It has been a tough week for Japanese involvement in F1. Following on from Bridgestone’s announcement that they will withdraw at the end of 2010, Toyota have confirmed the news that many people have been expecting throughout the season; they are pulling out of F1 with immediate effect.
This opens up a place on the Formula 1 grid for the Sauber team, which BMW sold to Qadbak. As things stand there will be 13 teams next season, only three of whom are manufacturer backed. F1 has lost half its manufacturers within the last 12 months.
The balance within F1 will now change quite dramatically, as the influence of the manufacturers diminishes and more independent teams come through. Only Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari are left now. Mercedes are in the early stages of a shift away from McLaren and on to Brawn, making the new world champion team look a very strong package for the future.
Toyota’s withdrawal is no great surprise, despite recent claims from team boss John Howett that they would stay the course. The company is making huge losses as the global car market collapses and even this time last year a pullout was anticipated, but they were pre-empted by Honda. It had been suggested that a decision would be taken on November 15th, but the company’s president said this morning that the company would end its involvement, after eight seasons in which there were eight podiums but no wins.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda said the decision was “unavoidable,”
“Since last year with the worsening economic climate, we have been struggling with the question of whether to continue in F1,” he said. “We are pulling out of Formula 1 completely. I offer my deepest apologies to Toyota’s many fans for not being able to achieve the results we had targeted.”
A few hours later Toyota issued a statement,
“TMC, which had viewed its participation in F1 as contributing to the prosperity of automotive culture, remained dedicated to competing at the pinnacle of motor sports, even in the face of the abrupt economic changes that started last year.
“However, when considering TMC’s motor-sports activities next year and beyond from a comprehensive mid-term viewpoint reflecting the current severe economic realities, TMC decided to withdraw from F1.”
Ironically the move comes as the cost of racing is coming right down, due to the Resource Restriction Agreement, a process Toyota played a part in. The team has spent billions over the last ten years during F1’s most expensive period ever. The teams’ budget was amongst the highest in the sport, with a contribution from Toyota of $300 million after sponsorship and TV money.
Even though the costs are coming down dramatically, this move shows that for a company to be seen to be spending money to go racing when factories are on reduced capacity is unacceptable. This begs the question about Renault’s ongoing involvement. The team finished 8th in the championship this year, it’s worst result since it returned to F1 in 2002 and it lost most of its sponsors after being convicted of race fixing. This is also making it hard for the team to find new sponsors. Renault has weathered the storm so far and decided to carry on in F1. But for how long?
Toyota’s move leaves Jarno Trulli and Kamui Kobayashi looking for a drive. Timo Glock is believed to have signed for Renault. Trulli is known to be on the shortlist of Mike Gascoyne at Lotus, but at this stage of his career would probably prefer to work with an existing team rather than a start-up. That said, it may be his only option. Kobayashi may well have done enough in his two races at the end of the season to get a break with another team. He put on a spirited performance and showed that he has the capacity to be a favourite with the fans.
It really is a buyers market for drivers at the moment, with many seats still open, but even more drivers looking for work.