2008: Toyota

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Timo Glock, Toyota, Cockpit sides, 2008 pre-season | Toyota F1 WorldA lot of mixed messages have been coming out of Toyota this winter. First boss John Howett back-tracked on reported remarks that the team had to become successful within two years:

The rumours about us leaving the sport have always been groundless. Having signed the Concorde Agreement, we are in it at least until 2012. We never received deadlines from Japan regarding the next two years.

More recently the drivers can’t seem to decide from one day to the next whether the car is going backwards or forwards.

Only a few weeks ago Jarno Trulli and new hire Timo Glock were downbeat. The Italian said: “talking about getting some podiums is completely unrealistic,” and Glock added:

For us, when we compare the 2007 car with the 2008 car, we definitely made a step in the right direction, but on the other side all the other teams made a step forward as well.

Technical chief Pascale Vasselon disagreed. Speaking three days after Glock he claimed:

If you compare what is comparable, which means comparing times within the same test sessions and taking into account estimated fuel loads, you will see that at the moment the gap reflects a performance gain for the TF108 compared to last year.

And then to top everything off Trulli went and set the second-quickest time around the Circuit de Catalunya on the final day of testing and changed his mind about the car:

I am moderately optimistic. I am sure we can raise some eyebrows this year and cause problems for some teams. We can be competitive. Forget Ferrari and McLaren for the moment, they are a couple of steps ahead, but the rest are within reach.

So where are Toyota this year? Since Mike Gascoyne was dropped in 2005 Vasselon and engine man Luca Marmorini have remained in charge, and it’s down to them and the much-vaunted ‘Toyota Way’ to conjure up some badly needed performance from one of F1’s wealthiest teams.

There have been two potentially significant additions to the team, however. Former Williams man Frank Dernie has arrived in a consultation role and Marc Gillan has joined the aerodynamics department. Consequently the front of the car has seen a substantial reorganisation with a new McLaren-style bridge wing and revised turning vanes, barge boards and sidepod wings designed to improve stability – a watch-word of 2008 F1 car design.

On the driver side Trulli can be relied upon to wring everything out of a car on a single lap but he’s never been able to shake of the tag as a fast qualifier and indifferent racer.

If anything the reverse is true of Timo Glock – he’s not especially unspectacular in qualifying, but he’s a bare-knuckled brawler of the first order in a battle for position.

Whether they will have a car worthy of their talents to go racing with depends on whether the team has finally found its way. But former driver Allan McNish believes there are still fundamental flaws in Toyota’s way of going racing that is holding them back:

Look at the top teams in F1. Ron Dennis rules at McLaren, Jean Todt has done it for many years at Ferrari. They are prepared to slam their fist down when a big decision has to be made, and look at the success they’ve had.

Toyota doesn’t have that sort of system, and as far as money, Renault won the title for two years with much smaller budgets than McLaren or Ferrari.

Can the Toyota Way be made to work in F1? So far the answer is an emphatic ‘no’.

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