Archive for the ‘Toyota’ Category

This morning in Monaco there was plenty of activity around the ongoing discussions about the 2010 F1 rules and plenty of chat about what was going to happen next.

It seems to be becoming widely believed that Toyota will use this situation to make its exit from Formula 1. They were thinking about it towards the end of 2008, but there seems to be general belief among the other teams that they will go at the end of this year. BMW, which is having its worst season by far in F1, is also said to be reviewing it’s participation.

FIA president Max Mosley was making himself very available to the media and his message was that Ferrari will be staying in F1 “100% sure.” But the sport needs to fill the empty grid slots and that is the area a lot of work is going into.

It was being said that the teams and the FIA had kissed and made up and that it was all going to be sorted out by the May 29th deadline for entries, but team bosses I spoke to on the grid in Monaco sounded a not of caution. “Are you all loved up again?” I asked one, and he replied, “No, but we’re falling in love again.”

The teams say that they would like to start from the point of maintaining the 2009 regulations and go from there in terms of finding a communal way of regulating the costs down to a level around the £40 million Max Mosley wants the budget cap set at, perhaps by 2011. But by then the world will be out of recession, in all probability, and new opportunities will be out there to generate income for the teams.

Mosley, who is still determined to maintain the idea of a budget cap, said, “I can imagine we can take it through one year if possible [with the] higher figure and then go to the full cap in 2011, but that’s something under discussion. This is a possibility.”

“Ultimately, it’s going to have to be that sort of region,” he said. “Just imagine in today’s world, you go out to get sponsorship and you are just an ordinary team, so to raise 45 million Euros is a massive undertaking.

“Everybody can talk figures, well it ought to be this figure or that figure, but if a team cannot raise the money, then there is nothing they can do.”

Money is hard enough to find for the existing teams, look at the amount of sponsorship on the Brawn and they have won five races!!

It seems very hard to imagine new teams being able to raise the kind of money necessary to get into F1. But Mosley insists on new teams coming in, so discussions are centring around ways of helping new teams, with cheap engine and gearbox deals and a possible chassis lease package to allow them to run competitively at low cost to start with. It seems that the existing teams are saying that they would require the new teams to run rookie drivers on that basis.

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As predicted here the protests against the diffusers of the Brawn, Williams and Toyota cars have been thrown out by the Melbourne stewards. But this does not mean that the matter is closed. The plaintiff teams have appealed and that means that the three teams whose diffusers were questioned will race under appeal on Sunday.

As it’s unlikely that an appeal can be heard before the Malaysian GP next Sunday, I imagine that the story will roll on there as well so the results of the first two races will be subject to appeal.

It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s something the sport has to go through as there is no mechanism for getting a definitive answer on something like this until the cars get to a race weekend and stewards can judge.

The perception given to the outside world watching, coming after last week’s u turn over the winner takes all points systems, is that the things are a bit all over the place in F1 at the moment and the teams are at each other’s throats. I think the teams would like the matter cleared up as quickly as possible so they can all get on with racing each other knowing what the rules are.

There’s a great book for parents of young boys, called “Raising Boys’ by a Steve Biddulph. As a parent of two boys I have read it closely.

One of the key premises in the book is that boys, unlike girls, are quite straight forward. They will behave themselves and fall into line as long as three key elements are clear to them

1. Who’s in charge?
2. What are the rules?
3. Will those rules be fairly applied?

I actually think that things don’t change much when boys become men and a lot of what happens in the world’s trouble spots reflects the fact that something has broken down in this schematic, usually when boys/men perceive that there is some kind of vacuum or uncertainty.

Undoubtedly it is true in F1.

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One of the most striking things about the way the testing has been going has been the performance of Toyota. In the hands of both drivers the car has proved reliable as well as fast over long runs, the ideal triple crown, really.

You sense that this could be the year of the breakthrough for Toyota which is still looking for its first win in F1. Jarno Trulli certainly seemed to think that is the case, when I caught up with him this evening.

“We hope so, we are optimistic,” he said. “Only the race results will tell us the truth, but so far this is one of the best cars that Toyota has made so I’m confident that we can be right at the top.”

Trulli and team mate Timo Glock have been matching the testing performances of BMW and Ferrari so far this winter and according to Trulli, the picture is accurate.

“We can be there with them,” he said. “We are always competitive, always at the top of the list. Our aim is to be in the top three or four at the start of the season and see what we can do from there. I’m more and more confident. Only Melbourne will tell us for sure but we are in pretty good shape.

“The car is consistent on long runs, we’ve done several and we have found the car consistent in every condition.

“When the car is quick nothing is tricky. So far this car has been quite competitive from the beginning. I think the aerodynamics guys got it right from the beginning. The front wing change has been useful. With slick tyres it’s fine but it’s a new experience for us and for Bridgestone and we need to find the right compounds because everyone was struggling in Jerez.

“Slicks can be an advantage for me because on grooved tyres I had some problems, especially with front graining, which I really didn’t like.”

Trulli is a formidable qualifier, as we know and he could well feature at the front of the grid in Melbourne. When the car is working well he’s raced very well too as his string of podiums three years ago showed. Since then it’s been a bit of a struggle, with certain tracks like Magny Cours and Budapest working well for the team, while it has traditionally struggled at bumpy circuits. Trulli thinks that this will still be the case, but in a milder form and thinks that the baseline of this car is just generally a lot higher than it has been before.

Watch out for Trulli in 2009!

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I was interested to see that at a press conference at Portimao circuit yesterday, attended by colleagues from the ITV F1 website, Toyota’s John Howett sounded a stark warning about Toyota’s future in the sport if they do not succeed this season.

He said, ” We have a great team of people and I think we just feel it’s about time we won. We need a strong season. If we have a weak season we have no future.

“Whether we have to win is difficult to say, but I think we feel we have to win.”

This is slightly at odds with the tone of the language at the launch and represents a significant ramping up of the stakes by Toyota. Going back to that shocking week in early December when Honda announced they were pulling out of F1, the word on the street in the days leading up to Honda’s announcement was that Toyota was about to announce something. If indeed they ever were planning a withdrawal or even a phased announcement, once Honda pulled the plug, they merely said that at present they were committed.

Everyone has been looking at Toyota for some time and wondering when they will follow Honda. Now John Howett has made a comment, which will hang over them throughout the season. There is a coded message to the powers that be not to take Toyota’s participation for granted, but I think this is more of a call to arms than anything else, a calculated message to everyone in the team to dig deep, ignite the passion and find something special. The team is actually quite bullish about this season ahead, despite the fact that the word I’m hearing is that this is quite a conservative car at the moment, compared to the others.

Nevertheless Jarno Trulli reacted to Howett’s comments by saying, “Now the pressure is on the whole team, we have the structure, the means and the experience. I’m convinced that this will be the year in which Toyota will celebrate its first win and I hope it’s me who brings it.”

What we have at the moment is a phoney war, the early shots are being fired, but because of rain and teams being at different tracks it’s way too early to say who’s quick and who’s not. My hunch, from previous experience, is that someone will have found an edge with these new rules and it doesn’t have to be Ferrari and McLaren, it could easily be a Renault, a BMW or a Toyota.

Adrian Newey has a pretty fantastic track record at interpreting new rules and finding an edge, so the Red Bull will be interesting to see when it launches next month. The technical group there is now well and truly bedded in and the Renault engine has been brought up to level power with the others. Webber and Vettel will get the thing flying.. if it’s good enough to be flown..

With such massive rule changes it’s virtually certain that the pecking order will be different this year from last. Williams too has a good chance to move up. I can’t wait until the picture starts to emerge over next month’s tests.

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Toyota needs a win

Amid promises of a first win being around the corner and a commitment to stay in F1 for the long term, Toyota virtually launched their new car today in an online ceremony, which saved them a lot of money. It’s important at the moment in F1 to show that you are cutting costs wherever possible. I’m hearing that job cutting programmes are starting to bite now, many posts have been shed in catering departments, while one UK based manufacturer team has imposed a 20% pay cut on management and 10% on the workforce. There will be some big job losses very soon as the pre-Christmas FIA world council decisions kick in.

Toyota, which has had a 1,000 strong workforce in Cologne will surely be among them. The company announced, shortly before Honda’s withdrawal from F1, that it expected to lose over £1 billion this year as car sales plummet around the world. And because F1 is now viewed as part of the automotive sector, rather than as as media property or an entity in itself, it will fall victim to whatever cuts are imposed in the automotive world.

The Toyota team enters it’s eighth season in Formula 1 in probably the best shape since the 2005 season, when Jarno Trulli was a regular podium visitor. But it badly needs a win to justify staying in the sport. Last year’s car was quick on smooth circuits like Magny Cours and Budapest, but was pretty inconsistent. However the team were more of a force towards the end of the season, despite McLaren, Ferrari and Renault all developing their cars right up to the end. This and the work over the winter has given Jarno Trulli and the management the confidence to talk about Toyota seeking its first win in F1.
So are they ready to win?

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Honda announced this morning that it is withdrawing from Formula 1. It is putting its team up for sale and will continue to fund the team for three months, but if no buyer is found by March then the team will be closed down.

There is a sense of shock in Japan about this. Apparently there have been rumours out there during the last week that Toyota was building up to make an announcement of this kind, but not Honda. All eyes are now on Toyota to see what their next move will be.

Honda president Fukui made the announcement in the early hours of this morning. My sources suggest that this was quite a sudden decision, despite rumours that all was not well at Honda. This is all about trade, or lack of it.

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