Q&A with Executive Vice President of Toyota Toshiro Kurusu Q: What are your impressions from the first races of this year? In the winter we made much progress. We were looking forward to the season and in the first and second races there was...
Q&A with Executive Vice President of Toyota Toshiro Kurusu
Q: What are your impressions from the first races of this year?
In the winter we made much progress. We were looking forward to the season and in the first and second races there was cause for optimism even if we were disappointed in the results. I think we showed our car is quick enough and that our driver line-up is better than expected. For every driver this year is quite difficult. On Saturday everyone carries different fuel loads. I think running with less fuel gives a more exact indication of the driver's performance, which is what F1 should be about.
Q: In which areas have you made the most technical progress since last year?
Definitely we have made huge progress on the aerodynamics side. Our wind tunnel has been working 16 hours a day since July last year, which meant we could develop the car alongside last year's car. The second year is difficult for any newcomer - it is to do with how to run the two programmes together that is the difficulty. I'm satisfied that we started this year's car development at the right time.
Q: When did you first become involved in motorsport?
Twenty years ago I was the chassis designer for the Toyota Group B rallying project. But unfortunately they changed the regulations! I had been a chassis designer for nine years and the theory and logic of the rally and production cars is very similar. I then did chassis engineering for Research and Development and was the leader of the first Toyota vehicle stability control system. And then I was asked to participate in the F1 programme, an opportunity I happily took.
Q: Were you already an F1 enthusiast?
Since the Jim Clark days. And my hero was Chris Amon. I saw him beat Jim Clark in the Tasman F2 series and he was the only driver who could do it. To meet him when he came to Melbourne as our guest was a special moment for me. In the rallying days I had a close co-operation with TTE, Toyota Team Europe, who were running the programme. In 1982, the television started broadcasting Formula 1 in Japan. I had already been to Fuji in the year when James Hunt won the championship (1976) and then when Mario Andretti won the race. In my student days I was an official at Fuji Speedway, trying to control the people at the start of the banking - a very dangerous zone. Formula 1 has changed a lot since then...
Q: How do you evaluate the performances of Olivier and Cristiano so far?
Cristiano made a test with us in May last year and Toyota has had a long four-year relationship with him in CART and we knew how good he is as a driver. We are confident he will be successful in F1 - he has certainly settled into F1 life well. Olivier is well known not only for his speed, but also for good technical feedback and he has demonstrated that in the opening rounds of this season with some very impressive driving. I think the combination of Cristiano and Olivier has already improved the overall team performance.
Q: How important is it to Toyota that F1 allows scope for technical innovation?
Toyota has participated in many categories of motor sport: CART and IRL in the USA, the Le Mans project, rallying, but F1 is the pinnacle. Engine-wise there is a lot of scope for technical innovation and the competition is most interesting from the technology side. The car is also light and has high downforce, so in terms of aerodynamics and materials it is also very good. We have access to the highest technology in motor sport. That has benefits for the company but to compete in such a field is very tough and we need to improve day by day to compete with the top teams.
Q: How much does the F1 programme mean for the worldwide Toyota family members?
It's very good for the Toyota engineers and also Toyota is an international company with many plants in many countries, so the F1 programme is very important and very much supported. Last year the employees were very excited but this year I think they are 10 times more excited, especially in Brazil with a race driver and a Brazilian test driver for the team. In many countries all the Toyota employees are delighted about our F1 programme. For so many people to be united is very important for the company and Panasonic Toyota Racing is a symbol of the unity of Toyota internationally. It's much better than expected. The feeling is much stronger than I thought it would be.
Q: When rules change, is it a help for a new team because it's a level playing field, or a hindrance because others have more experience and resource?
It can catch you out. Last year, for example, our fuel was a lower temperature at the start of the race but this year the car is in parc ferme and the fuel temperature is higher and we have had problems. We should know, but maybe it is a lack of experience. The problem is an old one and a common one in motor racing, but if we think about the fuel system we can get to the causes and solutions, which we believe we have done. Such thinking is typical Toyota thinking - being logical as much as possible and studying all the issues in hand. If we think in that way, we can prepare for any future changes to the regulations, along with the other nine teams in F1.
Q: Logistically, how difficult is it to have the F1 team in Cologne and Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan. And what kind of structures do you put in place to improve efficiency?
On the supply front, we rely on resources in Japan to supply castings and some machine parts, as well as technical information and support. We believe that the capability to produce these parts in Japan is extremely good and the strength is higher than European parts, but to ship these from Japan requires three or four days more than from European suppliers, so we are asking for shorter lead times to produce parts in Japanese departments. We have recently installed a working philosophy in-house in Cologne, which also extends to our collaboration with Toyota Motor Corporation. "One Aim, One Team" is intended to pull every team member in the same direction with the same goal and the same motivation as one team - Toyota.
Q: What is a realistic time frame for Toyota to be challenging for F1 wins?
I think the second year is for preparing to challenge and then in the third year we want to mount that challenge to be in a position to fight for a victory. Winning depends on many different factors, but I think knowledge and experience is most important to be able to compete with the top teams. We see the F1 programme as a long-term challenge and commitment, but in our third year, we would like to see ourselves to stand on the podium, and to be in a position to start thinking about winning a race if we get a chance.