News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Bullish About Toyota

Now I know its so very early on in the season and with a lot more races to come plenty of things might happen. We all probably know that backmarkers like Ferrari(!) will be catching up. Williams and McLaren are also forces not to be underestimated. But I've got this strange sensation that Mike Gascoyne might be right. Something tells me Toyota will be taking the top step of the podium sometime this year. Probably closer to the tail of the season.

I am encouraged by their performances in Melbourne and especially in Sepang. The last time I had a hunch like this was way back in 1986. That year, Benetton took over the Toleman team and with drivers Teo Fabi and Gerhard Berger started off the season in a quiet but solid sort of way. Both drivers scoring points early on in the season in Rio, Jerez and San Marino. At that point in time, I had a good feeling about this team. Basically, I liked it a lot and I felt they would surprise the frontrunners.

By Austria in midsummer, their cars were the class of the field in terms of outright speed. At the Oesterreichring, Gerhard Berger took pole with Fabi second. In the race, they simply ran away with it. They were destined not to win at that mightily fast and picturesque circuit but alarm bells must have been sounding in the Lotus (remember them?), Williams and McLaren garages. Alas, Fabi went out with engine failure and Gerhard was delayed two laps whilst the mechanics had to change his battery.

At Monza, again the Benetton B186 showed enormous speed helped by copious amounts of power from its inline 4 BMW turbo engine. The engines were so powerful that when Teo Fabi's engine blew up, the pistons went right through the cylinder heads. Gerhard Berger experienced electrical problems during qualifying. His engine cut out right after Parabolica and he had to coast to the line. Despite this, he still ended up fourth on the grid!

Two races on at Mexico, it all came good. Gerhard Berger ran a solid fifth early on, keeping up with the front runners. On that day Gerhard chose to run the hardest Pirelli tyres he could find and did the entire race without stopping. Yes, its been done before so the no tyre change rule these days isn't that big of a deal. Despite rock hard tyres, he kept his speed up and crossed the line in the lead to win his first ever race. It was also Benetton's maiden victory.

Last Sunday, Benetton, formerly Toleman and now known as Renault notched up yet another victory. And yet, the car that came in second reminded me of Benetton in 1986. Solid. Dependable. Some speed in it, but looking like it has the potential to become a world beater. They won't take any world titles this year. But something in my mind tells me they are going to win at least once.

After the race in Sepang I watched the Toyota team in celebratory mood. Looked as if they had won the championship. Mike and Jarno were in emotional embrace. Even Ralf looked pleased at the state of affairs. The Japanese engineers looked like they'd just scored with a hot blond babe. All the rest literally smelling of champagne especially Gascoyne. The pressure of meeting their goal this year is gone. They've already got the result they wanted. With that in mind, I think their engineers have now got a taste of things. With the pressure off them, I think they're going to be better motivated and will be able to think more clearly.

Grand Prix racing as in life has its uncertainties. But I think Toyota are in with a shot to score some good results this year. My estimations are simply hunches but I'd put some money on the Cologne team.

1 comment:

Jay Steele said...

I think this is great news for F1 - if Toyota had skulked about at the back of the grid again, I have a feeling that the executives would have finally gotten fed up, retreated with their tail between their legs, and abandoned F1 much like Jaguar. To have lost Toyota would have been a big deal, confusing to fans, and demoralizing to the series.

I don't think they'll challenge this year; but then again, I'd have never believed a Toyota would have genuinely had the pace to finish second this year either.