The 2008 season will be Toyota’s seventh in Formula One and it could prove to be very important for the future of the squad. Since their inaugural season in 2002, the highly-funded team have have failed to score a victory and have only been on the podium four times, each occasion being a third place finish, 75% of which were during their most successful year to date – 2005. The bosses are looking very carefully at the team, weighing up the pros and cons of continued investment in what is little more than a mobile advertising board.
Last year was not Toyota’s finest moment, the team failing to step on the podium and only scoring a rather miserable 13 points, the third worst in the squad’s history. Their highest finishing position was two sixth places, one for Jarno Trulli at Indianapolis and one for Ralf Schumacher in Hungary. The overall pace of the TF107 was pretty poor to say the least and the majority of points earned were largely thanks to the remarkable qualifying charges of Trulli. The development of the 2008 machine, launched early in January and named the TF108, has been described by the drivers with some contradiction, with comments ranging from possible podiums to we have a lot of work still to do.
Speaking of drivers, Toyota have a new face in their team for 2008, namely Timo Glock. Timo has driven briefly in Formula One in the past, racing in the 2004 Canadian grand prix for Jordan. His debut went well, finishing in eleventh on the track, but later promoted to seventh following Williams’s and Toyota’s disqualification. Glock then returned the seat to regular driver Giorgio Pantano, but was asked to drive once again for the final three races of the year. No more points came to the German, but the experience gained was valuable and Timo looked good to get a drive for 2005. Oddly though, a drive didn’t come and Glock went to America to race in Champ Car, winning the Rookie Of The Year award. However, missing European racing and wanting a chance to return to Formula One Timo returned to the UK in 2006 and competed in GP2. By the end of 2007, Glock had tested well for BMW and also took the GP2 championship in style.
So once again Timo has been given the opportunity to flex his driving muscles in Formula One, and given his reasonably successful path to the sport, one would have to say that he has a good chance of impressing. However, his career hangs with the competitiveness of the car; if the TF108 turns out to be a dog, Timo’s abilities will be overshadowed and he could lose out once again.
Partnering Glock will be Formula One veteran Jarno Trulli. The Italian out-scored his 2007 team mate Ralf Schumacher, despite the German winning more races in his career. The punishing difference of points and attitude allowed Jarno to stand out better, despite only scoring a paltry eight points. Trulii’s position in the squad isn’t guaranteed though as shown by the indecision in the team over the winter. When others were busy announcing plans for 2008, Toyota remained eerily silent, the reason becoming clear when it became apparent they were chasing Fernando Alonso. Failing to gain a signature from the Spaniard, Trulli was retained by the team for another year. After 2008 though, his position will surely be under question with so many young talented hopefuls desperate to get a chance in F1.
The TF108 is performing worryingly similar to the hopeless TF107, suggesting little has been pushed forward in comparison to the other teams. While the new car has been said to be more drivable, the testing times so far have put them largely towards the bottom of the timing sheets. A couple of surprising performances have come from the tests, but these were likely done with low fuel loads.
Unfortunately, I really cannot see Toyota performing any better than last year. While the car probably has improved, the other squads surrounding them have also improved. Red Bull have been working on reliability and Scuderia Toro Rosso finished strong in Japan and China in 2007. Williams look to have made a sizable step forward, notably being powered by none other than Toyota engines. I really cannot see Toyota earning much more than 15 points in 2008. They’ll probably keep themselves above Force India and Super Aguri should they make it to the Australian grid. They may get pass STR again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Toyota went backwards a little.