that Lexus have recently launched, and they can save some face. Very important in Japanese boardrooms, I understand.

    * I spent a few years working on a regular basis in Bonn. A day commute from Stansted was possible, but certainly not an attractive option.

  11. I found out Toyota is considering recalling most vehicles because of acceleration malfunctions . My friend has a Prius, should the car be used before it’s fixed?

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