Toyota’s John Howett has been doing a bit of firefighting in the last couple of days after his team principal Tadashi Yamashina was quoted as saying that the company’s future in F1 was ‘unclear’.
Toyota has been dogged by rumours that it may pull out at the end of the season. Earlier this year there was a political dimension to this; it suited some people to cast doubt on Toyota’s commitment. Generally there is no doubt that the sudden withdrawals of Honda last Christmas and BMW this summer have dented confidence within F1 circles in the manufacturers’ assurances of participation. Assurances are one thing, guarantees are another and in the absence of the latter the rumours will not go away. The fear of the team is that this will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
However Toyota has signed the Concorde Agreement, tying it in until 2012 and although Howett is not able to say with 100% certainty that the Toyota team will be in Bahrain next March, the team is carrying on with that goal in mind. There is no evidence to the contrary at the moment, only signals which are being interpreted as Toyota hedging its bets, such as releasing both drivers, not setting a budget until November and big cutbacks in other areas of Toyota’s business.
“I think his (Yamashima’s) position is that we should be here until 2012 and I think on the point of giving an absolute guarantee, I think he was just pragmatic in saying that you can never really give that, “Howett told Autosport.
Yesterday in the FIA press conference he added, “I expect to be back at Suzuka hopefully without the rain next year.”
As for the driver market, Toyota is chasing both Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, but quick checks on this reveal that neither driver is likely to head there.
Kubica is expected to be announced shortly at Renault, as replacement for Fernando Alonso,
“I think the market is very fluid,” said Howett. “I think we have tried to be fair to the drivers to say that we may not have seats for them and therefore I think it is fair and transparent to do that. We remain in contact with both of them, particularly Timo (Glock). But I do feel there will be movements in the driver market, some movements even that people aren’t speculating about at the moment and therefore we want to be free to consider the best option for the team for next year. We think we will have a strong car and we want good results.”
I find this curious wording; ‘we remain in contact with both of them’ is surely a given, as they see each other on a daily basis at Grands Prix.
Part of the strategy here is something we are seeing across the board this year, which is the FOTA teams working hard to push driver salaries down.
Letting Glock and Trulli know that they are free to look around is backed up by an insistence that the retainers on offer are substantially lower than previously. Both men know that, assuming Toyota continue, it would be their best option.