Being one of the largest manufacturers of automobiles on the planet, you’d expect Toyota to be passionate about motor racing. You’d expect such a company to work tirelessly in the pursuit of speed and reliability in their racing cars. Let’s be honest, you’d expect them to be a winning team. But after launching their assault on Formula One in 2002, Toyota are yet to make a serious attempt at winning races on a regular basis. The team has been floundering towards the rear-end of the grid since its inception, and aside from a couple of brief flashes of speed, the Japanese squad is yet to show the passion and flare for racing that have seen other teams do so well for so many years.
Toyota are about to embark on their sixth season in Formula One, and while we only have testing times to look at, the lap times do not paint an improved picture. All too often this winter, Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and primary test driver Franck Montagny have struggled to find pace in the new TF107. Ralf has also suffered from back problems after his car spun out over a kerb. While Ralf has since driven the car, the battle scarred driver will not want to add any further injuries to his already lengthy list.
So can the team turn their fortunes around and start to win? Well they certainly have the money – Toyota are considered to have one of the largest budgets of all the teams – but the team appears to not always apply this cash in the right areas. They have two race winners in their cockpits, Trulli winning in Monaco in the Renault, and Ralf winning many times over with Williams. Ralf is reported to be an expensive driver, but his talent at racing doesn’t always seem to justify his pay packet. While there have been many times when Ralf has looked to be an awesome talent, there are too many other times when the German appears to struggle, make mistakes, and drive the car off the circuit. It is his inconsistency that plays against him, and while he can do it, he doesn’t appear to have the motivation of his peers.
Jarno is clearly a big talent, and his performances at Renault were, at times, astounding. Trulli knows how to qualify a Formula One car, and he can easily put the Toyota in places it really shouldn’t be. His one lap pace is, quite simply, breath-taking. However, over the course of a 90 minute race, Jarno often gets caught knapping, and all too often he has found himself in a well-fought position only to have a slew of cars pass him in the few remaining laps of Grand Prix. Again, inconsistency in pace is Trulli’s issue, and this plays against him and the team when coupled with Ralf.
The car, in all honesty, looks no better than any previous incarnations, and despite the team having oodles of cash, I really cannot see them improving on their 2006 form. In fact, my prediction below will see them lose a place in the Constructors over last years sixth, simply because other teams appear to be progressing with much more pace at the moment.
If Toyota are to survive in Formula One, they have to start winning. They have to start putting the money in the right places, and unfortunately, that means a change of drivers in my mind. Maybe 2008 will see these changes as contracts are up for renewal, but as with everything in F1, the problem I fear, is far deeper than just the pilots.
2007 Constructors Prediction: 7th