The team mate debates: Toyota

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis led the British GP for Toyota in 2003
Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis led the British GP for Toyota in 2003

With the first signs of the silly season getting started for 2010, I thought it would be a good time to start a new series of Friday debates on the subject of team driver pairings.

Starting today, we?ll look at each of the teams and ask at which point in their history did they have their strongest driver line-up?

First up, one of Formula 1?s youngest teams: Toyota.

Toyota?s driver line-ups, 2002-2009

These are the drivers Toyota had at the start of each season they contested:

2002 ?ǣ Mika Salo, Allan McNish
2003-2004 ?ǣ Olivier Panis, Cristiano da Matta
2005-2007 ?ǣ Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli
2008-2009 ?ǣ Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock

Toyota also changed its line-up late in 2004, when Ricardo Zonta briefly joined the team and Jarno Trulli arrived early ahead of his 2005 signing.

But when did they have their strongest driver pairing?

Which was the best?

There was widespread surprise late in 2002 when Toyota ditched the partnership of long-time F1 driver Mika Salo and sportscar ace Allan McNish. Both have continued to have successful careers in sportscars.

Their replacements, Olivier Panis and CART champion Cristiano da Matta, achieved little besides briefly leading the 2003 British Grand Prix. The team paid huge money to partner Jarno Trulli with Ralf Schumacher ?ǣ prompting some to jokingly asked if they?d realised which Schumacher they were getting for their money.

However it did prove their most enduring partnership and ?ǣ on paper at least ?ǣ their most successful. But how much was that down to Toyota producing one of their race decent F1 cars in 2005?

Trulli is now in his fifth season with the team and paired with the ever-improving Timo Glock. It?s been a strange season for the pair: locking out the front row at Bahrain, bringing up the rear at Monaco.

My pick

I thought the Salo-McNish pairing had great potential and was disappointed to see them dropped. Trulli and Ralf Schumacher were both somewhat mercurial talents and neither consistently had the upper hand over the other season to season or, often, race to race.

Toyota?s current line-up has potential to be even better. Glock has potential ?ǣ he shone in the wet at Sepang this year and took an excellent second at the Hungaroring in 2008.

Right now, I?d plump for Trulli-Schumacher as my top pick, but in a few races? time I might have a very different opinion.

Which do you think was Toyota?s best driver line-up?