I was interested to see that at a press conference at Portimao circuit yesterday, attended by colleagues from the ITV F1 website, Toyota’s John Howett sounded a stark warning about Toyota’s future in the sport if they do not succeed this season.
He said, ” We have a great team of people and I think we just feel it’s about time we won. We need a strong season. If we have a weak season we have no future.
“Whether we have to win is difficult to say, but I think we feel we have to win.”
This is slightly at odds with the tone of the language at the launch and represents a significant ramping up of the stakes by Toyota. Going back to that shocking week in early December when Honda announced they were pulling out of F1, the word on the street in the days leading up to Honda’s announcement was that Toyota was about to announce something. If indeed they ever were planning a withdrawal or even a phased announcement, once Honda pulled the plug, they merely said that at present they were committed.
Everyone has been looking at Toyota for some time and wondering when they will follow Honda. Now John Howett has made a comment, which will hang over them throughout the season. There is a coded message to the powers that be not to take Toyota’s participation for granted, but I think this is more of a call to arms than anything else, a calculated message to everyone in the team to dig deep, ignite the passion and find something special. The team is actually quite bullish about this season ahead, despite the fact that the word I’m hearing is that this is quite a conservative car at the moment, compared to the others.
Nevertheless Jarno Trulli reacted to Howett’s comments by saying, “Now the pressure is on the whole team, we have the structure, the means and the experience. I’m convinced that this will be the year in which Toyota will celebrate its first win and I hope it’s me who brings it.”
What we have at the moment is a phoney war, the early shots are being fired, but because of rain and teams being at different tracks it’s way too early to say who’s quick and who’s not. My hunch, from previous experience, is that someone will have found an edge with these new rules and it doesn’t have to be Ferrari and McLaren, it could easily be a Renault, a BMW or a Toyota.
Adrian Newey has a pretty fantastic track record at interpreting new rules and finding an edge, so the Red Bull will be interesting to see when it launches next month. The technical group there is now well and truly bedded in and the Renault engine has been brought up to level power with the others. Webber and Vettel will get the thing flying.. if it’s good enough to be flown..
With such massive rule changes it’s virtually certain that the pecking order will be different this year from last. Williams too has a good chance to move up. I can’t wait until the picture starts to emerge over next month’s tests.