Despite having joined its nine fellow Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) members in submitting its entry for next season by the stipulated 29 May deadline at the end of last week, Toyota is adamant that it will only remain a part of the grand prix grid should the FIA's controversial optional £40 million budget cap be abolished for 2010.
All of the present incumbents have signed up for next year following a long FIA-FOTA stand-off over Max Mosley's much-debated cost-cutting initiative, but in its entry submission FOTA stipulated that the conditions of the teams' continuing participation depend upon the retention of 'the current 2009 regulations, amended in accordance with proposals that FOTA has submitted to the FIA'.
The teams have also demanded that a new commercial rights-governing Concorde Agreement be signed by 12 June, the date when the sport's governing body is set to announce the successful candidates to fill the 26 slots available on next year's starting grid. So far, six new outfits – Prodrive, Lola, Team USF1, Campos Meta 1, Team Superfund and Litespeed GP – have lodged entry applications for the campaign ahead.
Toyota Motorsport President and FOTA Vice-President John Howett has re-affirmed that should any semblance of a 'two-tier' cost cap be introduced and technical restrictions be imposed upon free-spending competitors, the big-budget Japanese manufacturer and a number of its rivals will be forced to look elsewhere for a competitive sphere.
“We believe that everybody has to compete under the same rules,” underlined the Englishman. “I don't believe that anybody objects to new teams joining the series, [but] I don't think, at the moment, that there is any discussion of a budget cap. A number of us feel that unless the actual conditions are satisfied then we have to seriously consider alternatives.”
There has been much speculation regarding the Cologne-based operation's long-term participation in the top flight in the light of its ongoing winless record from 129 starts since making its F1 debut back in 2002, but perhaps more surprising has been mainstay Ferrari's threat to walk away over the dispute. The Scuderia
has been the only team to have begun every single season since the official inception of the world championship all the way back in 1950.
“Absolutely not,” replied the esteemed Maranello-based concern's team principal Stefano Domenicali, when asked if FOTA's entry submission signalled a willingness to accept the cap. “The request to make the 2009 regulations the starting point means there will be no budget cap. If the conditions are not met, the entries will be invalid.”
Meanwhile, the continuing uncertainty regarding the rules has already dissuaded RML, Epsilon Euskadi and iSport International from attempting to join the fray, whilst the Alex Wurz-led Team Superfund – spearheaded by the erstwhile Benetton, McLaren and Williams ace, funded by an Austrian investment company and likely to run Cosworth powerplants – has lodged an entry application, but is understood to be likely to renounce it again should the present situation not rapidly be clarified.
“A lot depends on what happens,” 35-year-old Wurz told British newspaper the Daily Telegraph
. “We will need to get up-and-running quickly so we have a plan for both scenarios – either receiving assistance from existing teams or setting up as an independent team. However, nothing can be fully decided until it becomes clear what are we allowed and not allowed to do for 2010 and years to follow.”