News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Toyota: Fire the lot of them

I support the Toyota team if only because I drive a Toyota (guess which one?). I like my Toyota and I wish the Panasonic Toyota Racing team every success. Granted they have been quite realistic up to now on their expectations in this the highest echelon of motorsport. Unlike previous debutants like Jaguar and BAR who made such a big hype during their debuts and likewise later on crashed down to earth hard once those expectations were not met.

Toyota have been more cautious but however, one feels that they are feeling the pressure of Formula 1 quite overbearing. Chief designer Gustav Brunner was quoted as saying that development of the car practically grounded to a halt after showing a lot of promise during winter testing.

Nevertheless, given their enormous budget largely provided for by the largest motor vehicle company in the world, they should have had a better debut last year and should be well on their way this year much like Renault have had. Alas, this has not happened. I fondly recall Jordan's first season in Formula 1 way back in 1991. Despite not being the fastest contender in the field nevertheless they had such an impressive racing machine it was voted racing car of the year by Autosport in 1991. Michael Schumacher if you recall made his Formula 1 debut at the Belgium Grand Prix in this car. The next year wasn't too good however, when they opted for Yamaha engines.

Given the facilities and budget at their disposal I would have expected Toyota to have made a similar debut last year. And since they are not using someone elses powerplant and given that the Toyota engine is making some good horsepower, it should be doing a lot better this year. Maybe even being able to take on Jaguar in a straight fight.

So what happened? Let's first analyse the team personnel. The two highest profile people Panasonic Toyota Racing is team boss Ove Andersson and the other being ex Ferrari and Minardi designer Gustav Brunner. By and large, the other members of the team down to their mechanics were formerly part of Toyota Team Europe. These guys used to run the Toyota works rally effort in the World Rally Championship and they used to run in sports cars competing in Le Mans and the World Sports Prototype Championship. Their rally efforts did produce world championships in the hands the brilliant Carlos Sainz albeit in highly dubious cirmcustances. They were caught cheating and was actually banned from the world championship for a year.

The Le Mans effort was not successful however, being beaten every single time they had raced on the famous La Sarthe circuit. And now, just as Sauber did after their championship winning endeavours in sports cars, they enter Formula 1. Sauber formerly ran the Mercedes team in sports cars and produced the chassis that ran the Mercedes turbocharged V8s.

Well, Peter Sauber hasn't had much success in Formula 1, having been abandoned by Mercedes for McLaren. Mind you Sauber were the first to run the Ilmor engines that are now powering McLaren. But that's another story. Crucially and likewise, Toyota don't look like they are going to be winners anytime soon. Perhaps sports car teams and people should totally avoid Formula 1 altogether.

But those of you in the know will know that the guys running Ferrari now were also formerly from sports cars. Jean Todt was formerly boss at Peugot and Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, technical director and chief designer at Ferrari respectively were once part of the TWR Jaguar sports car team before then moving to Benetton and winning with them. Only later on did they move to the Scuderia. So we cannot say that this is 100% true. However, let's look at the overall organisation at Ferrari, Benetton and Toyota. Whilst the top men at Ferrari and Benetton came from sports cars, those working within the team that is the race engineers and mechanics have been in the sport of Formula 1 for years. Also, don't forget it did take time for Rory and Ross to get their footing. It took Jean Todt an enormous amount of time before he managed to figure things out.

Will Toyota with their very noticeable marketing aims in Formula 1 be able to wait that long? I would say Rory and Ross are probably work very well together and are able to produce the goods. Ross decides what technologies and systems to develop. Rory designs race cars.

At Toyota one would expect an old hand like Gustav Brunner to be holding a position like that of Ross Brawn that is a technical director calling the overall technical shots at Toyota. However, he has made it clear he does not want the job. He wants to design race cars. My feeling is that he is too old to design race cars and that job should be left to a younger, fresh and more dynamic engineer. Then Toyota won't be in a situation that they have now. Out of ideas for development? That is a complete sin in a fast moving paced sport that Formula 1 has become. In this sport, you stand still you move backwards.

Look at Patrick Head at Williams. He used to design race cars. But that was way back in the 1970s and 1980s. After 1990, I believe he stopped doing that totally and left that job to Adrian Newey, now with McLaren, whom he hired from Leyton House March. Nevertheless, he still commands the technical direction at Williams. Gustav should play a similar role. And if he can't he should get the hell out of Toyota.

I also have a feeling that all the other engineers inherited from the sports car team and rally team should all be replaced by those who have had more experience in Formula 1 and are better able to utilise the money and facilities that they have in hand.

In addition, I would say that Toyota's greatest mistake was to base their team in Cologne, Germany where Toyota Team Europe was based. That is no place to build racing cars. And for that matter, neither is Hinwil in Switzerland (base for the Sauber). The best place for building racing cars is still within the area of Surrey in England. A pool of readily available and talented engineers exist there that could easily make better use of the facilities available to the Toyota team.

Some of you may ask how Ferrari and Renault can do what they do. Ferrari especially are based in Italy. Well, Ferrari have been at this for years. And guess what? They throw even more money at the sport than Toyota. They've got two test tracks readily available, a pool of engineers hired from England, three wind tunnels. They better well be able to do what they do. As for Renault, they only build engines in France. The cars are built in Enstone near Oxford.

The choice of drivers are also dubious. Olivier Panis I believe does a great job. But Cristiano de Matta despite doing an excellent job and outscoring his much more experienced team mate I think is a huge mistake in terms of getting someone who is able to help out with the development of the car. I am still one who thinks that his best purpose in Toyota is because of his marketability in North America, a hugely important market for Toyota.

Does Toyota want to win or do they want to just sell more road cars? I say fire the entire Toyota Team Europe and hire better and more experienced personnel experienced in Formula or Indycar racing. Give an ultimatum to Gustav to either lead technically or have that resignation letter signed. Or better yet steal Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey. Then hire someone like former Williams aerodynamicst Geoff Willis to design the car. Fire that de Matta guy and hire someone like Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher or David Coulthard to really spearhead the development of the car. Quit hiring nobodies from Formula 3000 and hire some really good drivers from the junior formula to be their test drivers. Open a new team base in England and have the engines made in Japan and race prepared in England.

The way Toyota is doing things right now is wrong. All wrong. And the heartbreaking fact is they can do so much better. That Toyota paycheck ought to be paving the way for a really crack team destroying all comers. And for god's sake Toyota, can you please cut the marketing bullshit? You guys are already outselling everyone else. Put more thought in winning the sport and make us Toyota drivers proud. Else my next car is going to be a BMW or worse yet for you, a Honda. As it is I would be really glad to see them shut those Ferrari fans up.

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