How Toyota got it wrong

Mika Salo tests Toyota's prototype F1 car in 2001

Mika Salo tests Toyota's prototype F1 car in 2001

In the eight years Toyota spent in F1 there was little success and a great number of missed opportunities.

Sport has many examples of teams blessed with an abundance of resources which they proceed to squander. From day one money was no object for Toyota, yet their trio of pole positions and 13 podium finishes – with no wins – must be considered a complete and utter failure.

Toyota’s first board decision to enter F1 was taken in 1998, but it took until 2001 for them to get a working car on the track. Although they originally intended this to be their first season, the team decided it wasn’t sufficiently prepared, so they took their prototype to a range of F1 venues and ran race simulations including pit stops.

Former Ferrari driver Mika Salo was brought in to drive and was paired with a man previously thought to be one of the most promising young talents not to get an F1 driver – Allan McNish.

Driver decisions

The team expected little from their first full season of Formula 1, but the early signs were encouraging. Salo scored a point on their debut at Melbourne, partly thanks to the field being decimated by a huge accident at the first corner.

But in short order we became accustomed to a Toyota trait – they made some utterly baffling decisions, particularly when it came to hiring drivers. Salo and McNish were kicked out at the end of 2002 – in their place came the unremarkable Olivier Panis and Champ Car star Cristiano da Matta.

The sheer size of the team seemed to work against it. Being located in Cologne, Germany, made it difficult to attract experienced staff from other F1 teams, most of which are based in Britain. And when they did lure a big name – such as Mike Gascoyne – he quickly became frustrated by internal politics and left.

Toyota’s corporate culture also worked against the team – Ove Andersson had to step down as team principal in 2003 due to his age.

Probably the worst single decision the team made was hiring Ralf Schumacher on a multi-million dollar salary far in excess of what any other team would pay him. Jokes about whether they thought they’d hired the other Schumacher were impossible to avoid.

The good year

Schumacher got to drive the most competitive car to come out of Cologne, the 2005 TF105, but it was team mate Jarno Trulli who got the most out of the car to begin with, scoring three podiums in the first five races of 2005. This was the high point of Toyota’s time in F1.

Now in its fourth season, some indication of the team’s desperation to score results came as it scored its first two pole positions. Knowing it was doomed not to participate in the 2005 United States Grand Prix because of the Michelin tyre failures a very lightly-fuelled Trulli took pole position at Indianapolis, before joining the other Michelin-shod cars in withdrawing.

At home in Suzuka later that year the team did the same again, this time with Schumacher, who took pole position but came in for fuel seven laps earlier than any of the front runners and finished eighth.

Their vast resources seldom led to anything in the way of innovation and a succession of conventional cars rolled out of Cologne. At one stage accusations were levelled at the team that they had used confidential information from Ferrari to design their cars, but court proceedings brought in Italy were dropped and, unlike the notorious McLaren case, the FIA chose not to investigate.

After the peak of 2005 the team slumped badly during the next two seasons. But there was no let-up in the spending. Last year they were estimated to have a budget of almost $450m, and that was after Schumacher’s wage bill was replaced by Timo Glock’s more modest pay packet.

Toyota blushes were deeper and redder in 2007 when they began supplying engines to Williams and were beaten in the constructors’ championship by their customer team. After that Toyota foisted their up-and-coming but inexperienced rookie Kazuki Nakajima on the team and consequently out-scored Williams in 2008 and 2009.

Missed opportunities

Toyota started 2009 with a car arguably capable of challenging for wins. At Melbourne Trulli and Glock started at the back of the grid following a technical infringement, but still managed to finish third and fourth. They locked out the front row of the grid at Bahrain on light fuel loads – with more realistic strategies they could have qualified similarly well but might have kept Jenson Button behind.

After a competitive start to the season – partly thanks to being one of only three teams running the performance-enhancing ‘double diffusers’ – Toyota’s form varied wildly from track to track. But they never looked like convincing candidates for victory.

It is a truism that the team with the best car in F1 usually wins. But Toyota serve as a reminder that the team with the greatest wealth won’t necessarily build the best car. They spent eight years proving that over and over.

Toyota F1 drivers, 2002 to 2009

Mika Salo (2002)
Allan McNish (2002)
Olivier Panis (2003-5)
Cristiano da Matta (2003-4)
Jarno Trulli (2004-9)
Ricardo Zonta (2004)
Ralf Schumacher (2005-7)
Timo Glock (2008-9)
Kamui Kobayashi (2009)

Toyota F1 results

Races started: 139
Wins: 0
Pole postions: 3
Fastest laps: 3
Points: 278.5
Podiums: 13
Best championship result: 4th (2005)
Laps led: 66

Read more: Toyota quits F1 after eight winless years

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93 comments on How Toyota got it wrong

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  1. mp4-19b said on 5th November 2009, 9:45

    RALF=ROLF (at least his salary at Toyota)

    • Rolf Schumacher? What’s he got to do with it?

    • Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 10:46

      ROFL?

    • ajokay said on 5th November 2009, 11:35

      Are you suggesting Rolf Harris gets paid similar multi-million dollar salaries for his work presenting Animal Hospital?

      • steve said on 5th November 2009, 22:30

        Rolf Harris hs a brother Michael who presented seven seasons of a better faster version of Animal Hospital.

    • Ned Flanders said on 5th November 2009, 11:45

      I know Ralf Schumacher never deserved anywhere near as much money as he was paid by Toyota, but the fact is he beat his team mate Trulli in the drivers championship 2 times out of 3.

      You’d think the way some people go on he’s one of the worst GP drivers of all time. But he won 6 races in a period where Ferrari absolutely dominated. For that I think he desereves some credit

      • NomadIndian said on 5th November 2009, 12:18

        I agree completely. I would certainly not call him “the biggest mistake” by Toyota!
        Even at Williams he did almost as good as JPM (I beleive he got their first win in 2004).
        The guy was not exceptional but there were always going to be comparisons with Michael and I believe a most of the criticism is unfair.

        • While the signing of Ralf Schumacher as a driver may not be the biggest mistake Toyota made, the type of driver Toyota needed was someone like Michael Schumacher and the money they were paying Ralf was the amount they should have only been paying if they had signed Michael Schumacher.

          Ralf got the first race win for Williams during their BMW partnership in 2001, which was the first win for Williams since 1997. But Williams only won one race in 2004, the last race of the season at Brazil which was won by Montoya, this is also currently the last victory for Williams.

          • Ralf going to toyota for squillions was like JV (one of my fav drivers btw) going to BAR in ’99 – a pointless waste of time and money. Toyota should have done what RBR have done. Spend the money on the best engineering talent around, build cars which previously unheralded or inexperienced drivers can put on the podium and maybe even win a few races, then the best drivers will come to you – not the other way around. And don’t try and run an F1 team based in Germany from Japan!

          • Martin said on 8th November 2009, 1:31

            If MS had have gone to toyota they wouldnt have faired much better as the culture of toyota wouldnt allow MS to do the things he was allowed at Ferrari.
            Schumacher was allowed to bring in people to the team that left to its own Ferrari wouldnt have done.
            He brought Brawn, Rory Burne, and a host of others that have left the team over time, and as each has left so has some of Ferrari competitiveness.
            Ralf never had the power and influence that Micheal did and probably extracted about as much as could have been from the toyotas.

            BMW’s biggest Mistake was not staying with Williams and supporting them the way Mercedes did Mclaren in the early days.

        • luigismen said on 5th November 2009, 14:06

          He won in 2001 in San Marino, justa after JPM nearly wins at Brazil, he just missed that win only because Verstappen crash into him

      • cjpdk (@cjpdk) said on 14th February 2012, 21:54

        If Ralf had any other surname, he’d probably be fondly remebered. Its unfair to compare him to Michael. Very few people are as good as Michael.

  2. Harv's said on 5th November 2009, 9:54

    i dont know why but i liked toyota.
    i dont know why, but i was looking forward to a toyota win! i guess that day will never come now

  3. $450 million!!! No wonder they pulled out. I was in the thinking it was in the $330 range but $459 is nuts for no return

    • Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 10:48

      Must have hurt when Renault won the 2005/06 championships for (relative) peanuts.

    • Fer no.65 said on 5th November 2009, 10:54

      330 is still a lot considering how BAD they did over the years! Since 2002, when Toyota joined, Ferrari, Mclaren, Williams, Jordan, Renault, Red Bull, Brawn, Toro Rosso, BMW-Sauber, and most importantly Honda, ALL of them won races.

      But Toyota failed constantly. Even Force India, on their 2nd year, were much more surprising than Toyota. Fisi’s pole at Spa, and his almost win the day after, was as remarkable as Toyota’s 8 years in the sport.

  4. There are many areas where you can say Toyota got it wrong, and it is not even as if it is just with the benefit of hindsight as I remember most of the decisions being criticised at the time, such as location, drivers and structure of the team.

    Some of their mistakes remind me a bit of BAR, who came in with a big budget, and so inflated F1 salaries, saying they could succeed doing things their way.

    Someone please correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t the decision to have their base in Germany because that was where their base for rallying was located?

    I think the main problem was the management structure right and that they never got the correct people in at the top, the same could be said of Ford and Honda to a certain extent, thinking that what worked for a big multi-national car maker would work for a Formula 1 team.

    • Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 5th November 2009, 10:16

      It’s a double edged sword, you need mega bucks of a big corporation to be in F1, but with technology moving so fast, you often need a small group/team of people to make fast decisions.

      • Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 17:20

        In other words: a big corp needs to hand over millions to a small group of engineers and not meddle in how they use it. And how often does that happen in the real world?

  5. Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 5th November 2009, 10:12

    Good riddance, just hope Renault go too….Ferrari aside, I’ve never liked the big motor manufacturers having their own teams. Prehaps Lord Hesketh might consider coming back. ;)

    • Ned Flanders said on 5th November 2009, 11:37

      But we need some manufacturers, otherwise there’ll be no one to compete with Ferrari!

      I want Renault to stay, at the very least as engine suppliers, at least they have a strong history in F1, and they’re proven winners. But I don’t care too much for Toyota.

      One other thing- can anyone explain to me why a car company founded by the Toyoda family became known as Toyota?

      • Random Chimp said on 5th November 2009, 12:03

        One other thing- can anyone explain to me why a car company founded by the Toyoda family became known as Toyota?

        I blame George Lucas

      • Transliteration. The Japanese use a different script to us (obviously) so the letters we use to represent Japanese don’t correspond exactly to the Japanese sounds. So “Toyota” and “Toyoda” both correspond to the same set of Japanese characters. It’s like the Chinese Beijing and Peking – both are different ways of transliterating the same Chinese word.

        • Ned Flanders said on 5th November 2009, 12:56

          Thanks Andy. This has nothing to do with F1, but I wonder how on earth Japanese/ Chinese/ Korean people ever learn to read?! The symbols they use are ridiculously complicated! Compared to reading Japanese, turning Toyota into a winning team should have been easy

          • I’m assuming you’re being a bit facetious, but regardless. They learn the same as you do: repetition. Their characters only look complicated because you’re not used to them. Our letters look just as complicated to them as their characters do to you. Korean has an alphabet as well, same as we do, so it’s nowhere near as complicated to learn as you might think.

          • AJ Ball said on 5th November 2009, 15:25

            Er, cos people’s brains can do pattern recognition?!
            It’s like when there’s a track on TV you’ve never seen before and you’ve no idea of it’s layout or which corner the cars are in. And after a while everything clicks and you can ‘see’ it.
            Unfortunately this instinct doesn’t seem to apply to commentators and identifying drivers helmet colours. You’d think with a bit of practice they could tell Vettel and Webber apart.

          • Japanese has an alphabet too. They are translated to latin alphabet as a “group of letters”, which means one japanese character can be translated as “to”, other as “yo”, “tsu”, “ho” and so on, except for vowels.

            But some characters are essencially the same as others, just with two added strokes on the upper-right side (two little traces), which transforms it in another character. These little traces are named “nigori”

            for an exemple:
            KA + nigori = GA
            KI + nigori = GI
            and so on…

            Now, Ta, Te and To + nigori = Da, De and Do
            Maybe it was mistranslated or miswritten at some point of history =P

            And Ned, their symbols are not as complicated as you think :P

          • Andrew said on 5th November 2009, 18:34

            Korean writing is actually very simple. It has only 36 or so characters (can’t remember the exact number). The characters are arranged generally in groups of three to join a word in an arrangement that looks a bit like a Chinese character. So when you look at it, you may see what you think is one character but is actually a group of “letters” that make up a word. If you look closely you’ll start to recognize the fairly small number of characters.

        • Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 13:17

          I thought it was because Toyota was a luckier name than Toyoda?

          I remember a newspaper clipping that went viral through the email a few years ago. A local radio station in the US had a competition and the prize was “a new Toyota.” A woman won the comp and was not too pleased to be delivered her prize… a brand new toy Yoda.

        • Ned Flanders said on 5th November 2009, 23:02

          Aha, so there is more to it than translation, Toyota just don’t want to be associated with ‘fertile rice paddies’.

          And obviously it’ll be easier for Japanese to read Japanese than me, but that doesn’t mean that Japanese text isn’t way more complicated than Latin. There are lines going all over the place!

  6. McPhil said on 5th November 2009, 10:19

    It would be interesting to know what they spent in total, from 1998 to 2009. Over 3 billion?

  7. Jonesracing82 said on 5th November 2009, 10:21

    imagine Minardi with that same budget!
    i never really liked Toyota, they even had the same boring livery every year! biggest under-achievers in the sport – possibly ever!

  8. Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 10:54

    $450million. What did they spend it on? I know all the high-tech gear and facilities are expensive, but other teams manage for a fraction of that. Was everyone just ridiculously overpaid? Maybe staff were given incentives to go work in Cologne…

  9. The sheer size of the team seemed to work against it. Being located in Cologne, Germany, made it difficult to attract experienced staff from other F1 teams, most of which are based in Britain.

    Being that true, I think eight years is time enough to surpass that handicap. Toyota has taken many wrong decisions during his time in Formula One, so, at the end, this is a clear demonstration of the main problem: Management.

    A group of corporate guys 15.000 Km away from Cologne: Bureaucrats Vs Racers. Gascoyne see the scenario and left. He was right.

    Anyway, another big manufacturer leaving… who’s next? Tomorrow we will know…

    And for those quite happy with independents, we will see how far they can go. F1 today cannot be managed with a group of engineers in a garage tuning a semi-standard engine and making mechanical improvements for gaining grip, speed, or both.

    F1 now is aerodynamic with loads of sophisticated simulations programs, wind tunnels, state of the art raw materials… and most important, they will not longer be independents when technical rules are fixed (and standardized) in an office, and the money will came from a man who’s first priority is returning back to CVC the money he took out of this sport for becoming one of the richest man in UK.

    Some people is taking Williams as an example, but the third most successful team in F1 history, is now surviving whit the peanuts Bernie is giving them in advance, and I can hardly see them in a “winning route” now; lets say we all will be very happy if they can survive some more years.

    • mp4-19b said on 5th November 2009, 14:53

      F1 now is aerodynamic with loads of sophisticated simulations programs, wind tunnels

      Get rid of Adrian Newey & the other Aerodynamicists! That will solve the the problem of overtaking as well as spiraling costs :P

    • Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 17:28

      F1 today cannot be managed with a group of engineers in a garage tuning a semi-standard engine

      Have you seen what sort of equipment is being used by the so-called small teams like Williams and Force India? They run CFD systems and multiple wind tunnels like the bigger teams. To suggest that independent teams comprise just a bunch of hairy mechanics is quite ignorant.

      F1 will continue to be cutting edge whether or not we have manufacturers like Toyota burning money in return for sod-all results.

  10. sumedh said on 5th November 2009, 11:06

    3-car idea might once again be discussed actively again.

  11. pseudohendrix said on 5th November 2009, 11:16

    Weren’t a couple of Toyota employees jailed in Japan over the Ferrari copying episode? I’m sure i read that in autosport around the Monaco GP in 2007…

  12. While some of their driver choices seemed strange it surely must have been in the design room where they got it really wrong. Their inability to develop a car even if they had a solid foundation. Their engines never really lit up the grid. They never seemed very innovative aerodynamically. The impression was generally bland. The could have have raced successfully for twice as many years on their budget.

    It’s a shame to loose the manufacturers, Honda, BMW, Toyota and possibly Renault. I like having the marquee names of the automotive industry in the sport, I think having road car manufacturers involved makes the sport more accessible. However their departure does lend credence to the argument that a breakaway series would never have really worked.

    Interesting that these teams should leave at this time, economically one might argue that “in the current climate” it makes sense but these are some of the richest automotive companies we’re talking about, surely if anyone can afford to go racing they can. In sporting terms the field is more open than it has been for over a decade, the possibility for success is greater now than it has been since the start of the Schumacher era, it could seem crazy to leave now. On the other hand three new teams (and a “new” engine provider) are about to join the series and make the competition even greater, to take a cut of the revenue stream and share the spotlight. Rather than risk humiliation at the hands of say Manor Toyota etc. can leave the sport without leaving the grid short of cars, it’s quite convenient.

    And what role do the FIA and FOG play in all of this? Have their constrictive regulations and fiscal demands squeezed the sport to the extent that it is only suitable for the subjugated privateer and favoured son?

    Ultimately one could argue that the manufacturers came in to F1 to grab some glory and when they failed they left, although this cannot be said of Renault if they leave. Teams come and teams go in F1 be they privateers or manufacturers, only one has been here since the beginning.

    • Steve said on 5th November 2009, 13:24

      Ferrari weren’t there at the beginning, They didn’t start until the second race :p

      • The first race of the F1 championship was not the first F1 race.

        Even so you can’t deny Ferrari’s place at the sports inception.

        • James G said on 5th November 2009, 19:58

          Steve is technically correct. The first ever Formula 1 World Championship race was the 1950 British Grand Prix, which was the 5th race of the season. Ferrari did not enter until Monaco, 2 weeks later.

          • You seem confused. You appear to state that the first ever F1 championship race was the 5th race of the the first ever F1 season.

            Steve reckons that the first race of the inaugural F1 season was the first ever F1 race.

            I put it to you that you are both wrong and that the first F1 race was actually the 1946 Turin Grand Prix and that the 1st F1 championship race in fact was the 1st race of the 1950 season and not the 5th.

          • Even then Ferrari did not compete at the first F1 race but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there at the beginning, they were, and in any case one race does not a world championship make. 1950 is the end of the beginning.

        • cjpdk (@cjpdk) said on 14th February 2012, 22:47

          The first ever F1 race (i.e. a race run to the Formula 1 regulations) was the 1946 Turin Grand Prix.

          The inaugural races of the 1950 F1 season were the Pau Grand Prix and the Glover Trophy (both held on 10 April).

          The first ever F1 Championship race (i.e. a race where points were accrued towards a World Chamionship) was the 1950 British Grand Prix.

  13. Toyota are single biggest argument for budget caps.

    • Nitpicker said on 5th November 2009, 17:53

      I wonder how they would have managed under the budget cap, using 90% less money. Perhaps the Toyota Way methodology might have worked better with some tighter cost constraints.

      Max Mosely commented a number of times, saying he can’t understand why big manufacturers like Toyota and Renault are opposed to budget caps, which would allow them to go F1 racing for pennies. I tend to agree. It’s as if they want to spend a huge fortune or not participate at all.

  14. GeeMac said on 5th November 2009, 12:13

    I know that the TF101 is only a prototype, and that shot was probably taken very early in its development, but my goodness it looks rubbish!

  15. antizyklon said on 5th November 2009, 12:18

    “One other thing- can anyone explain to me why a car company founded by the Toyoda family became known as Toyota?”
    I read a few years ago, that although the original name is Toyoda,around WWII era, when they made trucks they started to write in the badge “Toyota” instead of “Toyoda”, because in japanese it took less time and ink, and in japanese sounds similar.

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