Tadashi Yamashina has confessed that the global credit crunch did indeed cause 'some doubt' over Toyota's continued participation in Formula 1 – and he praised chief sponsor Panasonic for enabling the Japanese outfit to remain on the starting grid.
Following rival manufacturer Honda's shock and sudden withdrawal from competition in December, many in the paddock surmised that it would only be a matter of time before Toyota followed suit, particularly in the light of the company's comparatively modest results in the top flight in relation to its significant investment since its entry back in 2002.
In 123 grand prix starts, the Cologne-based concern has yet to register its maiden victory – and, what's more, has never even looked like doing so. Yamashina-san has now admitted that in the wake of Honda's departure, Toyota was on the cusp of pulling out as well – until his determination, the foundation of the unprecedented Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) and Panasonic's renewed support convinced the world's largest car maker otherwise.
“We have competed on the F1 circuit over the past seven years, which I believe has helped to invigorate our company and contributed to the sales of our products,” the Toyota Motorsport GmbH chairman told Tokyo daily newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun
. “I stressed again and again in the company's executive board meetings there was no way we should pull out, although we have to drastically cut our costs.
“Obviously our negative business reports did cause some doubt, so I was extremely happy that Panasonic decided to renew its contract with us even though they also had some financial trouble. Their understanding of what we are doing allowed us to keep racing.
“An association of F1 executives (FOTA) has been set up under the leadership of Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, and all the teams have worked very hard to drastically cut their expenditure.”
Toyota top brass deliberated right up until just before Christmas before making its final decision and re-affirming its commitment to the sport – arguably the world's most expensive and glamorous marketing tool. Yamashina-san also explained that F1's new eco-friendly drive is of increasing relevance to its road car technology, providing another argument in favour of staying put.
As it enters its eighth season on the grand prix grid this year, it has been repeated on many occasions that Toyota has to
finally win a race in order to justify its ongoing presence, and Yamashina-san is confident that with a driver line-up of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock on-board and the encouraging testing form of the new TF109, that day will at last arrive.
“We must win,” the 57-year-old urged. “I'm sure of our team's potential to win a grand prix title after watching the final test on Thursday. Our team is definitely better than that of last year, whose best performance was a runner-up finish (in the Hungarian Grand Prix).”