Rumours that Toyota is set to pull out of Formula 1 at the end of the present campaign regardless of the outcome of the budget cap dispute are 'all spin' and 'put there deliberately to create some more tension in the situation', the team's motorsport president John Howett has insisted.
There has been ongoing speculation about the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's long-term participation at the highest level, particularly in the light of rival Japanese company Honda's sudden and unexpected withdrawal at the end of last year in response to the global economic downturn and the fact that after no fewer than 128 starts in the top flight since making its debut back in 2002, the Cologne-based outfit still has yet to register its first victory, or indeed even come close.
Having begun 2009 in strong shape – with podium finishes in three of the first four outings, for Jarno Trulli in Australia and Bahrain and for Timo Glock in Malaysia, and its first-ever front row lock-out in Sakhir last month – Toyota has now not scored a single point since the F1 circus' return to Europe, with a first corner accident and general lack of pace in Barcelona and an abject showing in the Monaco Grand Prix, with both cars occupying the very back row of the starting grid and faring no better than tenth (Glock) and 13th (Trulli) on race day.
Along with Ferrari, Renault, Red Bull and possibly BMW, Toyota has threatened to quit the sport over the ongoing stand-off between its teams in the guise of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) and governing body the FIA regarding Max Mosley's controversial new £40 million budget cap initiative. Indeed, many are surmising that the damaging stalemate will simply be used as a convenient excuse for the Aichi-based car maker to pull the plug on its official involvement at the close of the campaign.
Cologne-based newspaper Express
has recently reported that Toyota 'has decided to exit Formula 1', with others suggesting that the decision was taken before the TF109 challenger had even so much as turned a wheel, but Howett – who prior to the start of the current season had hinted that it may be win-or-bust for the under-pressure squad in F1 this year – is adamant that nothing could be further from the truth.
“I believe that is all spin,” the Englishman urged in an interview with British newspaper the Daily Telegraph
. “It has been put there deliberately to create some more tension in the situation. I don't know the source, but I can only say in our case that there is a clear wish to enter next year's championship.”
The performance around the narrow, tortuous streets of Monte Carlo over the weekend has only served to add fuel to the flames for the conspiracy theorists, but all concerned are adamant that the entire focus is on fighting back as rapidly as possible, with Toyota's third position in the constructors' title chase beginning to come under threat from resurgent multiple world champions Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes behind.
“I have to say that finishing in the top ten was a bit more than I had expected at the start of the race, considering how the weekend had gone up to then,” reflected Glock, tenth at the chequered flag in the glamorous Principality. “We had good pace in the last stint, but when you start from the pit-lane in Monaco you cannot expect to score points.
“This weekend started badly, and from then on we were playing catch-up. In Monaco you want to start the weekend on a good basis and then adjust the car to the track as it evolves, but we had problems from first practice. I am looking forward to Turkey, and I hope we can improve significantly.”