News and views on motorsports

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Dismal Toyota

Three years into Formula 1. A huge budget. Lacklustre results. It seems this year, the team in fact has gone backwards. What exactly is going on?

I think the team was started upon very shaky foundations to begin with. The team was established by building upon Toyota Team Europe (TTE), the motorsport arm of Toyota based in Cologne, Germany. Infamous for being caught with cheating in the World Rally Championship, TTE also managed a somewhat successful foray in sports cars. Their fundamental problem is being based in Germany. It was very advantageous to have the rally operation, which uses Toyota road cars as a base. Formula 1 cars however are very specialized machines, having nothing to do with the road cars.

However, TTE originally starting in Cologne, decided that the Toyota F1 team should be based on the same premises. A huge mistake. In the first place, due to the specialized nature of Formula 1, rally and sports car mechanics and engineers simply have no clue on what to expect. (Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne aside of course). You need a pool of F1 experienced personnel to succeed really. And the vast majority of such engineers would be based in England not Germany. To get those engineers to relocate to Germany is somewhat more difficult. Cologne after all is not Maranello. Incidentally Maranello trains their own engineers fresh from University.

So, you've got a bunch of clueless engineers and a very difficult job of recruiting those engineers that really know what's going on. Recruiting Mike Gascoyne was of course a good move. Mike is a technical director. That means he decides the general technical direction of the team and he organizes the technical infrastructure of the team in such a way that maximizes and streamlines the work output of engineers. He of course is responsible for recruiting those engineers to fit them to the technical organization he requires. In Germany, this is a difficult thing to do. Whereas in England, he could simply dismiss redundant employees and hire those that he needs, in Germany this is more difficult to do. In that country, you simply do not have the flexibility to simply dismiss employees due to the labour laws.

This is a fundamental flaw of the team currently. That is to say, they are simply located in the wrong country. It lacks a pool of talented Formula 1 experienced engineers, there are difficulties in hiring those engineers you need and there are difficulties to get rid of useless engineers. Toyota's money is being spent inefficiently.

This could all have been avoided had they decided to base themselves in England. But that's what happens when you had a inexperienced team principal in Ove Andersson, their original team boss.

Though I currently drive a Toyota I find it hard to be passionate about this team. I simply think that this team is just too marketing driven. I get the impression that people like Honda for instance are there to give experience to their engineers in a pressure cooker situation requiring lots of innovation. Toyota to my mind, are in it simply to raise their profile even further, as if they need it, to sell yet more cars. This team reeks of corporate marketing crap. More so than even McLaren with Mercedes spewing out marketing exploitation with Mercedes.

Viewed in this light, Ferrari seems to be the most "pure" of racing teams. Yeah, I still dislike their politics with the FIA but they really don't need the Formula 1 team to sell more cars. Their cars are always sold out with demand far outstripping supply. So, really the Formula 1 team is purely a sporting effort.

It is interesting to note, that teams with the most marketing exploitation, read Toyota, BMW Williams and McLaren Mercedes are performing absolutely horridly. See the teams above them this year. BAR-Honda, Renault and of course Ferrari. Very little marketing exploitation. Their focus are concentrated mostly on the racing. Their fans are much happier. McLaren being my favourite team, mainly due to their history with some of my favourite drivers ever, have continually disappointed me over the last few seasons.

I don't see Toyota solving their problems any time soon. If this were 10 years ago, I think with the unlimited testing available, Toyota could get their programme back on track very quickly. With the testing limitations these days, it'll take them a long long time. And yes, that means that the current regulations are also part of the problem.

Marketing exploitation also means that their choice of drivers are indeed very very suspect. I mean choosing to run the hapless Cristiano de Matta for instance. A journeyman driver at best. Sure you can make it in America with that level of talent. And indeed his marketability in America was the main factor for his choice. But this is Formula 1 and you simply need the best.

It's all wrong at Toyota and its hard to get it right. Mike Gascoyne is in for a very very hard time I believe. If he really can turn it around then kudos to him. Ralf Schumacher in the form he's been lately could also turn out to be another factor to boost Toyota's fortunes. If he was his brother, I'd say Toyota have an excellent chance. Ralf doesn't have it. He couldn't get it right with BMW Williams, I wouldn't give him much of a chance with Toyota.

I hope I will eventually be proven wrong. And I will stand corrected if I am. But I prefer to sit down, thanks very much.

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