News and views on motorsports

Friday, April 07, 2006

Toyota To Leave?

"Go ahead. Make my day" -- Famous San Francisco policeman

Fresh from sacking their technical director, Toyota have warned that a withdrawal from Formula 1 is a distinct possibility in the near future. President John Howett believes that the FIA are not making the manufacturers feel welcome and yet are asked to commit to 2012. Well, first of all, if Toyota leave I doubt if many fans will miss them as they've not contributed much to the sport. Secondly, the fact is many view their participation as more of a marketing or corporate flagship exercise than a sporting one. So, if some faceless corporation wants to leave all the better right?

When Toyota first announced their participation in Formula 1, it was greeted as very much a "good thing." Together with Honda, here were a team with the potential to break the stranglehold of Formula 1's "usual suspects," McLaren, Williams and Ferrari (at that time before the Renault juggernaut). Things did not go so well and I think many people were simply disappointed. Their corporate ethos did not win many fans either. The team being best described as lacking in soul.

Whether you love or loathe them, whats important here is the underlying message of Toyota's warnings. According to them, the manufacturers are not being made to feel welcome. Two things spring to mind.

First, the money. Now Max Mosley has admitted that in his mind the manufacturers should receive nothing at all for their participation. I'm sure thats an annoyance to the manufacturers and the CVC at this stage of the commercial negotiations. However, I think the manufacturers aren't really concerned about money at all but it just shows Max's hosility towards the manufacturers. And CVC would not be very happy chappies about his attitude. Those investors are out to make money. That means growth in viewership. The manufacturers do a lot for the promotion of the sport by publicising their participation (all free to CVC). Word has it that they're even prepared to pour actual and real resources into direcly promoting the sport. Do you really think the independents would do that? Or Bernie for that matter?

Second. The manufacturer's grievances are really about the 2008 rules and how they are made. Transparency has always been a key issue with the manufacturers. (Some say its the only issue). In addition, they want rules that will allow them to differentiate themselves and rivals and be able to showcase their expertise. According to Howett : "We're prepared to commit to F1, but we need certain core values to remain. That means for example that it has to remain the pinnacle of motorsport. If F1 can't remain the pinnacle, the board will have to decide on the company's participation."

Honda's Nick Fry has also expressed similar (but not necessarily identical) concerns from Honda as early as last Friday's press conference in Melbourne. To quote Nick Fry: "We do, as you know, believe in a more liberal approach on development because it is very much an engineering project for Honda. Its developing the engineers and the technology that feeds into the road cars and that is important...." Hmmm.... somehow I do not think the 2008 regulations contribute very much to the development of road cars at all. Lots of technologies you'd find in road cars these days are banned.

There are some in the media who still assert that Max Mosley's plan is ultimately to rid these pesky manufacturers from the sport altogether and if its true I'm sure Max will be pointing his metaphorical .44 Magnum at them. No, you people bloody well cannot supply engines to more than a couple of teams. Don't like it? Tough shite.

Prima facie, the threat of a rival series seems dead. After all, the manufacturers have entered or applied to enter the 2008 championships. And yet, if you look at the first few questions in last Friday's press conference, you will note that none of the manufacturer's representatives, Nick Fry, Norbert Haug and Pat Symonds, actually confirmed the death of a rival series. They blurted out something to the effect that the GPMA has been a positive thing but none of them actually said that a rival series has been given the last rites. As Pat Symonds says: " entering the 2008 championship, as we all have done now, we inherit the right to discuss these regulations...." That's all they done for now. They've neither confirmed nor denied their participation and really nothing's stopping them from leaving.

Take that together with John Howett's statement that the Toyota "board will have to decide on the company's participation." Participation in Formula 1 perhaps. But what about participation in a rival series? After all, do you really believe that Toyota will simply lay waste to nigh a billion dollars worth of high tech investments?

But is Max worried about this? Really worried? After all, Ferrari, the jewel in the crown as far as fan following is concerned, have signed up and confirmed to 2008 and beyond. So has Williams. And don't forget he's got 22 teams applying for entry. Granted if the manufacturers leave the championship would lose some of its lustre. But at least the grids will be full and he can count on the adoring tifosi to fill the stands and watch the telly. With draconian regulations, perhaps some indies might give Maranello a good surprise. Williams certainly would. The manufacturers would have an even tougher time setting up their own series and attracting the audiences. Tough but not impossible. All told the A1GP has managed it quite well.

I don't discount this being an isolated case. Perhaps its only Toyota thats feeling this way. Looking at last Friday, the other manufacturers still seem to be making positive noises about "constructive" meetings and discussions with the FIA taking place. But then, they would, wouldn't they?

I'll leave with one point. The manufacturers aren't standing alone. They have friends. CVC for instance. Birds of a feather....

1 comment:

brookster said...

The one thing I don't understand about Toyota and never have is the drivers.

Where are they? Everyone else has drivers waiting in the wings: McLaren, Renault, Honda, Red Bull: all the other manufacturers (possibly not BMW) have good quality spare drivers in another formulae attached to them. Either I don't know who the new star Toyota drivers are, or there aren't any. Huh.

I'm not sure Toyota going would be brilliant though: we'd probably loose Honda as well then.