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Toyota needs a win

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Toyota needs a win
Jan 15, 2009, 6:37 PM

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 toda...

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?

The rule changes might help them to get a bit of a leg up, because without a significant change in rules, it would have been very difficult for them to have closed the gap to Ferrari and McLaren. BMW seem to have almost done it, but they always seemed to me to have more of a plan, a route map of how to get to the top, than Toyota have.

There are some good people at Toyota, but they've never come across as having the right mixture of top people and I wonder sometimes about how decisions get taken. It lacks dynamism and a bit of racing nous. Two key members of staff have left, Richard Cregan, the team manager, was a can-do guy and one of the most popular figures in the paddock. He was very much the jovial face of Toyota, he has gone to be general manager of the new Abu Dhabi circuit. Luca Marmorini, the boss of the engine division has also left. I don't know why he's left, but I'll find out. There is not much challenge left now in engine building, no clever development programmes and so on and the budgets have been slashed for that department. It's never a good thing for a team to lose two key people like that, both of whom were very experienced and savvy racers.

Team boss John Howett who started to emerge as a voice of reason towards the end of the season in his role as FOTA vice president, made some bold statements at the launch, such as "Toyota is an organisation which exists to win." It may be the world's number one car maker and a relentless improver of itself in business, but as a racing outfit that's not a statement I'd associate with the team, frankly. More like a "team which exists because someone high up once said it should, but no-one quite remembers who or why".

That's a bit mean and I've no doubt that since Honda pulled out, Toyota has conducted a root and branch review of what it is doing in F1 and what to do next. I hope and expect to see more from Toyota this year. I'm one of the few who has great faith in Jarno Trulli and not because he sends me 6 bottles of his Podere Castorani wine every Christmas, but because I knew him when he was in F3 and he has fantastic ability. He sometimes seems to lose motovation in the middle of races, but he showed at Monaco in 2004 and at Magny Cours last year that if you give him a sniff of success, he's right there. I hope for his sake that he can get the win he's talking about.
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