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Toyota dumps Formula One

Red flag: Formula One's loss will be Toyota customers' gain as Toyota turns its back on F1 to divert its energies back into making good cars.

Empty-handed Toyota pulls the pin on F1 after eight years as it gets back to basics

Toyota logo5 Nov 2009

By RON HAMMERTON

TOYOTA Motor Corporation (TMC), the Japanese giant that is unaccustomed to finishing anywhere but first in any venture, today withdrew from Formula One after eight seasons without a single grand prix victory.

The painful backdown by the world’s number-one motor manufacturer comes after reporting its first loss ($8.3 billion) since 1950 – a situation that it has warned could get worse.

Toyota is reputed to have plunged up to $A500 million a year on its German-based Toyota Racing team in its attempt to win the F1 world championship, achieving a best championship finish of fourth in the constructors’ title in 2005.

The withdrawal, announced by Toyota Motorsport chairman Tadashi Yamashina in Tokyo, follows the departure from the world’s premier motor racing arena by fellow car-makers BMW and Honda.

French car-maker Renault’s future in F1 is also up for discussion at a board meeting in Paris this week after the recent race-fixing scandal by its F1 team in the Singapore Grand Prix, potentially leaving Formula One with the participation of only two major motor manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari.

To make matters even more parlous, tyre-maker Bridgestone – the official supplier to Formula One since last year – announced yesterday it would not renew its contract at the end of the 2011 season.

Toyota’s announcement that it is quitting Formula One has angered the sport’s governing body, the FIA, which said in Paris that Toyota had only recently signed a binding ‘Concorde Agreement’ contract to stay in F1 until 2012.

 center imageIt has threatened to review the Toyota position – a statement that some observers translate to mean that it will force Toyota to compensate the sport for breaking the agreement.

Toyota blamed its departure from F1 on “current severe economic realities”.

It described the venture as “an irreplaceable experience”, promising to put it to good use in developing exciting new road cars.

“Drawing on its experience in F1 and other motor sports, TMC intends to move forward in developing exciting production vehicles, such as the Lexus LFA supercar and compact rear-wheel-drive sports cars,” it said.

The decision by Toyota to walk away without achieving its goal must have been a tough one for TMC’s new president and CEO, Akio Toyoda, who not only has supported the company’s motor racing participation but even raced cars himself.

Earlier this year, just before he took over the reins as president from Katsuaki Watanabe in June, the grandson of the Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda raced a Lexus sports car in the Nurburgring 24-Hour production car race.

Before getting involved in F1, Toyota had previously enjoyed success in the World Rally Championship, Indycar, sports cars and, more recently, NASCAR. F1, however, was a bridge too far.

It sucked up vast volumes of cash, even with the support of big Japanese sponsors such as Panasonic, but without the kudos of on-track success to drive marketing campaigns.

Although rival Honda failed to win a championship in its most recent foray into F1, it at least can reflect on its glory days of the 1980s when teams powered by Honda engines dominated the sport with several constructor’s and driver’s crowns.

Toyota’s first F1 cars hit the track in 2002, achieving 13 podium finishes in eight seasons – all second or third placings.

The Toyota F1 exercise was dogged with controversy, with rival teams blaming the free-spending organisation for helping to inflate the already exorbitant cost of fielding a team in the annual championship by forcing the other aspirants to follow suit to be competitive.

The F1 team grew out of Toyota’s world rally exercise at its base in Cologne, initially run by former rally champion Ove Andersson and then Mike Gascoyne. Both of these men eventually became disillusioned and departed.

This year, drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock took Toyota to fifth place in the championship, although Glock was injured towards the end of the season in a crash in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Toyota has promised to continue motor racing at other levels, while also “actively contributing to further development of motor sports by supporting grassroots races and planning events in which it is easy for people to participate”.

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