Unsharpened Katana - Toyota F1
The story of Toyota's Formula 1 experiment.
Toyota has always been known for not being afraid of trying things. Over the years their curriculum has been filled with success and failure in multiple categories of racing, incluiding World Rally, CanAm, GT cars, NASCAR, LeMans, and IndyCar. With such experience, the Japanese manufacturer was wondering if they should try Formula 1 as well. So in 1999, after the team’s defeat at the Mulsanne circuit, they announced that they would be entering the pinnacle of motorsport in 2001. Or at least that was their original intention, because at the last moment they decided to delay their entry until 2002. Strangely, despite Toyota lacking any experience in the series, they were still planning on entering the sport as a full fledged constructor instead of partnering with another team first. Nevertheless, the new team decided to make the most out of their 1 year competition delay by experimenting what they could be able to do in real championship conditions. They decided to develop a first prototype in 2001 in order to send it to over 10 tracks in the calendar to start gathering data. They hired drivers Mika Salo and Allan McNish, who had driven the GT-One car at LeMans. They also sent a full pit crew in order for them to train.
Eventually, the 2002 season was ready to start, and after 1 year preparing, the Toyota team arrived at Melbourne for the opening race. They didn’t know what to expect, however nobody expected what was about to happen. Once the lights went off, Ralf Schumacher smashed into Rubens Barrichello, causing an accident that would eliminate half the grid, incluiding Toyota's McNish. However Salo was left unscathed and managed to fight his way through the remaining cars. Eventually he catched up to the Minardi of Mark Webber in 5th, the Finn was going for the overtake when he spun, however he still managed to finish 6th and salvage the last point. It is a rare feat for a debuting team to score on their first race, especially in a time where only the top 6 were awarded, yet Toyota had done it. The rest of the season was quiet for the team, with a best qualifying result of 10th. Several retirements allowed for only one more point scored that positioned them 10th on the championship that year.
Despite a strong start, Toyota's results were rather poor during the remainder of the season. The amount of retirements meant they finished 10th of the 11 teams.
2003 was yet another season in which the team’s cars weren’t living up to Toyota’s standards, with their engines failing 9 out the 16 times for new driver Olivier Panis. Annoyingly, the cars were failing at a time were they seemed to be on really good pace. Panis was able to qualify 3rd at the US GP, and both cars were briefly positioned 1st and 2nd in the British GP. Their best finish was 5th, but numerous points finishes by their other driver, Brazilian Cristiano da Matta allowed for the team to finish 8th. With just 16 points, they were ahead of only Minardi and a struggling Jordan, but still, it was an improvement over the year before.
For 2003, the team had made some progress, allowing it to climb to 8th in the championship.
Toyota entered 2004 keeping their same driver line up as the year before. The season started to be harsh on the team since the very beggining, with the best result they could manage being a 6th at Monaco before being disqualified in Canada for using banned components. Cristiano da Matta, following disappointing performances, was replaced by fellow countryman Ricardo Zonta after the German GP. Zonta drove for Toyota in the subsequent four rounds, before being replaced by Italian Jarno Trulli, who had left Renault. Panis on the other hand, announced his retirement from racing, and decided to give up his seat to Zonta at the last race of the season so that the Brazilian could compete at his home GP. Despite Trulli’s good qualifying results, the team only managed to score 9 points. Less than in 2003, however they kept their 8th place in the championship.
Toyota had a dissapointing season in 2004, however managed to retain 8th in the championship.
Although it didn’t look like it at Australia (where the team failed to score any points) 2005 was to be the team’s best season. They kept Trulli but replaced Zonta with Ralf Schumacher from Williams, and with their new TF105 both drivers had their chance to shine. Trulli scored two consecutive 2nd places in Malaysia and Bahrain before getting on the podium again with a 3rd place in Spain. He then got the team’s first pole position at the controversial American GP, a race in which ultimately Toyota and many other teams decided not to participate. Schumacher meanwhile didn’t stay behind, he was a constant point scorer and also achieved podiums at Hungary and China, as well as another pole position for the team at their home race in Japan. Once the season was over, the team had scored points on every race except Australia, a feat that allowed them to finish 4th in the constructors championship.
Trulli gave the team their first podium in Malaysia, a total of 5 podiums would place them 4th in the championship.
2006 was a significant drop compared to 2005. The team continued to be fast, but sadly for them, their opponents had gotten faster as well. Toyota’s cars were able to score points frequently, however their season was plagued with retirements, and a 3rd place podium at Australia was the best result they could manage. After this season, the team started to call criticism due to the fact that despite having the biggest budget among the teams, it seemed like they were simply not able to have some real stable progress. By the end of the season, the 4th that Toyota held in 2005, was now occupied by Honda as Toyota fell into 6th.
2006 was downhill for the team, with plenty of retirements they were positioned 6th in the championship.
2007 was simply shamefull for Toyota. They started supplying engines to Williams, but for some reason, it seemed that these engines were better than the ones Toyota themselves were using. While the Japanese team was seen with constant retirements and bad performances, Williams’ car was a decent point scorer and even finished once in the podium. Without any podiums, Toyota scored only 13 points, just over a third of their total in 2006. The team was still able to finish 6th, however it was because of the fact that McLaren had been disqualified. After the season ended, Schumacher announced he was leaving F1 having not been offered a new contract.
In 2007, Toyota was struggling to keep up even with the team it supplied engines to.
For 2008, Toyota was focused on making some real progress. They presented a totally new car design at pre season testing which looked promissing. Their season started with a double retirement, but they managed to straighten up and scored points during the following races until eventually in France, Trulli managed to defend against the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen to finish 3rd, the team’s first podium in over 2 years. Trulli dedicated this podium to former team boss Ove Andersson, who had died the week prior to the race in a car accident. In Hungary, new driver Timo Glock qualified 5th, and managed to finish 2nd. At the dramatic Brazilian GP, Trulli qualified 2nd, however both Toyotas stayed on dry tires once the rain fell. We all know how that ended.
A total of 2 podiums allowed the team to finish 5th in 2008 with 56 points.
2009 was the strongest start of a season for the team, with Trulli finishing 3rd at the opening event. They scored another podium at the following race in Malaysia and then another one in Bahrain after starting from pole. Their strong results were mostly due to the fact that Toyota, along with Brawn and Williams, had exploited a loophole in the rules and started using a “double diffuser” design. Their performance then fell slightly during the middle of the season, however they were able to resurge toward the final races and score two 2nd places, one in Singapore, and the other at their home race in Japan. At the Japanese GP however, Glock suffered an accident during qualifying that prevented him from racing on the last 2 events. He was replaced by Kamui Kobayashi. When the season ended in Abu Dhabi, Toyota was positioned 5th in the championship, 10 points behind Ferrari and 11 behind McLaren.
Some very strong results in 2009 positioned the team back in 5th place, a few points behind Ferrari and McLaren
In light of the parent company’s first ever financial loss in 2009, Toyota decided to withdraw from Formula One with immediate effect on November 4th 2009, just 3 days after the season ended. An agreement was reached for the Stefan Grand Prix team, which was attempting to compete in the 2010 season, to take Toyota’s 2010 chassis and engines to race in the upcoming season. Stefan GP also rented a private office space at Toyota Motorsport, but the team was refused an entry and never competed in Formula One. Toyota’s grid spot in 2010 was taken by Sauber who competed under the name BMW Sauber despite BMW’s withdrawal from the sport and the team’s use of Ferrari engines.
Toyota's 2010 chasis and engines were aquired by a team, but ultimately weren't able to race.
Although they have the financial capability, Toyota doesn't seem to be interested in returning to F1 anytime soon.
So that was the story of the Toyota F1 team. Toyota is one of my favorite brands, and the fact that they were never able to succed in Formula 1 is in my opinion quite sad. After all, they had a very big budget and their drivers weren’t bad at all, they surely could have done better had they just gave it a little more time. Anyway, what do you think of the team? Did you like it? do you want it to return? Leave your answers in the comments below, I would like to see what you think.
Anyways, that is the end of this article. If you’ve read until this point then I thank you very much and hope you have enjoyed..
Thank you for reading