A team with an enormous budget like Toyota should be winning championships and dominating the sport in Ferrari-esque style. Alas they are not quite there yet, but the other Japanese team – Honda – is showing signs of progress, competition is heating up and I’m sure the ever loyal Asian fans will be getting very excited.
This year Toyota will keep their drivers from last year, Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher, as they aim for stability within the team after last years less-than-perfect season. Controversy surrounded the team at the US Grand Prix when Schumacher Jnr had a nasty accident on the banked corner of the circuit. Deciding the tyres were to blame, Michelin requested the teams to withdraw from the event on grounds of safety. Whilst this isn’t Toyota’s fault, they were the team that bought this potential threat to light, and thus were dogged by the media for a good long time. And then later in the year, three previous team members (including Ove Anderson, the once head of the team) were charged with industrial espionage over claims that a technician who transferred from Ferrari in 2002/3 bought with him data that was owned by the Italian team.
Toyota will be looking to put this black spell behind them in order to concentrate fully on something the team really wants – to be Formula One world champions.
The car has been doing okay in testing, but it hasn’t been ground-breaking and many people wonder what they do with their large budget. Whilst the team have looked good in the past, and Trulli in particular has put in some fantastic qualifying performances, they haven’t yet looked like coming close to realising their dream.
Jarno Trulli is highly rated in F1 for his one lap speed. He has the ability to hook the car up just right and put in a truly magical lap which has put him in some unusual places on the grid. However, Trulli’s pace over a Grand Prix is sometimes lacking and many people feel that whilst he is a fast driver, he is still to learn the skill of mastering a race in its entirety.
Jarno’s experience though has been welcome at Toyota, who started the team from scratch, unlike other entrants who have bought and renamed older teams. However, he really needs to start proving himself in races if he wants to keep his race seat for the future. Toyota is regarded as a team for the future who will surely become winners. There are a lot of drivers who would love the chance at driving for them in a couple of years or so, and names like Raikkonen, Schumacher Snr and Montoya have all been rumoured to be in contention.
Partnering Trulli will be Ralf Schumacher, younger brother to Michael. Ralf had another poor season last year, despite promises of improving and getting to grips with the car. He seems to get swallowed up in the mid-field and hasn’t been seen to be pushing as hard as other drivers. However, the fact remains that Ralf is a Grand Prix winner (with Williams) and somewhere deep within himself, he knows what it takes to win on a consistent basis. If Ralf can conquer his trait of having silly accidents (and some serious accidents) and focus himself, he can win for Toyota and have a brilliant career with the Japanese squad, much like his brother at Ferrari.
Toyota may get a couple of poles in 2006, and they may even win a race. But as championship contenders, they still have a long way to go yet.