Toyota’s F1 team strike me as being the antithesis of Minardi in its heyday; whereas little Minardi oozed passion in abundance (and, at times, it was all they had), Toyota seem a passionless bunch, not quite sure of what they are supposed to be doing in F1. They have everything that Minardi never had – money, top designers, experienced team members, highly-rated drivers – yet they consistently under-achieve. I must conclude that they will never become a competitive team until they find passion somewhere, somehow.
Take Ralf Schumacher’s latest comments to the press, for instance. There seems no annoyance at the criticism leveled at his lackluster performances this year, merely a tired assurance that, when the car comes good, so will he. It does not even seem to occur to him that it’s the same old story we have heard repeated so often before.
Can you imagine Webber or Alonso in the same situation? They would not be holding back any caustic comments or accepting the status quo. Passion forces the unguarded statement from a man, ensures that occasionally he will stick his foot in his mouth.
Ralf’s statements are as bland and vague as if he had already proved his worth as the most highly-paid driver in F1; the reality is that we are still unconvinced of his talent. And the fact that Jarno Trulli is getting the best from the car while Ralf manages to fumble every race must raise questions in anyone’s mind. But not Ralf’s, apparently.
I detect rather more dissatisfaction in Jarno but he is too nice a guy to let much of it show. He is also perhaps more realistic than Ralf in assessing his own value in the F1 market – he knows that, if he fails to make a go of it at Toyota, the job offers will be thin on the ground thereafter. So he soldiers on, doing his best, and hoping that the team will eventually get it right.
Looking at the rest of the team, it is hard to say where this passionless attitude comes from. Pascal Vasselon, the senior chassis manager, is one of the most sensible people in F1 and is always worth listening to. Perhaps if he were more extreme, less realistic, we might see the flashes of emotion that mark the truly exceptional characters we have known in the sport.
And the car itself is a model of careful development, building upon what has gone before. What a pity that F1 is the one arena where that is not sufficient, where it is bold experimentation that can offer a chance of success, just as it also risks an embarrassing failure (just ask Honda).
It may well be that Toyota have found their level: always in with a chance of points but never a front runner. As the saga proceeds this season, it becomes ever more apparent that Toyota’s best chance remains to give up on the corporate team and put all their efforts into a small outfit that has the necessary ingredient of passion.
And that means Williams, of course…