F1 2007 Preview: Toyota

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Bahrain, preseason, 2007, 2Which problem do you think angers Toyota’s management more:

Their complete failure to deliver on the enormous investment pumped into the team for six years – or the fact that no-one cares?

For Toyota are not only one of the least successful teams compared to the amount spent on their F1 campaign – they are also one of the least popular.

And it doesn’t look like anything about that will change this year.

Here’s the new car, same as the old car.

Ralf Schumacher, Toyota, Bahrain, preseason, 2007The TF107 is an evolution of last year’s TF106, which was largely uncompetitive except on days when, as at Suzuka, Bridgestone had a substantial performance advantage. And even then they had to run light on fuel to qualify third and fourth.

It’s painted in exactly the same red-brushstroke-on-white colour scheme as its predecessors were over the last five years. Bo-ring.

And of course we have them to thank for taking the Japanese Grand Prix away from the dramatic challenge of Suzuka to the long straights and tight corners of Fuji.

The drive line-up inspires little confidence too. Jarno Trulli clearly still had his elusive spark of brilliance in 2005 when he gave the team their first podium, but it seemed to have been extinguished entirely last year.

Ralf Schumacher, Toyota, 2006Ralf Schumacher continues to be F1 second highest-paid driver for no obvious reason. At USD $25m Is he really worth USD $3m more per season than Fernando Alonso?

(It will be interesting to see if, with the departure of older brother Michael, people continue to refer to the younger Schumacher diminishingly as ‘Ralf’.)

Toyota’s two strongest cards are their enormous cash reserve (but even that is useless when it is squandered) and the fact that they ran on Bridgestone tyres last year. But the 2006 Bridgestone are supposed to be markedly different to the 2007 specification, so that may well prove useless.

Toyota at least had the TF107 out good and early, which is something of a tradition of theirs, giving them plenty of time to iron out reliability problems. But so far the car hasn’t shown much pace.

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Bahrain, preseason, 2007, 3As the parent company steamrollers its way to becoming the biggest car manufacturer in the world, it seems increasingly as though their Formula 1 efforts are just an exercise in building brand awareness.

The most interesting change for Toyota this year is that their engines will now be supplied to Williams rather than the more developmentally-challenged Spyker (formerly MidlandF1).

Williams are an effective outfit who also ran on Bridgestone last year. With two infinitely more motivated drivers than Reulli and Schumacher they stand a sporting chance of embarrassing the factory team in 2007.

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