John Howett believes 'the highlight of the year is still to come' for Toyota in F1 2009, and despite the team's relative slump in performance in recent races, he is adamant that the top flight's most consistent underachievers can
win a race between now and the end of the campaign.
Toyota came out of the blocks sprinting back at the season, with three rostrum finishes from the opening four grands prix and a breakthrough front row lock-out in Bahrain, but since then the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's star has irrefutably faded. There were 26.5 points notched up from the first four outings – an average of 6.6 points per start – but just twelve have been registered in the six grands prix since, equating to a mere two per race.
Even more ignominious still was the squad's abject qualifying showing around the narrow, tortuous streets of Monaco in May, with Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock between them annexing the very back row of the starting grid – and far from challenging Brawn GP and Red Bull racing for the pound seats, Toyota is now in danger of falling prey to the resurgent McLaren-Mercedes and, even more embarrassingly, customer-powered Williams in the constructors' title standings. Howett insists he is pleased with progress – if mindful that more could have been achieved.
“We are more than halfway through the season, have scored several strong results and have a competitive car at our disposal,” reflected the marque's motorsport president. “Naturally we want better results and we expected to finish on the podium more frequently, but we are relatively pleased with the fundamental pace of our car. It was very satisfying to start the season so successfully, and it was clear we were firmly in the top three for the first four races of the year.
“The all-Toyota front row in Bahrain was a proud moment for everyone in the team, and to see two Toyotas leading the field – setting the fastest lap on the way – was really special. Of course, we all wish it had continued like that until the chequered flag, but it wasn't to be. We are in a results business, so the highlights for me so far have been our podium finishes, particularly in Australia and Malaysia, because these confirmed our belief that we are serious contenders in 2009.
“We have been focused and ambitious in our development. Maybe it's not obvious to outsiders just how much development is going into the TF109, but we are pushing extremely hard to improve every conceivable area, with a particular focus on aerodynamics. Our development schedule at the start of the season was very ambitious, and we have pushed on with that. We have seen some fluctuations in relative performance since then, [so] we just need to continue to add performance to the car and get the most out of the package that we have.
“We still have targets to reach this season, so we have not even considered switching all development to the 2010 car. Significant work is going on in parallel on the 2010 car, as was always planned, but we are still working hard to extract more performance from the TF109. We have an extremely competitive baseline this year, so the challenge is to keep up development and unlock all the potential of our package. We have a duty to ourselves, our partners and fans to push on at full throttle with our development programme but, more importantly, we know the leading cars are not out of reach so we must fight for every bit of extra performance.”
On that subject, Howett remains bullish about Toyota's chances of success over the remaining seven races of the campaign. More than 130 starts and still no victory may be an unenviable statistic, but it is one the Englishman believes the Cologne-based outfit can still shake off in 2009 – and he is also convinced that in Trulli and Glock, the team has the right driver line-up to accomplish its goals.
“Our organisation exists to win races,” he underlined, “so that is always the goal and this year I believe we are closer than ever to doing that. The surest way of winning our first grand prix is to pursue a relentless development programme, driving performance on. This is a team effort, and everyone is working flat-out together to fulfil the huge potential of the TF109. We'll see how the rest of the season goes, but we have the passion and dedication to win this year.