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.