The belt tightening in F1 continues. Today Toyota confirmed that it is withdrawing from a deal to host the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway, as it deals with mounting losses. Earlier this year the company said that it expected to lose over $1 billion in 2009.
The race will now be held at Suzuka, which, ironically is owned by Honda, who withdrew from F1 last year.
The actual cost of hosting the race is relatively modest compared to the running costs of the F1 team. The event sanctioning fee will be in the $20 million per season range, around 10% of what Toyota is likely to spend this year with the cost cutting measures put in place last December by FOTA and the FIA. But Toyota is able to recoup much of that from ticket sales, so the withdrawal is saving quite a modest amount and is clearly symbolic more than anything else.
Toyota, as part of the Formula One Teams Association, is in the process of finalising the rules and cost saving measures for 2010 and 2011, as agreed two weeks ago in the breakthrough deal with the FIA.
Although there have been rumours all season that Toyota may be pulling out of F1 soon, the team has always denied this and implied that the rumours were being spread by people who would like Toyota to leave F1.
Today’s announcement does not make it more likely that the team will pull out, after all they recently committed to stay in F1 until 2012 as part of FOTA’s side of the deal with FIA and FOM, but it does show that the red pen is out at Toyota and it sends a strong message to the FOTA negotiators that the board is calling for deep cuts in F1 spending when the 2010/2011 rules are finalised. FOTA has committed itself to getting budgets down to early 1990s levels, that is to say around £40 million without engine costs.
On a personal level, although I love Suzuka, I shall really miss Fuji. Being close to Tokyo helped a lot, as Suzuka is very isolated. The Fuji event was much better than I thought it was going to be and the circuit has a tremendous atmosphere. It also lent itself to exciting racing.
Meanwhile it seems that in the UK and Germany the scrappage scheme, whereby you can recoup £2500 off the cost of a new car if you scrap your old one has slowed the fall in new car sales, giving some relief to troubled car makers.