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The Toyota Enigma

Why can’t Toyota win? So asks “Colenzo” in the BBC Motorsport forum and he then goes on to put the blame on a lack of expertise amongst the team’s personnel. Which may have something to do with it, although I have a lot of respect for their senior chassis manager, Pascal Vasselon.


Jarno in the Toyota

Toyota have been involved in F1 for several years now and the combined experience and knowledge of the team should be as extensive as Honda’s or BMW’s, for instance. Yet still they fail to convince.

Money is not the problem; the budget is supposed to be one of the largest in F1 and rumor has it that Ralf Schumacher is now one of the best paid drivers. So what is Toyota doing wrong?

The answer may lie in the very fact that Ralf drives for them. Not that he is the root cause of their failures but more that his continued presence, and Trulli’s for that matter, indicates a certain lack of imagination in the team’s management. After a flurry of driver changes when they entered F1 (and they sacked some pretty good ones), Toyota has inexplicably settled for their present driver line-up.

Ralf has always benefited from the secondhand aura of his elder brother; at any moment, we still expect that the Schumacher magic will blossom in him and he will prove unstoppable. The trouble is, it hasn’t happened and I doubt now that it ever will. Ralf has driven for some very good teams in his career and yet his results have been uniformly disappointing. Yes, we have blamed car failures, bad luck and too high expectations for his performances but, in fact, he has been given far more decent chances than most drivers get. If his name wasn’t Schumacher, I think he would be driving for one of the lesser teams by now.

And then there is Jarno Trulli, famously the qualifying specialist. How he must hate that title by now! It does nothing but put a huge question mark over his race performances and we forget the times when he does well. The truth is that Jarno is inconsistent – sometimes he is brilliant but, more often, he is merely competent. And his recent demonstration that he is not a team player also raises doubts over his suitability for Toyota.

So why is the Japanese giant sticking with their drivers? I can only put it down to an unwillingness to try something new. This would fit with the ethos of the company too, their faith in tried and tested technology having won the road cars a reputation for reliability but also leading us to look elsewhere for innovation and invention.

Consider the drivers that have been available this year. Mark Webber would have been a good choice, a driver of undoubted speed and with that Australian grit and determination that Toyota so desperately lack. Or the team could have gone looking amongst the horde of young drivers clamoring to get into F1. With their budget, the Toyota execs could easily have bought themselves a Vettel or a Paffett.

But no, Toyota stick with what they know. And that attitude is bound to affect such things as car design and race strategy. For the moment, F1 is still an arena where “he who dares, wins” and Toyota are paying the price of their conservatism.

Look at the chances other teams take. For the sake of a few tenths of a second off lap times, Ferrari were willing to risk their wheel inserts being banned; Renault did the same with the mass dampers. One team got what they wanted, the other didn’t – but both tried. When was the last time you heard of a Toyota tweak that came under suspicion from the FIA? It’s just not their style; they wait until other teams have had an improvement accepted and then they stick it on their cars. Note the bristling “ears” on the Toyota’s nose; no-one seems to know what they achieve but Ferrari has them and so does Renault – Toyota must have them too.

It’s not the way to win championships. To do that, you have to be prepared to try new ideas and take a few risks. Throwing money at the problem is never enough.

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One Response to “The Toyota Enigma”

  1. [...] Shuhei Nakamoto, the Honda senior technical director, has been speaking of the way forward for the F1 team. Obviously, he read my recent post on Toyota for he identifies the same weakness that was infecting Honda and details the remedy applied. [...]

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