F1

Toyota shuffles top bosses, stands by F1

Toyota shuffles top bosses, stands by F1

News that Toyota will name a new president to take office in April might not reach Formula One's radar in normal times. But if you hadn't noticed, these are not normal times. In these scant weeks since Honda abandoned its F1 team, people who...

News that Toyota will name a new president to take office in April might not reach Formula One's radar in normal times. But if you hadn't noticed, these are not normal times. In these scant weeks since Honda abandoned its F1 team, people who might not have followed business news have pricked ears and peeled eyes, alert and nervous that Japan's No. 1 carmaker, Toyota, might follow the nation's No. 2 out of the sport. Smaller Japanese carmakers Subaru and Suzuki pulled out of World Rally Championship after Honda pulled the F1 plug.

Toyota F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

On Monday, Toyota Motor Corp. announced it will post an annual loss for the first time in its 70-year history. Slumping sales and strong yen are immediate reasons with a global economic downturn offering backdrop.

BBC Sport on Tuesday quoted Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe as insisting, "We will continue F1 and other motorsport activities while cutting costs."

Also Tuesday, Japanese daily newspaper Asahi reported that Watanabe will become vice chairman and the presidency will be filled by Akio Toyoda, a member of the company's founding family.

Watanabe said the company would be hard-pressed to keep up spending at the current level. Toyota F1 is thought to spend on the order of a billion euros ($1.6 billion) a year.

Therein lies the urgency of the sport's financial attention span. Cost-cutting urged earlier this year by FIA president Max Mosley has gathered speed in these weeks since Honda's participation ended. It might even be on a spree. In addition to agreeing to extend engine life, cut production costs, cut factory and race personnel, and carry out other reductions, team bosses, organized as Formula One Teams' Association, are looking hard at how the commercial side of the sport is run -- or more specifically how revenues are allotted -- and they are keen to take a whack at driver salaries.

Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The latter idea doesn't sit well with World Drivers' Championship runner-up Felipe Massa of Ferrari, who just helped raise $164,000 for UNICEF in activities in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

"I'm not inclined to it," Massa was quoted by the BBC. "In a competitive sport like this, the driver plays a fundamental part, and the cost of the drivers is small compared to the total budget of the teams."

Massa's boss portrayed inevitability: "I'm convinced this issue will soon be discussed among all the teams and with every driver," Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali told Italy's Autosprint magazine.

FOTA -- and Ferrari -- president Luca di Montezemelo and Formula One Management head Bernie Ecclestone have butted heads in the past week over distribution of commercial income controlled by Ecclestone. Public feuding smacks of politics past in F1. Perhaps the words of Toyota president Watanabe can help F1's players find perspective: "The change in the world economy is of a magnitude that comes once every hundred years," he said. "We are facing an unprecedented emergency."

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