Raw Japan

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Toyota’s long and winding F1 road

March 17, 2009

For not seeing a win since joining Formula One in 2002, Toyota‘s commitment to the sport is admirable, especially after Honda’s pullout in December left the team the last Japanese standing in the glamour sport.

Toyota have been one of F1′s biggest spenders, with an estimated annual budget of $300 million, previously exceeded only by Honda. But the question for the sport’s perennial underachievers remains just how much cash do they have left to burn?

Team principal Tadashi Yamashima told me on Monday that Toyota had been close to following Honda out of the sport, and the Cologne-based team’s budget has been slashed several times as the world’s No.1 car maker  is set to suffer its first ever annual operating loss.

Honda blamed their own exit from F1 on the need to cut costs and Toyota’s survival in the sport was by no means clear-cut. A renewed sponsorship deal with Japanese electronics giant Panasonic was said to be a factor in their continued F1 presence.

“I had never seen such cost cuts in all my time at Toyota,” Yamashina said, adding that dozens of contract workers lost their jobs as the team was forced to streamline F1 operations. JAPAN

Still, Toyota are upbeat about their chances in the new season that begins in Melbourne on March 29.

“Our performance in winter testing has been much better than in the past,” Toyota’s German driver, Timo Glock, told me in an interview.

“I had a second place in Hungary last year, which was mega. The goal this year is to win a race and I know my performance will be better this year.”
Yamashina insisted that Toyota’s F1 future did not depend purely on results, but added a caveat: “It’s important to win. There would be little point (carrying on), if we’re crawling home in 17th or 18th place.”
Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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