It has long been reckoned within the F1 paddock, that of the manufacturers involved, Toyota is arguably the most in danger of following fellow Japanese marque Honda out of the exit door. According to recent speculation, however, that may no longer be the case.
Toyota's slump in car sales as a result of the global credit crunch – the first time the firm has made an annual net loss in almost six decades – has been the catalyst for a rigorous cost-cutting process, and many assumed that one of the first casualties would be the company's underperforming F1 team, which has yet to win a grand prix after 133 starts since 2002 despite benefitting from one of if not the biggest budget in the sport.
In 2007 then team principal Tadashi Yamashina revealed that he had been given two years to turn the Cologne-based concern's fortunes around, whilst at the beginning of the present campaign Toyota Motorsport President John Howett admitted that 'if we have a weak season we have no future', re-igniting rumours that 2009 would be the team's final year.
Despite a strong start to proceedings – with podium finishes for Jarno Trulli in Australia and Bahrain and Timo Glock in Malaysia, and a front row lock-out for the Italian-German pairing in Sakhir – progress has faltered of late, with still no sign of that breakthrough grand prix triumph, third place having become fourth in the constructors' title standings and McLaren-Mercedes and customer Toyota-powered outfit Williams catching up fast.
According to grandprix.com
, however, Toyota's continuing presence in the top flight could have been saved by two developments. One is F1's cost-cutting drive – in which the Aichi and Tokyo-based manufacturer has been very much at the forefront – and the other is the arrival of new Toyota boss Akio Toyoda, a motorsport fan and former part-time racer whose goal is to create a more exciting range of road cars to include an affordable, rear wheel-drive sportscar. The project could involve co-operation with Subaru and the car is expected to go into production in two years' time – and the cross-over in company image from staid to sporty could just be the key element in preserving Toyota's ongoing F1 presence.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz has been quick to rubbish rumours elsewhere in the paddock that the Stuttgart marque – which currently supplies three teams with engines in the form of long-time partner McLaren, world championship leaders Brawn GP and Force India, and is understood to be in negotiations with the in-form Red Bull Racing about a fourth potential deal in 2010 – is set to follow fellow German manufacturer BMW's lead in walking away from F1. A spokesman assured Crash.net
that BMW's decision will have no impact upon Mercedes' ongoing commitment to the sport.